Garry's favourite poem
(Following are Garry's words taken from a speech he presented in St. John's)
I was raised in Harts Cove on Twillingate South Island. My parents home is around 60 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was by far my biggest and best toy. The landwash was my domain and I felt I had dominion over the creatures that lived there. As a child I subjected these creatures to untold humiliations.
Sticklebacks were captured in cans; crabs were unceremoniously plucked from their hiding places as were gunnels, eel pouts and periwinkles. Tom cods were caught from my father's wharf and used as free food for my grandmothers cats (connors being too bony). Every year I waited for the June fogs and swells to bring the caplin - the closest I could get to ecstasy. Shorebirds were relentlessly pursued with homemade slingshots. Thinking back today, my success rate was probably one bird for every ton of beach rocks.
I would even pass the time during high tides, when most of my prey would be safe under several feet of cold Atlantic, picking up bits of glass - blues, greens, ambers, purples, polished smooth by both time and tide.
In time, I was fortunate enough to build my house behind my father's, still close to that very childhood playground, on a lovely piece of grass-ground not utilized since my grandmother gave up keeping sheep.
Now I take my 10 year old daughter Sarah down to the landwash. We can't enjoy the same activities as I did as a boy. The sticklebacks aren't in the puddles anymore, very few crabs, gunnels and eelpouts seek shelter in the rocks and weeds. The capelin doesn't come to our cove anymore. The shore birds return in dismal numbers. My father still has his wharf but there is nothing to catch anymore. Even the pretty pieces of glass are gradually being reclaimed by nature, replaced by browns and clear, cast-off beer and pop bottles.
We mostly just walk as she listens, sometimes I think with boredom, as I tell her of the same adventures over and over again. Sometimes, out of respect for our playground, we pick up plastic bags and bottles, old paint cans and an interesting variety of other crap, all of which seems to be doing very well in their new environment.
At the age of 18, my involvement with the creatures of the ocean took on a new urgency. I became a fisherman following in my father's footsteps as he did his father's and his father's before him. We pursued the distant cousins of my childhood play toys for a livelihood. We made a good living harvesting cod, turbot, catfish, flounder, graysole, rosefish, halibut, capelin, herring, mackerel, squid, crab, lobster, seal, and lumpfish. However, it soon became apparent something was wrong. We found ourselves using more gear, with smaller mesh, we also found ourselves going farther and farther from home.
We expressed our concerns every chance we got, but science didn't listen, and governments didn't care.
Then in July 1992, the unthinkable came to pass. The wealth of the North Atlantic, once deemed inexhaustible, was proven finite and fish, once dubbed the poor man's food became a resource coveted and fought over by nations. We all know what happened, it really was quite simple. Too much technology, and too many fisher people. We simply misused our resources. I sometimes wonder how many pounds of capelin, cod, and other species were dumped for every pound processed for market.
Our small, rural, impoverished world came crashing down. What have we learned from this raping of our natural resources? Will we make changes? We must recognize the fine line between utilization and destruction.
We are at the very top of the food chain. We have the ability and capacity to destroy the very creatures upon which we depend. In our need to survive we are developing markets for and harvesting non-traditional species such as sea urchins, whelks and kelp. Governments call this diversification.
We all remember the outcry about draggers both foreign and domestic, we all rallied around government when they started to banish foreign draggers from our coast, and many of us worked for the demise of our domestic, large-dragger fleets, and this was successful to a great extent. Then we turned around, in all our infinite wisdom, and licensed 250 new domestic draggers to pursue the northern shrimp.
In our urgency to procure a decent living we are continually developing markets for non-traditional species without good sound scientific studies on the effects of harvesting them. We deploy old, destructive methods of harvesting, such as dragging in the case of the new shrimp fishery, without knowing the effects on the recovery of traditional groundfish stocks.
We give little thought to biodiversity which simply means the bountiful variety of life on our coast and how they interact. Not only does harvesting place pressure on many species but the sheer number of people living on the coast and the pollutants that we produce are driving some species to extinction, in some cases, before they are recognized by science.
Even as we sit here today, debating the pros and cons of a marine protected area, other species besides cod are in immediate danger of becoming commercially extinct - lumpfish and sea urchins have come full circle in a short few years from trash species to important economical species on the verge of commercial extinction.
What will happen if even fewer capelin, which is probably the most important link in the marine food chain, visit our coves and inlets? In my 20 years of fishing I can remember when capelin were used solely for fertilizer with a few barrels to eat while one of our most important economical species, the snowcrab, were nothing more than a plague to the gillnets.
In closing, I don't know if a National Marine Conservation Area is a good idea for me as a fisherperson. I do know that if we don't do something soon, something dramatic, something unique, my lifestyle, my culture, and my livelihood will be destroyed. I know that a Marine Conservation Area will only work if we change our attitudes and our habits.
We, as fisherpeople must accept the fact that all creatures in the ocean's realm are intertwined in a web we may never fully understand. While I, as a fisherperson, am willing to admit sanctuary would be good for the creatures we harvest, governments, as well as the people developing the National Marine Conservation Area, must offer me better methods of making a living and further, they must instill in us a sense that we will all benefit from preserving the biodiversity around us.
Many people view parks and conservation areas as no-mans land, available only to tourists and the creatures who live within their boundaries.
Many conservationists today are looking towards community based stewardship - a union of people, the environment, and the creatures that live there, great and small. Our ancestors settled on this desolate coast because of the natural resources and quite frankly, that is what has kept us here, and that is what will keep us here in the future.
The pristine environment that our ancestors found does not exist, and never will again. Maybe the coastal peoples and the creatures that live here all need sanctuary.
I know we need something. And we need it soon. Thank you.