IMAGE: Manuel E Garcia/Unep/topham
e are all fishers in Atlantic Canada, fishers and farmers. Fishing and agriculture were integral to the lives of the early settlers. Nature was respected and a little feared, but not exploited. The land and sea were simply for subsistence.
The two industries continue to play the largest roles in our economy but, sadly, they are now run by the few: large companies that put immediate profit above all else.
Everything finds its way to the water and thus mistreatment of land and poor agricultural practices have seriously harmed the fisheries. Silt from roads, farmland and forest operations obscures stream and river bottoms. Forests are thoughtlessly clear cut. Runoff from careless land harvesting has contaminated our waterways with chemicals and bacteria. In the sea, oil and gas exploration, construction and chemical spills - often undetected - from large ocean liners are killing life.
Fish stocks are decreasing and, in some areas, have completely disappeared. They once seemed limitless. But competition has led to overfishing of many areas. For generations up to the early 1980s, small, independent fishing operations were fruitful and sustainable. Then large-scale trawling moved into the area and fish populations greatly declined.
These large trawlers not only harvest far too many fish, but their nets drag everything in their path, including food and habitat for future stocks. Fishers who used to make a living with hook and line had to get involved in the trawling, or leave fishing altogether. They were increasingly marginalized. Few could remain. Some companies contend that the problem in the fishery is that too many people are after too few fish. In fact, careless technology has been the bane of the industry.
Most of our population is deceivingly urban, but countless precious fishing villages still pepper the Atlantic Canadian landscape. Here, you are never far from the water, physically and in spirit.
The majority of my generation is only now reflecting upon the beauty and common sense of a once idyllic community. Recent initiatives are aiming to clean the water that weaves through our land and strokes our shores. Increasing support for environmentally sound agriculture and fishing practices is welcome and imperative. We're not just hoping to save an industry, we're working to preserve a culture and its natural cradle.
Image: Penny Edwards/UNEP/TOPHAM