By Juris Graney
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Icebergs have long been considered a nuisance to Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishermen, so it’s no surprise to hear the Petermann Ice Island didn’t win many friends among the fishing community.
While tourists flocked to the Northern Peninsula to marvel at a 10-kilometre section that stranded itself off the northern tip of Newfoundland for more than a week in mid-August, fishermen like Dean Patey gnashed their teeth.
Mother Nature had parked its frozen phenomenon right over the top of some of the best cod fishing grounds in the province and calved an armada of icebergs that drifted down along the eastern shoreline.
More than half a dozen floated into St. Anthony Bight, traditionally excellent fishing grounds for the Pateys, chilling the water to unnaturally cool temperatures for this time of year.
“Wish we had these pots last year,” Dean’s brother Dave said as the 35-foot Patey’s Venture steamed back into shore.
“It was good fishing last year, plenty of cod but not like this year. The water is too cold.”
Despite a lack of fish the Patey brothers, along with Sheldon Richards, were joined on the water by Marine Institute researcher Philip Walsh in dunking three cod pots in St. Anthony Bight, making it the first spot in northern Newfoundland to use the devices on a trial basis.
Designed by Walsh and tweaked over a five-year period, the 80-kilogram, 1.8-by-1.8-square-metre baited pots, which use circular funnels and a floating roof, have been tried elsewhere in the province to great success, but never in northern Newfoundland.
As part of a pilot project organized through St. Anthony Basin Resource Inc. (SABRI), Patey’s Venture will test the pots next year. In mid-September it was a dummy run of sorts to make sure the crew understood how to use the collapsible pots.
Under strict conditional licences fishermen with individual cod quotas along the north east coast can use up to 15 of these cod pots, but to this point Walsh said only a few fishermen are using them, preferring, instead, to use gillnets.
Unlike gillnets that need to be checked every 12 hours or so to prevent caught fish from drowning and spoiling, if the weather turns and prevents fishermen from checking their gear the fish in the cod pot stays alive because of the floating roof.
It means that pots can be dropped and left and checked once a week, or even longer if need be.
“The fish won’t spoil,” Dean said after dropping the first pot in 27 fathom of water. The other two were dropped at depths of 31 fathoms and 25 fathoms. By keeping the fish alive in the pots the quality of the final product will increase which will also increase the market value of the product.
With the cod fishery almost over for another year, the crew of Patey’s Venture may not get much of a crack at it but next year, the pots will be given a decent test and the pilot project will be in full swing.
“ This is a new way of fishing,” Dean said, “I can’t wait to get at it.”