Noreen and Rex Culter
Hello, my name is Noreen Culter. My husband's name is Rex and I would like to tell our story.
Rex has been a full-time commercial fisherman for twenty-four years. He fishes crab now but before the moratorium his main catch was cod. Most of the time he fished with a partner. They used cod traps, jiggers, gill nets, trawls, hook and line or whatever the season called for.
He quit school in grade seven and has been fishing ever since. He is one of the fishermen who qualified for NCARP for only six months. He said he is glad to have the chance to tell his story. He has a lot of frustration to get off his chest.
For three years he fought the system to try to get what was rightfully his. The reason he was given for not qualifying was, he didn't fish cod in 1990 and he didn't have any historical attachment to the fishery.
It's not that he didn't fish cod, it's that he didn't have receipts for it. He used to go fishing for cod day after day and didn't catch enough to pay for his gas. Because of the financial strain we were under, he had to call it quits that year.
Maybe he could have manufactured receipts (like it was rumored other people were doing) but Rex being a honest man, wouldn't have anything to do with that. So he was penalized for being honest.
When Brian Tobin first became the Minister of Fisheries, Rex contacted his office and for a while it looked like things might work out for us. Rex made a trip to the DFO office in St. John's for a meeting and straightened out a few things, but by then it was too late to qualify for TAGS.
At the meeting Rex accused the government officials of saying he didn't have any historical attachment to the fishery. When they looked over his record it was plain to see that he did. They changed his status from a non-fisherman to a historical fisherman. That was the only thing accomplished at the meeting.
After they corrected his record, he was asked if he came to the meeting to see if he'd have to repay the benefits he'd already received, or to see that he met the requirements for compensation. Rex told them he was there to get what was rightfully his. No comment was made.
Rex says it's common knowledge there are people on TAGS who have never set foot in a boat. The unfairness of it eats at your stomach and makes for bad feelings around town.
When the DFO meeting was finished, one fellow put his arm around Rex as they walked down the corridor. He said to him in a kind but sarcastic way, "if you had stayed at home and watched other people go out in the boat, you would probably be on TAGS by now." That told Rex he'd been penalized for working.
In Rex's opinion DFO should have sat up committees when they decided to compensate the fishermen. There should have been one or two local people on each committee. That way all the fishermen could have benefitted from TAGS.
I am originally from Walbush, Labrador. I worked in the Herring Neck Fish Plant for thirteen years and qualified for TAGS. But I feel my husband, being a fisherman for twenty-four years, surely had more right to TAGS benefits than I did.
Things are very tough for us but before we end up on welfare we'll leave the province. That will bring a whole new set of problems, because the only work Rex knows is fishing.
Right now Rex doesn't know if he will even qualify for the CORE Fishery. He doesn't know where he stands. He couldn't take advantage of any of the training that was offered. He feels like he is nothing in the eyes of the government.
There was a navigation course offered in his area and he was going to take it, thinking it could benefit him in his line of work. The night before he was to start class, he got a call saying he couldn't attend because he wasn't on TAGS.
Of all the people who did retrain, Rex figures about fifty percent of them wanted to retrain and the other fifty percent were forced. He wonders if some time in the future he'll be penalized for not having a navigation course.
Rex got in touch with the local Laubach Council and began one on one tutoring with Ida Reid and Blanche Powell. He stayed with the program for five years and received a Learning Achievement Award from Laubach Literacy of Canada. He finds studying very difficult but he's proud of what he's achieved so far. He is always in touch with the Literacy Office in his area and when more training becomes available he'll start again.
"The worst thing about this cod moratorium", he said, "is that nothing has been learned. The crab is going the same way as the cod, turbot and everything else. DFO is issuing more licences, giving more quotas and allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to fish if they buy a fifty dollar license."
The crab season is over for this year. They caught their boat quota but the price was low, and they had to haul more gear to get the same amount of crab as a few years ago.
I work at the Twillingate Resource Center monitoring the crab landings. This is the Center's third year and they are seeing that the fishermen have to haul more gear to get the same amount of landings.
Rex figures the obvious thing to do is not increase the quota. But the real question is, how to allocate the over-all quota so that it will be fair. He realizes that it is a vicious circle.
He doesn't only blame the government, because in his words, "The fishermen are doing themselves in by keeping on for more and more. The government will give in to them and the stocks won't stand it."
Anyone can buy a fifty dollar permit to fish all summer. Rex doesn't agree with it. He said, "There are people on the mainland who take their holidays during crab season so they can fish on the crab boats. The fishery should be for fisher people, but not for teachers, carpenters, welders and so on."
There are plenty of fishermen around town who would welcome the chance to work on the crab boats. The fifty dollar permit is fine, but only if it is issued to fishermen. Rex said if fishermen tried to take a welder's job, you'd soon see their union fighting for them, but we don't have a union.
Fishing is not the way of the future around Twillingate. It'll be a job for some people, but it will never be the way it was before.
I would like to get out of the fishery because it's much too stressful. I have looked into the possibility of starting a home-based business. But I have some real concerns because once the TAGS benefits stop, there will be a lot less money going into the local economy and the businesses will find themselves in trouble again.
At one time Twillingate and the surrounding area was booming; even the school kids made money by baby-sitting for the people who worked in the fishery, by cutting out cod tongues and cheeks or by helping a fisherman for a share. All the small businesses were booming also.
Gradually the boom came to an end. In the beginning you'd work twenty to twenty-five weeks a year, then it got down to scraping enough stamps together to collect UI. Stamps to me is a dirty word. I have drilled it into our children, "Don't ever, ever, ever depend on unemployment insurance to get you through the year. You look for a full-time job."
I have also preached about education to my family. Nine chances out of ten their future will be away from the Island. Even if they stay here, they need to be well prepared.
Rex and I both know this is no life. If he could have a go at cod, crab, capelin, mackerel and herring, then maybe we could earn a living.
Fishermen work like dogs. Most people working in offices wouldn't be able to stand the pace. About five years ago they worked almost year round because when the fishing season was over, they'd have to mend their nets and traps, make new gear, fix their boat and motor and get ready for the next season.
Today, most of the boats are fibreglass or aluminum, which don't need much repair; when the season is over they only have to mend a few crab pots. All this leisure time is not what fishermen want. They want to be busy doing what they do best. Through no fault of their own, they are twiddling their thumbs and biting their nails. They end up being called lazy.
The rest of Canada has a bad impression about the moratorium and TAGS. The stories relayed to me by other family members living throughout Canada were enough to make me sit down and cry. The unfairness of everything was almost too much to bear. I was raised with the belief, 'when you don't fully understand something, you shouldn't pass judgement on it.'
Our people were suffering; whole communities were suffering, businesses were folding, neighbors were at each other's throats and families were breaking up. It was a disaster. Something had to happen to relieve the strain.
It is a big decision to uproot our family. We'd hate to leave this beautiful Island and everything we own. Starting over in a busy city of pavement, steel and glass will be another struggle. But before we end up on welfare, that's what we'll do.
In order for the fishery to survive we believe licenses should only be issued to a bonafide fisherman. We don't think every Tom, Dick or Harry should be allowed a fishing license. And if a fisherman leaves the fishery, for whatever reason, only another fisherman should be allowed to obtain that business. Rex doesn't think there should be another commercial fishery for another twenty years.
In closing, on behalf of Rex and myself, I would like the people in government to realize the aggravation, heartache and stress that we (and people like us) have been through, and compensate us in some way.
- How long had Rex been fishing before the cod moratorium came into effect?
- What do you think Noreen means by 'stamps being a dirty word'?
- What was the name of the award Rex received?
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