People in the fishery

Clayton Hunt
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Fishing lobster in Fortune Bay

Friday, May 25 was a gray foggy day as Chesley Lambert took this lobster from one of his traps in Fortune Bay.

It’s an early rise at 3:30 am every morning during the Newfoundland lobster season.

But Chesley and Rosalie Lambert of Harbour Breton don’t mind at all. As a matter of fact, Chesley, who has been in the fishing industry for over 30 years, is enjoying his work more than ever before now that his wife has joined him in the boat.

Rosalie came on board with her husband about seven years ago. Up to that time Chesley was sharing his earnings with a lone crewmember and neither was making a decent living due to low prices for product and the ever-increasing industry related expenses.

Rosalie said, “When Chesley’s crew member got another position I stepped in and went with him. I’ve been fishing full time for seven years now catching lobster, crab, cod and scallop.

“To me, this was the only option we had as it wasn’t feasible to take anyone else. His former partner’s share is now mine and our income is all coming into the one household which is the key to this right now.”

So, is it an advantage for a married couple to be fishing together?

Chesley said, “I enjoy fishing now more than I ever did. I wouldn’t trade this for anything else right now. I tell people that if Rosalie doesn’t go fishing my boat don’t move from the wharf.

“We get along fine, we have a system down pat as we both know our roles in the boat whether we’re fishing lobster, cod or crab.

Rosalie’s job when we’re fishing lobster, for example, is baiting the pots, banding lobster and v-notching the spawny females that we throw back in the water. It’s a good system which is working really well for the both of us.”

Chesley has a long history in the fishery as he was fishing lobster with his father back in the 1970s and started working in the industry in the early 1980s.

Lambert talked about some key ways the Newfoundland fishing industry has evolved over that long time span.

He said, “You could work pretty well all year round back then of course at the cod fishery. There is a cod quota now for each harvester and ours comes out to 17,134 lbs. each year.

A major difference between now and then is the prices we get for species like cod and lobster. I remember getting $3.86 a lb. for lobster when I was fishing with my father all those years ago. We sold some lobster here on Friday (May 24) and received $3.30 a lb. The highest I ever got for lobster was $6.25 a lb. so it’s almost cut in half now.

“I can remember a drum of mixed gas costing $45 when I was fishing with dad. Today the same amount of gas will cost you about $350 so the expenses have gone way up but the price for our product has failed to keep up with that.

“We have earned as much as $1.25 for large cod but I’m hearing the price may go as low as .40 or.50 cents a lb. this year.”

So, what does the future hold for the Lamberts and for the Newfoundland fishery in general?

The Lamberts, both in their early 50s, say they will stay fishing together as long as possible especially given the fact that the conservation measures being used by harvesters to protect lobster in Fortune Bay are working really well.

Chesley said, “Fishing has always been a struggle and some days you wonder why you’re at it at all. But I always say that tomorrow is another day so we’ll keep at this for the foreseeable future anyway.

“ I’m willing to work at this as long as Chesley is healthy and we can survive. It’s especially hard to get a crewmember now anyway so I’m here to stay,” Rosalie said.

Chelsey said that his generation might be the last in the Newfoundland fishery.

“Unless something changes in this industry, I think you’re looking at its last generation,” Chelsey said.

“Processors and governments have to realize that many harvesters need to be earning a better living at the fishery than they are now for the industry to survive.

“Something needs to be done to entice younger people to get involved, as it’s simply not worth their time and effort. It is hard for some enterprise owners to get crewmembers now as many young people are working in other areas here or on the mainland.”

Whether this is the last generation in the Newfoundland fishery remains to be seen of course. In any event, Chesley and Rosalie are content now to be working together to earn a living from the ever-changing Newfoundland fishery.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Harbour Breton, Fortune Bay

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