The tragedy dealt the South Shore community of Woods Harbour this week is immeasurable. Five of their young men went out to work the sea and never returned – perhaps in part because of a quota system that may compel them to take chances in bad weather.
The fact the crew was working the fishing grounds as a major winter storm approached is certain to raise questions about what they were doing there and it’s something that’s likely to trouble their surviving family members and the community as it comes to grip with their loss.
Fishermen are special people. Every day they go out to sea to catch the products you see at the local grocery store and every one of them knows the day could come when they don’t come home.
Unfortunately, when your life is the sea – and it’s your only way of supporting your family – chances sometimes get taken. Those who work the seas go out in all sorts of weather, good and bad, and most times they return without incident. This, tragically, was one of those times when five men were snatched from their families and their community.
With the end of the halibut fishing season a month away, crews are pushing themselves to meet their quota knowing what fish they don’t catch will be lost. Lost fish means lost income.
It should raise questions about the quota system that forces fishermen to leave the safety of their harbours when the best decision should be to stay tied up at the wharf. Fishermen should not have to risk their lives in poor weather to meet their quota. Either extend the season, increase the quota or come up with some form of compensation.
Instead, what we have is a community mourning the loss of five men. How many more communities will face similar circumstances before the system is re-examined?
We will never know what happened on the Miss Ally, other than a signal was transmitted on Sunday night 120 kilometres from Liverpool. There was no distress call beforehand, but there were 10-metre seas and hurricane force winds in the area.
Still, as we mourn their passing, we hope it serves as a wake-up call for government to review the quota system and the strain it places on those forced to make life and death decisions to make a living.