Now that I’ve read and looked at this pictorial history, I’ve seen more snaps of trawlers than I ever did actual trawlers afloat. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one at sea fishing. I’ve seen a few tied up at various wharves in the province.
By now you’re probably reckoning I’m not a fisher person.
The last time I was on the water was decades ago, and then it was in Random Arm in Grampa’s motorboat - yes, Grampa’s boat, that long ago - a boat no longer than a pickup truck.
I read ‘Captains Courageous’ eons ago and I have seen the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ if that counts for anything.
To my shame, I s’pose, it was 1966 or thereabouts before I became conscious of any particulars regarding the state of the Grand Banks’ fishery.
Oh sure, I studied a couple of pages about the fishery in the Grade Five [?] history text - John Cabot and the b’ys hauled codfish from the sea by the bucketful - but other than that my mind was as empty as a latter day cod trap.
After years of dwelling in the wilderness of Quebec/Newfoundland and Labrador, I returned to The Island in the dying days of the legendary Grand Banks’ fishery - kinda. Within a couple of decades of my resettlement, Big John announced The Moratorium and - to cast among clichés for a cod fishing figure of speech - the jig was up.
In the days before my specs became bifocals, I did get to see the remnants of the Portuguese White Fleet tied up to the docks in St. John’s and to see crewmembers booting a soccer ball around the harbour front.
[A parenthetical aside: Reading history as an old feller - and more to the point, looking through rheumy eyes at certain of the photos in this book - I was caught a little bit by surprise to see how young the fishermen were. Mere boys, not sea-scarred ancient mariners.]
‘The Grand Banks: A Pictorial History’ [Flanker Press] provided my still imperfect noggin with this tidbit of trivia explaining how the White Fleet got this moniker.
During the war, Portugal was a neutral country and free to sail the sea without fear of being sunk by submarines or blasted to smithereens by hostile battleships. Well, not really a hundred percent safe. To announce their neutrality, Portuguese ships were painted white and often sailed in convoy to further insure safety.
So there, the White Fleet.
P’raps you already knew that. I told you I was more or less unconscious half my life.
As early as the 1920s - a date I’ve learned from author J.P. Andrieux - Newfoundland fishermen were warning that trawlers, those “beasts of the ocean,” would eventually destroy the fishery because they indiscriminately clawed all species into their nets, sorta like the yo-yos who netted Nemo’s daddy.
You know how sometimes a tune gets lodged in your skull and tap-dances around in there all day and into the evening. When I started to read Chapter 5, a song that had been lying in ambush for twenty years leapt from the bushes - ambush! - and blindsided my brain.
The chapter’s title is ‘The Spanish Fleet’.
The bushwhacking - bushwhacking! - song: ‘Seven Spanish Trawlers’.
“There were seven Spanish trawlers fishing in the sun…”
Or words to that effect.
Ten minutes of intense Googling revealed a couple of versions - one on Youtube - of this parody of Willie Nelson’s ‘Seven Spanish Angels’.
To beat a dead horse, or split an expired codfish, [Am I mixing metaphors?] ‘The Grand Banks: A Pictorial History’ is basically what its title states. The book is mostly page after glossy page of pictures tracing the fishery from its earliest photographed days up to the present, more or less.
The text accompanying the photos is a detailed, informative recording of that same history with emphasis- of course - on its connection with Newfoundland.
Did I say above that certain songs stay in one’s head all day, buzzing around your ears like inch-long nippers?
Weeks later, I’m still being waylaid by that mesmerizing melody -“There were seven Spanish trawlers…”
Thank you for reading.