Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Twillingate & Cod Fishing

We traveled the Road to the Isles to Peyton's Woods RV Park and Campground in Twillingate. The road is a series of causeways that connect these once isolated islands and villages. Our first day we hiked under sunny skies and drove to the Long Point Lighthouse. We also got an after hours tour of the Durrell Museum. Day two was rainy, windy and cold, the worst we have had since arriving, and we stayed home all day. This is the advantage of being fulltimers and being here for an extended stay as we can take a day off anytime we choose.

On our last day visited the Prime Berth Interpretive Fishing Center, a must see for anyone who wants to understand cod fishing and its impact on the heritage of Newfoundland. Because it is July there are many stories on the radio and TV about the cod moratorium that banded all cod fishing on the north coast of Newfoundland starting in July 1992. This put thousands out of work and changed the way thousands more made their living. Bill Cooze at the Prime Berth does a very good job of telling the story. Before the 1960's when electricity and refrigeration arrived, all cod fishing was done by families on a very small scale. There were so many cod near shore that most fishermen worked within sight of there homes. That is why you see hundreds of fish camps they call “rooms” all along the coast. All the cod had to be quickly split and salted before it could spoil. After it cured the fish was dried and taken to a fish merchant and exchanged for the supplies they would need to get them through the winter and to start fishing the next year. As the story goes, no matter how many fish you had and of what quality they were it was ALWAYS only enough to just pay the bills and start again the following year. It was a system that basically enslaved the fishermen to the merchants. In areas with larger populations, co-ops were often started to bypass the merchants and put the whole operation in the hands of the fishermen. With refrigeration making ice available they began using bigger boats, going out farther and catching more and bigger fish. This overfishing is what lead to the moratorium in 1992. How often we let progress destroy a way of life.

Fishing stages, homes and the RV park overlooking the Back Harbour in Twillingate.
The Long Point Lighthouse is being renovated. We could hear its fog horn at the park several miles away.
We really just drove to the top of Old Maid Hill for the view of the town below but Ray Blake came by and asked if we would like to tour the Durrell Museum even though it was closed for the day. We got a personal tour of the museum's many local artifacts and great stories about living here from Ray, a lifelong resident. Ray trained here for WWII when the building was an armory. He even let us feel the fur of the polar bear despite the DO NOT TOUCH sign.
A typical Newfoundland fish camp. The stage was built over the water so they could dispose of the waste. The store was for all the equipment and to stack the dried fish. Together they are called the rooms. They are often red because they used red ocher, a common local mineral, mixed with cod liver oil to make paint. The interior of the stage was whitewashed to keep it clean.
Bottom is how they fished years ago, a half dozen men pulling up the net that had been set the day before and shoveling the fish into the open boat. This is why they needed to be close to shore so they could process the fish before they went bad. Top is a modern shrimp boat. This is one type of fishing that has replaced cod. They also now fish for crab and lobster. Bill said when his grandfather caught lobster in his cod nets he would bring them home and grind them up for fertilizer in the garden. They considered them to be inedible. These modern fishermen do make good money but they have a huge amount of money invested in their equipment.
This is Bill showing how they processed the catch. One person would gut it and remove the head. All this went through the slats in the floor of the stage into the water below. The next person would remove the back bone and flick it out the window. A good deboner would always have the next bones in the air before the previous ones hit the water. Next they cleaned the cod and finally salted and stacked it. Salting was the most important job because if any small area was unsalted they would get maggots and destroy the whole stack. It remained stacked in salt for up to two months until the salt had soaked through. The bucket on the table contains the one organ they kept, the cod liver that was barreled and sold as well as used to make paint.
These lovely ladies are showing how the cod was dried after being cured in the salt. The cod were cleaned again and laid out in the sun. If it was to hot ( I don't think that was often a problem) it could burn and lower the quality. Each night and at any sign of rain all the cod was collected and stacked inside the store. The whole process took several days depending on the weather.
Nets were made of cotton twine that had to be dyed and soaked in a preservative to prevent rotting. This process use called barking. At the end of the season they were cleaned, hung to dry and holes were repaired before they were stored. At the start of the next season the whole process was done again.
Four years ago this sei whale was found beached near Twillingate. Dave, the owner of Prime Berth, offered to drag it off the beach if he could have the skeleton after nature picked it clean. This is the first year it has been displayed. Right is the baleen from the whale's mouth. Whales gulp a mouth full of food and let the water run out before swallowing. We saw this when we saw the whales in Labrador. Bill said when they power washed the baleen the outside was so watertight they could only get water through by washing it from the inside.

1 comment:

MarkandRenita said...

Salted cod, must be bad for the blood pressure. What a good post, well told.