Mayor of Rencontre East, once a thriving fishing community, worried about the future
'I wouldn't encourage young ones to stay'
By Clayton Hunt
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Transcontinental Media/The Coaster
In its heyday Rencontre East was home to about 350 residents and was a thriving fishing community. However, like many other isolated outport Newfoundland communities, it is facing a serious decline in population.
There are 121 people in the community today and Mayor Tom Caines is worried about the future. "I'm very concerned about the future of Rencontre East. Our young residents are going out to post-secondary institutions of learning and with our older people passing on, our population, unless something drastic happens, will continue to decline," Mayor Caines said. "There's nothing for our young people here now. There are only six students in Levels 2, 3 and 4 (one part-time student) with no students at all in Level 1. There are not enough high school students here to have a dance on a Friday night for the teenagers. Can you imagine that? "As much as I'd like to see Rencontre East survive, I wouldn't encourage young ones to stay because there is nothing here to stay for."
Mayor Caines said he doesn't think the traditional fishery or possible aquaculture projects in the area can entice young people to stay or to come back to the community. "I can't see our young people staying or coming back for the traditional fishery or for aquaculture, even if it does happen on a big scale in our local area. Our lobster fishery is very important in Rencontre East and this year, with prices down, I lost about one-third of the income I made in 2007," Mayor Caines said. "Lobster prices may not improve in 2009 as this year's prices for the fall lobster fishery in parts of the Maritimes is down about $2 a pound compared to last year's prices."
While aquaculture projects are making a difference in some Coast of Bays communities, Mayor Caines said he doesn't see it making a major impact in his area. "Even if aquaculture projects took off in a big way down here our local fish harvesters are not going to work on the projects," Mayor Caines said. "We have 18 full-time fish harvesters here and altogether the fishery employs 45 people. I can't see a lot of young people coming back to work in aquaculture and there are not enough young people here to fill many jobs."
The mayor said he can see where aquaculture can be very beneficial, but as a traditional fish harvester, he's still skeptical and nervous about it. "Our lobster fishermen are especially against aquaculture because they don't want to lose their traditional lobster grounds. So, with the lack of jobs, our isolation, a less than adequate medical care and an ever shrinking population, young people are not staying and the future doesn't look bright right now," Mayor Caines said. "Let me give you one example about how population loss makes a difference in a community. Not too many years ago if you were number 51 on the dart list you didn't get to play darts at the hall. The players in the league would all sign up for the following year during the last night of the season so it was hard for new players to get involved. Now there are only 16 players in the full league. "It's sort of funny you know. People used to come to work in Rencontre East from Harbour Breton and Marystown years ago when our mine at Rencontre Lake was in production and we had a herring factory here. We also had a huge cold storage plant here and ships from Boston would come here to pick up bait. We had our day, but it won't get back to that anymore."
Mayor Caines said he can see Rencontre East becoming a cottage community where fish harvesters will come to live at certain times of the year to pursue the fishery and leave when the fishery is over. "It's sad, he said, "but that's the way it seems to be going."