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.

Mermaids, oh my!

Just for some fun… check out the lyrics and then the article.

9245199945_1d1df3afdf

“The Mermaid”

When I was a lad in a fishing town
Me old man said to me:
“You can spend your life, your jolly life
Just sailing on the sea.
You can search the world for pretty girls
Til your eyes are weak and dim,
But don’t go searching for a mermaid, son
If you don’t know how to swim”
‘Cause her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her face it was a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
But I only liked the upper part
I did not like the tailI signed onto a sailing ship
My very first day at sea
I seen the Mermaid in the waves,
Reaching out to me
“Come live with me in the sea said she,
Down on the ocean floor
And I’ll show you a million wonderous things
You’ve never seen before
So over I jumped and she pulled me down,
Down to her seaweed bed
On a pillow made of a tortoise-shell
She placed beneath my head
She fed me shrimp and caviar
Upon a silver dish
From her head to her waist it was just my taste
But the rest of her was a fish
‘Cause …But then one day, she swam away
So I sang to the clams and the whales
“Oh, how I miss her seaweed hair
And the silver shine of her scales
But then her sister, she swam by
And set my heart awhirl
Cause her upper part was an ugly fish
But her bottom part was a girl
Yes her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her legs they are a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
And I don’t give a damn about the upper part
Cause that’s how I get my tail.
By Great Big Sea

Mermaid-bashing a common theme

Dale

Dale Jarvis
Published on March 10, 2014

Last week, I got an email from a young woman named Erin, who is a Grade 4 student at All Hallows Elementary in North River.

Erin is one of the participants in the Heritage Fair program, a great project which encourages students to explore their heritage in a hands-on manner. Students make storyboards to tell stories about local heroes, legends, traditions and places, and then present their work at a public exhibit at their school. Select students then go on to represent their schools in regional fairs across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Erin decided to do research on the folklore of mermaids in Newfoundland, and asked me for some advice on mermaid stories.

While we have a long maritime history in the province, we do not have a lot of mermaid stories. Erin already knew about the most famous, the story of Capt. Richard Whitbourne, who described meeting a mermaid in his book “Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland.”

Early one July morning in 1610, Whitbourne spotted a strange creature which he called “a marmayde” swimming in St. John’s Harbour. As Whitbourne tells it, the mermaid swam swiftly towards him, looking carefully at his face.

The water maiden had a beautiful and well-proportioned face, and she had blue streaks on her skin instead of hair. The creature was about 15 feet in length, and her tail was proportioned “like a broad hooked arrow.”

The mermaid tried to climb into a boat owned by William Hawkridge. Hawkridge was not impressed with the creature’s attentions, so he hit her on the head with an oar, and she swam off.

While the mermaid has not been spotted recently, her legend has achieved a certain amount of immortality, and for many years she was depicted on a mural by Helen Gregory on the north side of Harbour Drive. What also persisted for many years, apparently, was Hawkridge’s method of dealing with merfolk.

Horace Beck’s “Folklore of the Sea” was originally published in 1973 by the Mystic Seaport Museum. It contains a few references to Newfoundland mermen, including one encountered by a fisherman who was hand-lining by himself in a dory just off the Newfoundland shore.

“At noon, he stopped fishing and started to eat his lunch, when much to his surprise and annoyance he discovered a merman about to climb into the boat,” writes Beck. “He tried to shoo it away with no success, so he grabbed the fish gaff and bashed it on the fingers, after which it acquired a lively interest in other things.”

Another of Beck’s Newfoundland tales involves a second merman, seen in the same area around the same time. When two men were out hunting, they saw a strange creature in the water and shot at it.

“Whatever it was sank,” describes Beck, “but a short time later a dead merman with a black beard and hair washed ashore nearby.”

Not all of Beck’s Newfoundland merfolk stories end badly. In one, a mermaid actually helped a Newfoundlander caught in a storm.

“On still another occasion a man was caught in a small boat in a heavy gale. When the situation became most critical a mermaid appeared, climbed onto the gunnel and conned the boat safely through the breakers to shore.”

One other mermaid story from Labrador has a happy ending. In an Inuit legend, an orphaned boy rescued a mermaid who had become grounded on the rocks. The grateful mermaid gave the boy a hat with a fancy broach as a reward. Visiting sailors recognized the broach as belonging to the King of England, who in turn gave the boy a hefty sum of money for its return.

Here’s hoping young Erin does well on her heritage fair project, and good luck to all the other heritage fair students across the province.

Storyteller and author Dale Jarvis can be reached at dale@dalejarvis.ca.

Cowboys from Newfoundland.

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

‘Cold Water Cowboys’ puts the spotlight on Newfoundland

By  

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

Steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca

I don’t want to say I told you so, but…

This is from an article on the Discovery Channel’s website. It underscores what is a still growing problem in over-fishing already decimated fish stocks.

Tasty Fish Grow Smaller in Warming Ocean by Tim Wall

Fish sandwiches may be skimpier in the future as the planet’s oceans continue to warm.

Biologists measured progressively smaller average lengths of edible fish in the northern Atlantic Ocean between 1970 and 2008. Six economically-important fish species — haddock, herring, Norway pout and plaice — declined in length by an average of 23 percent.

The fish lived in different environments from bottom-dwelling plaice to surface-skimming herring. The range of habitats suggested that some common factor was altering the entire ocean community in the North Sea, a section of the Atlantic rimmed by Scandinavia, Great Britain and Germany.

ANALYSIS: Climate Change Could Shrink Animals

During those same 38 years, the average seafloor water temperature increased by 0.2–0.6 degrees Celsius per decade, for a total of one to two degrees C, in the North Sea. Besides the increasing water temperature, no other factor, such as commercial fishing, affected the fish universally, noted the authors of the study published in Global Change Biology. The biologists concluded that climate change may be shrinking economically important fish species.

“We would anticipate that synchronous reductions in length across species could be occurring in other regional seas experiencing a strong degree of warming,” study leader Alan Baudron of the University of Aberdeen, told the Guardian.

However, not every fish measured by the study declined. Sole and cod both approximately maintained their sizes. Haddock and whiting, on the other hand, decreased in length by approximately 29 percent in parts of their ranges.

ANALYSIS: Animals, Plants Shrinking as Climate Warms

North Sea fisherman’s commercial success may decrease along with the shrinking fish. The weights of individual fish caught declined by between three and 48 percent between 1978 and 1993, noted the biologists. Plaice and haddock suffered most serious declines in weight.

As the ocean warms, less oxygen dissolves into the water. Fish depend on that dissolved oxygen to breathe. Smaller fish in the North Atlantic may survive better in oxygen poor waters, wrote the study’s authors, since the animals need to intake less of the dissolved gas.

Canary in the global coal mine.

Currently indigenous to Newfoundland are moose, caribou, salmon, and some remaining cod. There are no naturally residing canaries on the island. However, in this case, the island itself was the canary.

Why is Newfoundland important? In much the same way the canary in a coal mine is important. That bird is an early warning of impending trouble. Ignore it at your own peril. In 1992, that is what happened in Newfoundland. Heard, seen, and ignored – just the opposite of the military phrase HUA(!) – Heard, Understood and Acknowledged. They (the government) heard the canary, saw it laying there, and essentially said, “Don’t pay that any attention” until it was too late. It was mismanagement writ large.

So, what was this canary? It was the disappearance of cod stocks. Stocks that had been fished for over 500 years and sustained Newfoundland throughout that time. Then in 1992, the government realized that the cod stocks had plummeted to perilously low levels and imposed a 10 year moratorium on cod fishing. Historically, they knew if left alone for 5-6 years, the stocks should return to previous levels. They didn’t. In actuality, they were in worse shape than before.

In those first 10 years, because there was no fishing, 20% of Newfoundland’s population left the island. It was an out-migration the likes of which had never been seen. And the lack of fishing created much hardship throughout the province. Newfoundlanders continue leaving the island in search of work returning occasionally for vacation. The Newfoundland musical group Ennis addresses this beautifully in their song, “Fortunate Ones.”

Now 20 years later, the moratorium is still in place. But then in 2006, 14 years after the original moratorium was put in place, Professor Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia published a paper that received world-wide notice. In this paper he predicted that by the middle of this century, the entire global stock of wild fish will be in total collapse. This is certainly the result of over-fishing; there is also growing evidence that ocean acidification may be contributing to this as well. Either way one looks at it, both of those causes are man-made.

The “canary” was laying there, gasping for breath and people essentially just walked on by. It has taken too long to realize what this means.

In the short term, forget about your seafood dinner, that isn’t going to happen unless you’ll be willing to take out a mortgage on it. Any fish we’ll have will come from farmed stocks and their purity is suspect.

In the long term, your guess is as good as anyone’s. No one knows what will happen to the seas themselves because of this shock to its eco-system.

So much for Red Lobster!

I go, you go, Fogo!

                                                                     From a more hopeful time.

Pardon the silliness of the title, but I’ll be off to Fogo Island on the north coast of Newfoundland. It, after arriving in St. John’s, will be the first stop in my second trip up there. It is there where I hope to find and start to photograph the newly realized core of my book, “Arn? Narn.”

Just what is that core? It’s what I had already known but not realized; then realized but didn’t understand; and now it was a growing awareness of the impact of the fishing moratorium and it’s subsequent long-term effects. It was as my Fogo Island innkeeper was to tell me, “What you see now will not be here in 10-12 years.” That wasn’t prescient; it was fact: one I was still to discover first hand.

Fogo Island is so uniquely Newfoundland. (Where else could you be greeted by The Mouse?) The name was originally Y del Fogo, meaning island of fire. There is speculation as to the origin of the name: perhaps it was the native Beothuk’s (now extinct) campfires or multiple forest fires, but no one is certain.

The island supported itself solely on fishing as had the entire province. Now it was suffering the same fate as that of the larger “mainland” island. True, it had the annual Brimstone Head Folk festival each summer on Brimstone Head, (reputed by the Flat Earth Society to be one of the four corners of the earth!) but that was in early August for only a few days. A week before that is the Ethridge Point Seaside Festival in Joe Batt’s Arm. These bring some tourists in but for a short time, not enough to make much of a difference.

I was to be here for nearly a week in which I would be able to roam and photograph across the island, talk with people directly, and get a better feel for this environment. I would learn that Fogo was the main outport/town on Fogo Island – do not confuse the two. Fogo (the town) is joined by the communities of Joe Batt’s Arm, Seldom, Little Seldom, Tilting, Barr’d Islands, and Stag Harbour. In 2006 they all came together to form the Town of Fogo, while retaining their individual personalities. More to come on Fogo soon.

There’s a fjord in your future.

There used to be only the Big Three automakers – Ford, GM, and Chrysler. That was it. None of the others that populate our driveways today were in sight back then. Life it seems was much simpler then.

This is a Ford.

So imagine my surprise when I heard about fjords. I was certain some under-educated person misspelled the ever-oh-so-easy name of Ford. Never mind that its usage in the sentence was peculiar, I figured they just spelled it wrong!

But noooo, I was the ignorant fool. Every Norwegian child worth their salt (and much salt is used to keep and preserve cod and other delicacies – don’t even mention Lutefisk to me!) knew what a fjord was. No Ragnar, a fjord doesn’t have four wheels! Yes, Bruce (the teacher said patiently), a fjord is a u-shaped valley carved out by glaciers a long, long time ago. Pay attention!

This is a fjord.

So, right about this time you’re asking yourself what does this have to do with Newfoundland? And my book “Arn? Narn.”? Good questions. As it turns out, a lot. On the western coast of the island is Gros Morne National Park. Gros Morne is French for the less than poetic sounding “large mountain standing alone.” And in this park is the Western Brook Pond fjord. It is your typical, everyday, run-of-the-mill, drop-dead, central casting beautiful fjord.

This is a fjord too. See the difference? – Western Brook Pond fjord.

The western coast is the final stretch of the Appalachian mountain range and it alone is worth the trip to Newfoundland. An area of unimaginable beauty, it is home to mountains, fjords, caribou (more on them at a later post), moose and the Tablelands. There was also very fine salmon fishing here, but it too like cod fishing is highly restricted. This is a problem that affects the entire island and it’s been learned a global one as well.

So if you go and I do recommend it, get yourself a Ford. It’ll give you a certain symmetry.