It’s illegal, dangerous, and it still goes on.

Poaching eggs is one thing but poaching on the sea has been a long time problem in Newfoundland. There are air and sea patrols to monitor, prevent, and eventually arrest the violators. It is not something taken lightly. But and not surprisingly it is a global issue. Wherever money, however small, can be made, theft is sure to be right behind it. And as often as not, too many thieves get away with it at the cost of those trying to eke out a living.

This is an article from the May 15, 2014 New York Times about poaching off the coast of Spain.


Trading Danger for Delicacy

On Spain’s Galician coast, generations of licensed divers scrape gooseneck barnacles in roiling surf to serve eager gourmands who pay up to 100 euros a kilo for the cherished crustaceans. Credit Samuel Aranda for The New York Times


A CORUÑA, Spain — Roberto Mahia, 44, was leaning against his car waiting for the sun to rise before pulling on the frayed wet suit at his feet when two vehicles pulled up not far away.

“Those are poachers,” Mr. Mahia declared, staring hard in the direction of their headlights. “We know those cars.”

On this morning, however, there would be no confrontation. The poachers soon moved on, apparently unwilling to tangle with Mr. Mahia and the other men gathered here who were trained and licensed to scramble among the crashing waves of the rocky Galician coastline in the country’s northwest corner, prying loose and collecting a rare prize for epicures — gooseneck barnacles.

The work has always been dangerous. All the men waiting for daybreak had scars to show. Avelino Mosteiro, 54, once got 36 stitches in his thigh. On another occasion, he got 18 stitches under his arm. But the work also used to be highly paid before the economic crisis, when restaurants clamored for the rare crustaceans.

These days, however, the men and women who do this for a living say it is hard to make ends meet. Certainly, there are fewer Europeans able to afford expensive treats of any kind.

But worse, there are the poachers, many of them out-of-work citizens, trying to make money any way they can. Their scavenging brings prices down further and depletes the area of barnacles, forcing the licensed collectors to work in more remote and difficult areas, often for a poorer haul.

“Fifteen days ago, we were on those rocks,” Mr. Mahia said, pointing out a jagged outcropping in the distance. “Two of us were legal collectors, and 11 were poachers.”

In the heady days before Spain’s economic crisis, barnacle collectors, many who learned the art of dodging waves from their parents, could earn more than $800 in a few hours. But on a recent morning the men here had collected only four or five pounds of barnacles each, most of them small and of less than ideal quality. Perhaps, they said, they could get $135 for them, maybe less.

In the past, the men said, they would not even have tried to go out on a day with such choppy seas. But lately, they could not afford to let any opportunity go by.

The barnacles, known as percebes in Spanish, can be collected only under certain conditions, including the point in the lunar cycle when tides are lowest.

Along the coast here, some restaurants offer barnacles for as much as $80 a serving. In Madrid, the price can be much higher. Cooking them is simple. They are generally boiled for just a few minutes. Aficionados compare them to oysters, not for their texture, which is chewier, but for their subtle sea taste.

Spanish officials agree that the unemployment rate has prompted more and more untrained people to take their chances in the rocky inlets here, occasionally paying with their lives.

“If from time to time you hear about someone dying doing this, it is almost always a poacher,” said Rosa Quintana Carballo, Galicia’s regional minister of the rural environment and the sea.

On Spain’s Galician Coast, the Hard Life of Barnacle Hunting

Lala Gonzalez, left, and her sister, Susana Gonzalez, collecting barnacles on the coast of Baiona, in the northern Spain region of Galicia. Considered a luxury seafood item, the barnacles, known as percebes, provide a livelihood for many families.  Credit Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

In some areas, as in Baiona, a village farther down the coast, the licensed collectors have grown so frustrated that they are paying private security guards to patrol the area on land and on sea. The government splits the bill with them.

One morning, one of Baiona’s guards, Darío Freire, guided his S.U.V. up a hill so he could use binoculars to scan the coastline. He said confronting poachers was a dangerous business.

“I have been punched, threatened with a stick,” Mr. Freire said. “They have thrown things at the car and smashed the windows. It isn’t easy.”

Mostly, he said, he just alerts the police, who give the poachers summonses. But like José Do Val, 62, who readily admitted that he had been collecting barnacles that morning, most of the poachers are far too broke to pay the fines, so they are not a deterrent.

Mr. Do Val, who said he was once an executive in a food distribution company and dined regularly on barnacles, estimates that he has collected more than $135,000 in fines for poaching. “I’m not really sure how much it was,” he said. “It’s not something that really interests me.”

Galicia has struggled in the last few years with an unemployment rate of about 27 percent, one of the highest in the country. It once had a thriving shipping industry. But that is in shambles now, and there are few jobs that pay much for anyone. Police units assigned to stop the barnacle poachers are stretched thin and have perhaps more pressing business, keeping an eye on those who dig for clams in polluted areas, for instance, and then bleach them to make them look right.

“After what I have seen, I am finished with eating clams,” said Juan Da Rocha, who heads a regional police unit that concentrates on illegal fishing.

In Baiona, many of the barnacle collectors are women. Susana González works with her three sisters, who like her went to school for other professions, but ended up in wet suits instead. Though collecting barnacles is difficult, most of the people in this business find being up at dawn in the sea, without a boss, an attractive way of life. “You are free,” Mrs. González said. “I like that.”

After a successful morning collecting, the women gathered at the local auction house hoping that all the talk of economic recovery coming out of Madrid would mean higher prices. But that was not the case. Even the biggest barnacles sold for about $40 a pound, less than half the opening price.

“We really thought we would do better,” Mrs. González said with a sigh.

Cowboys from Newfoundland.

I really hope this comes to Discovery Channel in the US.

‘Cold Water Cowboys’ puts the spotlight on Newfoundland


Cold Water Cowboys
(Cold Water Cowboys/Facebook)

It says something about Newfoundland’s legendary hospitality that when fishing boat captain Richard Gillett is talking to a reporter from the mainland – as those on the Rock refer to the rest of Canada – he does his best to tone down his accent a bit.

“I’m talking to you right now, and I’m trying to do the best that I can,” says Gillett with a laugh, on the phone from his home on Newfoundland’s northeastern shore.

“I can tell you, if you were here now with me and my dad, and we were into a conversation, you’d be looking at the two of us sayin’, ‘What kind of language is this?’”

Viewers might be asking the same thing when they tune into Cold Water Cowboys, a new reality series that follows the captains and crews of several Newfoundland-based fishing boats. Think Deadliest Catch, but with smaller vessels, more bleeped-out swearing and accents so delightfully thick that sometimes subtitles are needed.

“One of the producers told me, ‘Speak English, speak English!’” recalls Gillett, who captains the Midnight Shadow, based in the scenic coastal town of Twillingate. “But when we get out and everybody gets excited and a bit of fish is on the go… it’s understandable they got subtitles on us. Because some people do have a little bit of trouble understanding.”

Premiering Tuesday on Discovery Canada, Cold Water Cowboys follows six boats as they ply the waters of the North Atlantic in search of crab, mackerel, herring and more. After the 1992 cod moratorium that devastated Newfoundland’s fishing economy, the fishermen who have stuck it out must voyage much farther from home than their fathers and grandfathers did.

It’s hard and dangerous work, as seen in the show’s first episode when a stabilizer snaps off one of the boats and threatens to puncture its hull.

“In the blink of an eye, it went from a boring steaming trip to the dangers of a stabilizer breaking off and piercing the boat and the boat going to the bottom and the guys ending up in the drink,” says Gillett.

Gillett, a fifth-generation fisherman, says he and the other captains were initially a bit wary about having camera crews on their boats. “When it first started off, I expressed my views that I didn’t want anything staged,” he says. “I told them I’ve been at this long enough now that you’re going to see stuff break and you’re going to see trouble and you’re going to see dangerous situations.”

But the final product is an accurate look at the captains, crews and their communities, something else Gillett says sets it apart from Deadliest Catch.

“This show is not only about fishing,” he says. “This show shows the communities and the families and the relationships between the fishermen and the communities.”

Because really, Newfoundland is as much a star of the show as the fishermen are, b’y.

“As far as I’m concerned, the beauty of Newfoundland is second to none,” says Gillett. “In the summertime I can sit down on my bridge and watch the whales feed on small capelin. I’ve had times there have been 21 icebergs out in front of my place. Where else in the world can you do that?”

Twitter: @stevetilley

Bartender to me – “Would you like that on the rocks?” Not funny.

Now, I’m not going to say I was feeling Like Leonardo in the movie. Nor was there, regrettably, a counterpart to Kate Winslet standing bravely by my side either. But, I was on a boat in the seas off Newfoundland and there was a lot of ice in the water. And it was in early April. Draw your own conclusions.

No, I was now leaving Fogo Island for the second part of this trip. Obviously being on this island meant I was going to have to take a boat ride back to the main and much larger island of Newfoundland proper. It was a ferry in actuality, a not very large one, and it took a couple of hours.

The ferry.

The Titanic – see any difference?

Earlier I wrote about the arctic ice pack that had come in and locked up the harbors. For a large ship as my hopefully sea- and ice-worthy ferry was, this would – should be an uneventful trip.

It’s pretty common knowledge that what you see of an iceberg above the surface of the sea is only 10% of it’s size. The remaining, evil, waiting to sink unsuspecting ships, part constitutes the other 90%. Remember, the ice pack, unlike a lot of doctors, is in!

An artists’ idea of an iceberg

So, me and a bunch of other intrepid travelers including their cars, (that’ll make the ship sink faster, won’t it?) drive on and take our places on the ferry. The driveway (?) pulls up, seals the then-open end of the ship and we shove off from shore. (Wait, I think I left my toothbrush at the B&B!)

I’m not normally apprehensive about sea travel. I’ve been on ferries before! But not through icebergs. Alright, they weren’t icebergs – more like a continuous seascape of floes, large, heavy, really white, and cold ice floes. And 90% of each one could not be seen! Yes, this was a steel hulled ship; and yes, it did this every year, but… Hey, wait, every year? How strong could this barge still be?

We plowed through the ice pack slowly; the floes grinding loudly against the hull; some so large that you could feel the ship shift from THEIR weight and mass. Oh, sweet mother… two more hours of this.

Not surprisingly, we made it safely. I got some good pictures. But throughout that whole trip, at no time did I ever want to climb up on the hull and yell “I’m king of the world!” Nor did I hear Celine Dion singing in the background. There is a God after all.

‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.

It’s probably a good bet Jimi Hendrix was not singing about the skies in Newfoundland and more’s the pity.

Nowhere have I seen a more dramatic skyscape than up on The Rock. Now you may be thinking, “It’s a sky. So what? Big deal!” Well, yeah, it is a big deal. It will show you textures, shapes, and tonalities like you’ve never seen and then in a moment vanish only to replaced by something completely different (and not in the Monty Python sense either).

Why is this sky different from all other skies you ask? In one sense, it’s very similar to Big Sky country in Montana. It’s high, it’s enormous, it appears to cover and touch everything you see, it goes on forever, and oftentimes it resembles a time lapse film. The Newfoundland sky is like a living motion picture – something is always going on and like a really good one, you won’t know the ending.

If it’s a sunny day, then the sea takes on an unbelievably rich and dark blue color. All the colors of the island jump out in blazing relief. And even on such a day, there can be fog which will give you a teasing glimpse of something beautiful only to obscure it moments later.

On a cloudy day then, of which there are many, the show really begins. Cloudy days in Newfoundland are not to be confused with a cloudy or overcast day anywhere else. After all, this is Newfoundland. Missing are the drab, plain-jane grey skies in the lower 48. Instead you’ll be witness to high drama. For the person who believes everything is black and white, they should be prepared for disappointment. These skies display some serious greys and a hell of a lot of variations. From light and medium greys to end-of-the-world dark greys. it’s all there. What makes it even that much more spectacular are the many textures. It’s not a flat sky by any stretch of the imagination; no, it’s a roiling, scudding, blustering, opinionated sky with its own intent.

Picture this: you’re out on the coast – the sea is a wind-whipped, nearly black surface complete with whitecaps; nearer than the horizon are brilliant white icebergs sitting in stark contrast to the dark, colorless sea and to the rich, cloud-laden thunder grey sky.This is the stuff of wonderful black & white photography and I’m really there.

So, go ahead and kiss this sky! I have.

Bruce meets Bruce.

The Town Manager

Newfoundland is the kind of place that one can walk into the Town Manager’s office and ask to see him/her…and get an audience. And that’s just what I did based on the suggestion of my photographer friend Randy. Since I was going to be hanging around the town and the island of Fogo, I was told it would be a good idea to let the constabulary know what I was up to.

So, into the town hall I went and asked if I might meet the manager. “Why, yes. of course. One minute, he’ll be very happy to meet you. Let me tell him you’re here. Where did you say you were from?” No red tape, no bureaucracy, and no surly DMV types, just a warm, welcome. Wow.

I am then introduced to Bruce Pomeroy, the Fogo Town Manager. No pretense, frills, or trappings of office – just a Newfoundlander doing his job and part of that job was to deal with people like me. I expected a brief but friendly hi, hello, how are you. What I received was far beyond that. I got a tour of the office, a brief history of the town and island, a copy of that history and an island map, and a commemorative pin. Yet, we were not done, not by a long shot. I was then to be given a walking tour of the town by Bruce.

I was introduced to several people on our tour including the owner of a fishing fleet of which I will write soon. On this walk, by one of the coves on the island, I looked out and saw an amazing panorama. The sky was this rich and varied grey; the sea was a fluid and darker grey; and separating them was this brilliant white line. It glowed. I asked Bruce what was that. He replied that it was part of the arctic ice pack that breaks off every year and travels down to Newfoundland. Based on where it was, he thought that if the winds were right, it would surround the island by the next afternoon. That would be enough time for the few fisherman to get their boats safely to where they would not become ice-locked. Once there, the pack ice had to melt before any boats would break free.

By 2:30 that afternoon, the pack ice was already coming in and fast. The winds were so much stronger than originally thought. And with the winds came a large drop in temperature as they crossed over the ice. I was to spend the next four hours watching and photographing several fisherman attempting to get their boats free. It was incredible to see. There will be a series of photos in the book depicting this. It is a hard life.

I’m a real nowhere man…

Let me say it right up front – I like being “nowhere.” No, not just sitting around doing nothing, but being somewhere that doesn’t look or feel like anything else and has no particular name. In other words, nowhere.

In Newfoundland, there is plenty of nowhere and that’s a really good thing. There is so much good stuff there that if it were named or claimed, it wouldn’t be nowhere. That said, what does it mean?

Simply stated, there is so much land between formal towns and/or outports that is not settled or built upon, that is virtually untouched and untrod. It is glorious in it’s natural state. No malls, no convenient stores, nothing. As I said, glorious. And glorious in its isolation.

And where I’m going on this second trip to Newfoundland, I’ll be traveling through a lot of nowhere before I get somewhere and I couldn’t be happier. As a photographer, it’s very rare that we get to visit land unsullied by power lines, billboards, and visitor centers. This is land one doesn’t so much visit as experience. Nothing can prepare you for it. It is not postcard pretty in the traditional sense. Rather, it has a raw, vital beauty. Not the beauty say of a New England fall, but the unyielding beauty of a land defying commerce and compromise.

In the west, there are mountains, lakes, fjords, and caribou. Everywhere, there are bogs, moose, streams, and birches. And everything, every thing is informed by the sea. Oh, the sea. It is the lifeblood of the island even though its bounty has long been gone. It is in the DNA of the people and the culture. It is that that has helped me to decide where to go.

In a song by the Newfoundland group Great Big Sea, they sing: “There is no place quite like this place…”. They got that right.

Newfoundland is an island, about the same size as the state of Tennessee. But where I’ll be going to photograph this time are two islands off the coasts of Newfoundland – Fogo Island and Ramea: two very different islands sharing a similar story but ultimately with dissimilar outcomes: almost nowhere on the map, but home for a few hopeful and determined people.

Man Cave by the sea.

New Year’s Eve in a shanty sounds a lot worse than it really is. Shanty doesn’t have the same connotation in rural Newfoundland as it does in the States. A shanty is the small building/house/cabin on the coast used by fishermen as a residence when going to and coming from the sea. It is for the most part a home-away-from-home. And oftentimes the subject of cute and quaint calendars and post cards of lands far-away.

But come the holidays and New Year’s Eve, all that changes. The shanty becomes the Newfoundland equivalent of a man-cave by the sea for the duration plus. And one can only speculate on behaviors conducted. The good news is that it’s usually far enough away from the children and pets.

Celebrations – oh, yes. Singing and dancing – yes b’y. Eating and drinking, why the hell not? Fishing – probably not much. But when it’s cold, windy, wet and/or snowy, and more, and the holidays to boot, why would you want to do anything but the aforementioned activities? Consequently, inebriation is often the result. A common comment then heard might be “Goin’ on a tear, me son?” translated as “partying with enthusiasm are we?” Count on it. After all, it is the new year.

Lobsters and a screw cap.

On the western coast of Newfoundland, I drive through such towns as Cow Head, Sally’s Cove, Three Mile Rock, (not to be confused with the atomic town in Pennsylvania), and Spudgels Cove. (Who was Spudgels that he was important enough to have a cove named after him?) Each one of these has it’s own personality waiting to be discovered by an intrepid traveler such as me. But not now as I’m on a quest. I’ve learned fresh lobster can be had inexpensively here. I make a short stop to see The Arches Provincial Park. This is a natural rock arch formation acting as a gateway to the ocean. I think however, most people probably just go around it to get there. But it does form a wonderful backdrop for new photographs.

The sea is starting to kick up into what will develop on the next day into a pretty fierce storm. Unfortunately, most of the lobster traps on the western coast will be lost.

But for this day, the lobstermen are making the most of their efforts. No longer permitted to fish for cod, they’ve turned to lobstering and crabbing. The lobstering season is very short, lasting only 5-6 weeks. In this time, the lobstermen will catch enough to deliver to the fishery and also help feed their family throughout the year. However, according to the lobstermen, eating lobster all year long gets old fast. When asked what they do the rest of the year, his reply was, “Well, we just —- around.” OK, sounds good. But in the meantime, I’m told if I go down to the fishery which is conveniently located near the cabin in which I’m staying, they’ll cook me up some lobsters fresh and really cheap. This is getting better all the time.

Down to the fishery I go and place my gluttonous order of two(!) lobsters to be picked up at 7:00 PM. Back to the cabin, drop off my equipment, get a bottle of wine from the market, and then pick up my lobsters. I go to the counter and pick up my dinner and am charged the princely sum of $ 11.00! Cooked and ready to eat! And the wine has a screw cap! I’m in heaven.

The 50,000 year old Rice Krispy or Snap, Crackle, Pop, (and Hiss).

Who would have thought that a popular breakfast cereal had anything in common with the Titanic? After all, even a floating case of Rice Krispies would not even be noticed by the mammoth ship as it steamed blissfully and ignorantly by the hapless krispies. It’s not like it was an iceberg or something …right?

One thing Newfoundland and the Titanic have in common though is icebergs – much to the horror of the passengers on the Titanic, but not so much for Leonardo DeCaprio. Newfoundland finds itself smack in the middle of Iceberg Alley. You’re not likely to get mugged in this alley, but the slow moving bergs can do a hell of a lot of damage if you’re not careful. Keep in mind that the pretty part of the iceberg is only 10% of the entire mass. The other 90% lurks silently, waiting to wreak havoc – or to just ground itself in a cove where it melts mostly harmlessly away and its remains wash up on shore.

In season, tourists flock to the area to be see the oftentimes staggering number of bergs making their way down from the Arctic Circle. But for some locals, watching the bergs is not what they’re waiting for. Oh no. They’re waiting to harvest the shards of this frozen flotsam.

Why? Because after the shards are washed off, they remain as frozen pieces of 10,000 to 50,000 year old unbelievably pure water and air. No pollution or industrial waste captured in these. They keep your drinks, soft and adult, really cold and pure. And the prehistoric goodness doesn’t stop there. They entertain. Oh, yeah. As they melt, (very, very slowly), they make sounds – sometimes startlingly loud. They snap, pop, and hiss, releasing age-old air into your drink. (OK, so I lied about the crackle!) And they keep for a long time. One woman who was gathering the ice told me this was the first time in four years she went out to get more. Being so dense, it doesn’t melt quickly. Wash it off, put back in your freezer and use again when ready.

The ultimate recycling effort. Yes, b’y.

Kevin Spacey slept here.

Scene from “The Shipping News”

There are those who believe that close proximity to fame will allow that very same fame to rub off on them. About all that accrues from these multiple degrees of separation is that one could say so-and-so slept here and well, so did they. What else could explain the countless number of roadside signs declaring that “George Washington slept here.”? Who cares? If the signs are to be believed, he was a randy father of our country and nothing much seems to have changed over the course of our history.

That stated, I slept where Kevin Spacey did, really and not intentionally, really. I walked and drove around the same places he did. And yet I am no more famous for doing so. (But then, neither is he.) However, where we both slept (not at the same time!) was on the Bonavista Peninsula, on the eastern side of Newfoundland: he, to film the movie adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s book “The Shipping News”; me, to continue shooting what was to become “Arn? Narn.”.

A good portion of the film was shot on the Bonavista Peninsula. It, like all of Newfoundland, boasts many outports with such names as Birchy Cove, New and Old Bonaventure (you takes yer choice), and Sweet Bay. The dock shown here, typical of an outport, was used in the film in an important scene featuring a boat alleged to be “Hitler’s Yacht.” Go figure.

As I started “Arn? Narn.”, I was drawn to the outports. They, because of their importance to fishing and the survival of the province, were at once the living history of Newfoundland and its future and it was in them l was to learn what the core of my book was to be. But not yet, and not for sometime.