Friday, Sept 23, 2005
We notice that there's a slight roll to the ship as we head down to breakfast, but it doesn't bother us. We're seasoned salts ("I'm a BBQ seasoned salt!" says Robert).
We are at Anticosti Island, which is supposedly named because early French sailors thought it was the coast, but then it wasn't (it's offshore) and so named it the "anti-coast." This explanation is a little too pat for some people, but we're going with it because we like pat explanations, as they fit our world view better.
We are on our way into the shore here at Point Roberts on Anticosti Island. Most of the shoreline along here consists of huge cliffs that drop right into the sea, which makes it easy to spot our landing place at a bit of beach.
Along the way, Dennis "Interesting to those who find this sort of thing interesting" Minty explains to us the wonders of kelp. Although kelp doesn't have actual roots, it does have a sticky thing that fastens one end to the bottom. The lets the top leafy part float up in the current and do its kelp thing (converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates).
You can buy and eat it, and according to Tony it "tastes like certain brands of cardboard."
We are here on the beach, looking through rocks for fossils. There are actually quite a lot of them, but they're all pretty boring to dinosaur hunters like us. We find a couple of rocks that have a variety of clams, sea worms, and other sea thingies.
Much more exciting is the arctic silver fox that trots out onto the beach and is soon surrounded by people taking his picture. Clearly habituated to people, he hung out almost all the time we were there, moving from group to group cadging food. Mike the Labradorian fed him some cracker sticks and reported that "he ate them all."
We are back on board, a bit soggy as it started raining as we were riding our zodiacs back in. (We are, however, getting pretty good at riding around in zodiacs. We still get damp in them, on account of they're always surrounded by water.)
Mike the Labradorian does a program in the bar called "In Cod We Trust" (not his joke—it's apparently been around about 75 years). Mike used to be an in-shore fisherman before the moratorium went into effect (he now runs the Battle Harbor restoration project). He has more than one or two opinions he's eager to share with us.
A lot of the early settlers were criminals and convicts. The merchants went to the courts and said they'd take care of the criminals and sent them off to the distant lands of Newfoundland and Labrador to go fishing. They were supposed to be able to buy their freedom after five years or so, but as was usual back then, the fine print ("minus room and board") kept them indentured for their entire lives.
Back then, the basic fishing methods (seine, hook, and line) couldn't really catch enough to make much of a dent in the fishery. They were also in-shore fishing methods, meaning that you had to wait for the cod to come in and spawn which they only did for eight weeks out of the year.
So, the fishermen figured out other fish they could go fishing for, so that they wouldn't be spending the other 44 weeks of the year playing cribbage. They caught, salmon, seal and herring, and had worked out something to catch pretty much year round (except when the ocean was frozen, and probably even then, they cut holes in the ice and went ice fishing for fun).
After WWII, old naval vessels were converted to large steel trawlers. These guys would (and still do) drag large nets on the bottom of the ocean and catch a whole bunch of stuff all at once. The problem, of course, is that you didn't know what you'd caught until you brought it up, at which point, it was too late to do anything about it. You picked out what you wanted and discarded the rest because it was already dead.
Also, they didn't have to wait around for the cod to come in to breed. They could charge out to where the cod were hanging out the rest of the year and yank them babies right out of the water. The trawlers were efficient, really efficient. By 1992, only 10% of the historic cod biomass remained. That's when the Canadian government said, "No more fishing for cod, eh?" You'd think that because they'd stopped fishing for it, the cod would recover, right?
Well, today, we're at 8% if historic levels and a lot of guys are scratching their heads over that one. Some of the possibilities:
Some of the local fishermen have switched to snow crab, which is very lucrative and is an indirect result of the missing cod that loved to eat baby crabs. Now that there's no more cod, there's way more baby crabs and baby crabs grow up to be tasty morsels.
In Mike's opinion, though, the crab fishery is headed the same direction ("dye-rection") as the cod fishery. It's being overfished and will soon be nothing but a shell of itself (har, har).
We stayed up to watch a movie about Gros Morne park, which is where we're headed tomorrow. It didn't have actual moving pictures (it was a bunch of slides fading into each other) and the music was dreadful (turns out to have been done by one of the producers).
But one message got through: it's a park, eh?
Robert & Laura