The Newfoundland bank fishery : government policies and the struggle to improve bank fishing crews' working, health, and safety conditions, 1876-1920

Winsor, Frederick Archibald (1996) The Newfoundland bank fishery : government policies and the struggle to improve bank fishing crews' working, health, and safety conditions, 1876-1920. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

The re-establishment of the Newfoundland-based bank fishery during the late 19th and early 20th centuries came about as a result of the Newfoundland government's policy of economic diversification. Several factors assisted in its rapid growth including the presence of an ongoing bait fishery, and Newfoundland's incubator bank fishery – the western boat fishery, the attendance of foreign bank fishing fleets around the coast of Newfoundland and the need to find other forms of employment in the face of deteriorating job opportunities in the sealing industry. -- In the late 1870's, successive Newfoundland governments provided bank fishery and shipbuilding subsidies. These initiatives, coupled with substantial fish landings encouraged increased participation by local fishing firms. While financial incentives to encourage the bank fishery ceased after only a few years, the Newfoundland government continued to subsidize the shipbuilding industry which it saw as both a form of import substitution and a seasonal make-work program. -- A successful decade in the 1880s saw the rise of St. John's as the largest bank fishing port in Newfoundland. Commencing in 1889 the bank fishery declined in terms of landings and participation. Fishing firms in St. John's and in other northeast coast communities gradually withdrew from it. St. John's, the base of the bank fishery in the 1880s, witnessed only a fraction of bankers outfitting from its wharves after 1890. By the late 1910s the bank fishery used the south coast as the base of its operations where it remained until being replaced by the deep sea dragger fleet in the late 1940s. -- Labour legislation in late 19th century Newfoundland fishery consisted of the Masters and Servants Act. One-sided labour laws, they underlined the considerable power wielded by Newfoundland (and in particular, St. John's and Conception Bay) fish merchants. Many firms operating from these ports required bank fishers to sign written contracts guaranteeing to remain with the employer for the duration of the voyage, often a six month period. Leaving employment prior to the end of the trip constituted desertion — a criminal offence punishable by a jail sentence of thirty to sixty days. Newfoundland bank fishers responded to this system in various ways. Some accepted it as part of the cost of residing in Newfoundland. Others resisted, either by deserting vessels which they saw as unsafe or unprofitable, or by leaving the fishery for other labour markets either In Newfoundland or elsewhere. -- Issues other than archaic labour laws and desertion plagued successive Newfoundland administrations. By the late I880's, critics of the domestic shipbuilding program recognized it as subsidizing the construction of poor quality vessels, particularly for the bank fishery. They forced the government to seek remedial action in the form of an independent inspector — a Lloyd's Surveyor. In addition other middle class reformers active at the same time successfully lobbied to have the Newfoundland government introduce a death benefit insurance program for bank fishers. -- To provide themselves some form of protection, bank fishers along with other Newfoundland fishers organized and joined various mutual aid or friendly societies. Generally formed along religious or sectarian lines, these organizations provided assistance to fishers and their families in times of need. The period after 1908 saw fishers joining the Fishermen's Protective Union, which offered them a voice in the political affairs of the country. Within the late 19th and early 20th century struggles to improve working and safety conditions in the bank fishery we meet various reform-minded politicians and other activists and explore their efforts to improve conditions faced by bank fishers and their families. Tracing their endeavours, uncovers the arguments of those both supporting and opposing change, thus providing some exposure to the force field of Newfoundland's domestic political structure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/1505
Item ID: 1505
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [366]-389
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1996
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador; Grand Banks of Newfoundland
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--History; Fisheries--Grand Banks of Newfoundland--History; Fishers--Newfoundland and Labrador--Safety measures--History; Work environment

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