Lenny Hanlon speaks up for harvesters
Posted on May 18, 2022 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
If you didn’t watch him too closely, you might not have seen Lenny Hanlon slowly pacing along the side of Quidi Vidi Harbour on Tuesday afternoon. It was still hours away from the arrival of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. They were due along as part of their stop in St. John’s for their Royal Tour to Canada, marking the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Hanlon had been contacted by someone in the provincial government a while back, as he told Atlantic Business Magazine, or someone from the government certainly, who had asked him to be exactly where he was, when he was there. There was no conspiracy in it. We all know it is standard fare for this kind of event to have some of the locals scheduled to meet and interact with the guests. When this pair of royals made their first visit to Canada as a royal couple in 2009 for a far more extensive visit, for example, their stop in Cupids included a walkabout at the Cupids Cove Plantation Archaeological Site and a chance to speak with archaeologist William Gilbert, the town mayor and members of the local heritage corporation. Local site, local people, check.
In the official descriptions this time around, Hanlon’s role was clear. He was “local fisherman.”
And it makes sense that it was him. Anyone in Quidi Vidi over the last half century would know the name and, if they didn’t, they’d seen it over the last decade at least just by looking along the harbour where “LENNY HANLON,” painted in black on the side of a spindly-legged fishing stage, tells you what you want to know.
Hanlon’s stage has been as-is for many years. But as he walked about on the wharf opposite, migrating closer to where his boat was tied up with each passing hour, at least one discussion within the small crowd raised the question of why the provincial government hadn’t offered a lick of paint. Paint over the name on the workspace and make the whole of the harbour even more of a postcard vision for the visitors. The pictures would be seen all over the country, maybe around the world. And they’d fixed the rest after all. The litter was picked up, food trucks were brought in, musicians gave the event a festive flare while the rain had held off. Perfection. Just one more fix… But that’s not really how it works.
They could place Hanlon at the water’s edge, where his boat declared It’s All Good in blue-on-white paint (being the vessel’s name), but there was no ability in Canada to control what he said. He’s a real person in a real place. He’s one of the people who get to vote in the people ordering about the people making the arrangements.
Hanlon watched as the Royals rounded the harbour. There was a rug hooking demonstration in the Plantation building (now the Quidi Vidi Artisan Studios). The Royals and the huddle of people around them then stopped at the Quidi Vidi Sweet Spot and Camilla picked up an ice cream. Prince Charles chatted with some people at a picnic table and petted a big, black Newfoundland dog. They applauded musicians staged at the centre of the gathering at the end of their latest song. Hanlon was positioned at the end of their harbourside walkabout, between them and their final destination of the day, the Quidi Vidi Brewery.
He greeted the Royals with a shy smile, a handshake, warmth someone might conspiratorially accuse of being staged or practiced. But asked about his business, the 73-year-old’s face changed, and he spoke directly, frankly, as an expert.
The gist of the question was clear. The famed Newfoundland codfish, how goes it?
“He asked me, and I told him they are coming back. We’re at crab, we’re at lobster. Cod are eventually coming back,” Hanlon recounted immediately after.
In the re-telling, he added he felt the science and cod recovery planning needed more work. And, people at large needed to square themselves with the idea, as far as he sees it, that management opinions could come out overly conservative in the years ahead, out of fear of overestimation, costing fishermen quota. That’s for another day.
“I also told him we can’t sell a product off this island. If I want to sell my cod or crab to Nova Scotia, I can’t do it. They can’t come in and buy my cod,” he said, in clear disagreement with orders to land fish for processing in his home province. Why can’t he and others in the small boat fleet pop catch onto a larger boat or a private charter and otherwise directly sell afield?
“It’s ridiculous and he’s talking about free trade? Nah, I think it’s ridiculous myself. It puts us at a big disadvantage,” Hanlon said, explaining the disadvantage as in the ability to negotiate with local processors for higher prices. In his own case, a bit of crab now, lobster and then cod later in the summer.
“It’s unbelievable, this day and age. Buyers want to come in from Nova Scotia and buy our product and can’t come in. Something wrong there,” he said.
What did the Royals think of that?
“Maid, he couldn’t believe it really… He just shook his head,” he said, imitating almost exactly what seemed a non-committal response, though Hanlon was satisfied the point was made.
The fishery is bigger business than ever in Newfoundland and Labrador. Total landings of all species, total tonnage, is down but the value of landings recently spiked. Shellfish in particular has been lucrative, accounting for 62 per cent of all landings in 2021 and nearly 88 per cent of the value of the province’s wild fisheries. In a year, landed value for shellfish nearly doubled, reaching $909 million in 2021. You can compare that for scale to the average of roughly $1 billion in all tourism (resident and non-resident) spending in the province from 2011 to 2019. But the benefits are rarely equally spread in such times and not the same for all individuals. Hanlon just wants to see the maximum individual benefit to small boat operators in future and he sees the ability for outside processors to come in as a means to do it. Not everyone agrees, but that’s the crux of it.
Royal visits are precisely scheduled, highly staged events but people aren’t inanimate objects. They have differing thoughts and positions even when they come from the same place or the same profession. Hanlon’s opinions don’t match those of all other fish harvesters to a person. They don’t match what processors or the state itself might say. And they’re what keep events like this from being entirely fixed and fraudulent representations of a place.
There were some cringes and awkward smiles as Hanlon looked for a moment like he was delivering a lecture to the Prince of Wales. Lt-Gov. Judy Foote and Premier Andrew Furey were largely unphased. Furey has, to his credit, not been one to eagerly deny the right to speak, regardless of how he might feel about what someone is saying and his clear frustration at times. And regardless, he knew the issue was the kind of thing governments are expected to weigh and address and, even as crab prices were dropping atop it all, no pressure to the Royal. And maybe Furey didn’t even hear. But there were no tall walls, no suggestion a present reality is final, or answers dictated and that’s the end of it, shutting down all further conversation.
Lenny Hanlon spoke for himself this week and he spoke for the small boat fish harvester. And maybe someone takes his point and thinks a little more on it.
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