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Fisherman passing on enterprise to his son, but with an uncertain future

In areas of the 4R fishing region, the halibut population has exploded. But with limited quotas, for many fishermen the species is just a nuisance.
In areas of the 4R fishing region, the halibut population has exploded. But with limited quotas, for many fishermen the species is just a nuisance.

PORT AU CHOIX, NL - A father and son in Port au Choix are worried over the uncertain future of their fishing enterprise.    

For the Dobbins, fishing is the family business, and Fintan Dobbin and his son Robert have been a team for years.


While Fintan is preparing to retire from the industry and sell off his over 40-fleet to Robert, he has doubt if there is much of a business he’s leaving behind for his son.


“I’m about to sign it over to him now, but I don’t know what he’ll do with it,” Fintan said.


A lifetime resource taken away


This uncertainty was not always the story. There was a time when the Dobbin’s enterprise was a successful operation, largely due to the fishing of halibut in the 4R region.


“We made our living at the halibut, we put our lifetime into it,” Fintan said. “Until they took it all away from us.”


The halibut fishery went under a major shift when the quota was cut to only 1,000 pounds per week in 4R. The change was done to expand the shares of the halibut to all boats in the region. This major decrease in quota, which before was the foundation of Fintan’s business, made the fishing of halibut a unprofitable venture.


“They shared the quota out instead of prioritizing fishermen who had investment and history in this fishery,” said Fintan. “They gave us the same a thousand pounds as everybody.


“Our enterprises were based on the halibut fishery, but they took our fishery and spread it out to everybody.”


Robert also recalls when halibut was the sole resource for him and his father’s business, but now it is no longer feasible for them to fish it.


“If they shared it by historical attachment we could’ve made it feasible,” said Robert. “But the union’s about equality I suppose, they don’t want it shared out like that.”


Fintan says he reached out to the Fish, Food and Allied Works (FFAW) union at the time of the shift with concerns of how the quota change would destroy his enterprise. To his bewilderment, Fintan say he was told there was no such thing as history in the fishery.


Today, in outports like Port au Choix, the halibut population has exploded.


Fintan’s brother Clifford Dobbin fished the halibut this year, and says the population has become so abundant that even using less than half the gear he’s allowed to he’s still catching well over quota.


“I was allowed 2,000 hooks this year, I cut it down to 800 and I still went over my quota,” said Clifford. “Then they told me, ‘Well, you shouldn’t use so much gear.’ I told them I ran less than half of what I was suppose to run, now you can’t much less than that.”


Fintan says the halibut could once again become the profitable fishery for the family, but with no change in quota the abundant fish has just become an annoyance.


“The only thing we got left here is the halibut,” Fintan said. “But it’s just a nuisance because we can’t catch it or get any decent quota for it.”


Attempts at the turbot


With the depletion in resource that came from the change in the halibut fishery, Fintan and his son looked to new horizons and chased after the turbot.


The shift was successful for a few summers, but turbot populations in the 4R region have decreased substantially. Now, only a limited number of boats bother with the fishery. Clifford says this summer, due to how tough it is to scrape up the quota, he felt the turbot was not worth the effort.


“The turbot’s been cleaned pretty well out in this area,” Clifford said. “It wasn’t worth going at it this year.”


Robert says the turbot fishery in the area remains profitable only with a handful of boats fishing it.


“They’re getting better catch rates now because there’s so few boats at it,” he said. “But the catch rates are still only getting 15 or 16(hundred) a haul, and that’s not very good for turbot. The only thing that’s keeping them at it is that the price is good.”


With little other choice, Fintan and Robert left the 4R region and attempted to go after the northern turbot fishery this year, but an unlucky series of events made the trip an unfortunate failure.

Fintan says sharks chewed at their gear and through the trip they not only lost their chance at the northern turbot, but lost over $4,000 worth of fishing gear.


The FFAW recently announced a committee to further investment and open quota for groundfish like redfish and turbot. But the Dobbins feel that there is little hope for their enterprises by expanding the turbot fishery. Without changes in the fishing of halibut, they feel there is no future for their enterprises.


“We went after the turbot out of no other choice,” said Robert. “But the turbot is not enough to run the enterprise. We can’t get enough to even pay for our fuel.”


In the FFAW’s press release on the new committee, there was no mention of halibut.


‘Somebody’s got to do something’


While his frustrations run deep, Fintan hopes that maybe through this committee some discussion and work can be done to address the abundance of halibut in the fishing grounds where his family made their living for so long.


“They’re doing everything backwards as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The fish we shouldn’t be catching they’re keeping it open, and the fish we should be catching they won’t give us no quota on.”


It was a rough summer for their enterprise. To make ends meet, Robert has been helping out on a 65-foot shrimp plant when some additional crew is needed. Like his father, he has doubts over how well he will do when he takes over his father’s boat, especially if no changes in halibut quota come through.


“Somebody’s got to do something,” said Fintan. “It’s not for me, I’m pretty much out of the fishery anyway. But I got a son who wants to take over the enterprise, and who knows if he’s going to be able to do it.”

kyle.greenham@northernpen.ca

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