Templeman: A Fisherman's Son

Learn about the life of Wilfred Templeman, a scientist regarded as the leading pioneer of marine science in Newfoundland who also helped found the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries.

Transcript of Video:

Narrator
His name was Wilfred Templeman, known as Temp to his friends and colleagues.  He was born here in 1908 on the starkly beautiful island of Newfoundland.  His family had fished here for generations.  And although he had a lifelong fascination with the sea and the stunning array of life that lived and moved in its depths he decided early on not to become a fisherman.

Mr. Templeman
My father was a fisherman and I worked with him fishing for a while, and in one month I earned $4, so I thought it was time maybe to move on from that.

Narrator
But, to move on and escape the ancestral cycle of subsistence fishing he knew he would have to get a better education than the one being offered at the local Methodist one-room school he attended in Bonavista.  So, he applied himself to his studies and managed to win a residential scholarship to the Methodist College in St. John's to complete his high school.  Here, once again he excelled, matriculating top of his class and this encouraged him to apply for a scholarship to a Canadian university.  Again, he succeeded, winning a scholarship to Dalhousie University in Halifax where he completed his bachelor of science degree in 1930.

Here, he not only graduated with great distinction, he also made his presence felt on the university's championship rugby team.  Following this, much to his delight, he won a student biological board scholarship to go to the University of Toronto to study aquatic science under renowned marine biology Professor A.G. Huntsman.  Temp completed his PhD thesis in 1933 based on the extensive lobster research he had conducted during the University summer breaks from 1930 to 1933 at the St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick. 

Upon graduation from Toronto, Temp had hoped to join the staff at St. Andrews as a scientist, but with the Great Depression there were no openings.  So, he accepted a junior lectureship at McGill teaching biology and zoology.  He taught here for the next three years, until 1936 when he returned to Newfoundland to take up a professorship in biology at Memorial University College in St. John's.  By now, he had fallen in love with Eileen McGrath.  They had first met when Temp was a summer student conducting field work on lobsters near her home at Pointe-du-Chêne.  Their marriage in 1936 marked the beginning of a wonderful relationship that lasted all their lives.

Temp taught at Memorial for the next eight years.  And although he enjoyed teaching, he longed to be doing original scientific research, but it was wartime.  Then the opportunity came in 1944 when he was asked to takeover as director of fisheries investigations at the Newfoundland Government Laboratory on Water Street.  But although Temp was pleased with the appointment, he knew he had a daunting task ahead of him.  There had been little fisheries research done on the colony over its long history and what records and data had been collected were largely destroyed when the former laboratory at Bay Bulls burned to the ground in 1937.

The Water Street Laboratory that eventually replaced it proved to be tight and cramped, because he and his small staff had to share the premises with employees of the island's public health department.  But Temp was not deterred, regularly putting in 18 hour days, researching and writing papers on a diversity of subjects, from the life history of the spiny dogfish and its value as a source of vitamin A, to studies of capelin, cod and haddock. 

Interviewee
He worked day and night on marine science and, of course, he was director of the lab, so he had a certain amount of administrative work to do.  But, quite clearly, his first love was marine biology.  He just lived it, totally lived it.

Interviewee
He was very precise, very thorough, very professional, very honest -- the experimental method, the hypothesis and collecting of data -- he knew how science was done and he was an exemplary practitioner.

Narrator:
But, as much as Temp valued the work done in the laboratory he considered work at sea paramount.  This is because he saw that if Newfoundland was to achieve its full potential as a fishing nation or unexplored offshore waters and the multitude of underutilized and, as yet, undiscovered marine species they contained, had to be thoroughly surveyed.  This survey was also essential, because he could see that after the war the traditional salt cod fishery would become a thing of the past with the widespread introduction of domestic refrigeration.  People would want fresh frozen products, not just cod, but other species as well.  And Newfoundland fishermen, like his father, would have to be educated and equipped to go out where these species had been located and harvest them.

Interviewee
The Newfoundland fishing industry would have to change its emphasis from being a solely inshore fishery to one that could compete to some degree.

Narrator:
Another crucial reason why the island's marine resources had to be catalogued was because Templeman could see in the future there would be increased exploitation by foreign fishing nations.  And if these incursions were to be monitored, it was essential that Newfoundland's fishery scientists know as precisely as possible the size and location of the commercial fish populations, so their exploitation could be regulated on a scientific basis. But the Investigator II, the small research vessel made available to the lab for offshore exploration, was not what Temp wanted.  Only 82 feet long with a wooden hull that would make her unsuitable in ice.  But he knew she would have to serve and serve she did.

Interviewee
We got this ship of 82 feet in 1946 and she was only 82 feet long but she went everywhere. A great part of our earlier work with her was exploratory.

Interviewee
She worked from April to December and worked as far as the tail of the Grand Banks, even further on many occasions and fished in depths to 400 pounds.  I mean it really was an incredible little workboat, but not the thing that you want really for research in the long-term, because you need big vessel to be stable.

Narrator
The seagoing exploration carried out on Investigator II yielded up some surprising information, including the discovery that capelins spawned offshore as well as on coastal beaches, and this laid the groundwork for further capelin research and eventually their profitable exploitation in the coming decades. Further surveys found as yet untapped fishing areas that contained many cod, redfish and flatfish populations.  Another surprising discovery  was the existence of rare and previously unknown fish species that came up in the trawls, Temp dubbed these odd fish. 

Interviewee
Let me tell you, some of them were fairly odd.  We would have everything from sharks to seahorses.

Narrator
Temp was particularly intrigued by these unusual animals and devoted what little spare time he had to try to fathom their biology and life histories.  In fact, much of his life's work outside of the main work on commercial species was done on things like skate and grenadiers.  But as much as Templeman was pleased with the progress of the exploratory work at sea, he faced serious problems in the lab, a chronic shortage of staff, a lack of suitable workspace and insufficient funds to set-up training programs for fishermen.  But he knew this would all cost money and Newfoundland was a poor country.

Then, in 1949, a reprieve when Newfoundlanders voted to become part of the Canadian Confederation.  This meant the Water Street Laboratory would now become part of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada's highly developed network of biological stations.

When Temp went to Ottawa in 1950 to officially handover fishers and aquatic research responsibilities from Britain's oldest colony to Canada's youngest province he outlined what his laboratory required to function effectively.  Ottawa agreed to all these requests.  They would buy the entire government building on Water Street, reequip it and hand it over to Temp and his staff.  Plans to build a state of the art research vessel for Newfoundland would begin immediately and, his budget was increased to hire staff and set-up training programs for inshore fishermen to introduce them to alternative ways of fishing like long-lining, so they could harvest offshore deepwater species.

Although Temp returned home from Ottawa satisfied, he knew it would take time to buy and reequip the lab and even longer to build and launch his new research ship.  At least he now had sufficient funds to hire more staff, but in this he was initially unsuccessful.  The problem was that qualified researchers appeared reluctant to come and work in Newfoundland.  He eventually overcame the problem by instituting a series of Fisheries Research Board scholarships to promising Newfoundland students who wanted to enter the field of aquatic science and work in their own province.

Interviewee
So that is what he did, he got the Fisheries Research Board to establish scholarships in biology available to Newfoundland high school students who wanted to go to Memorial.  And he interviewed and selected them very carefully and it was a great success.

Narrator
Templeman assisted in the development of the scholarship students by conducting evening seminars in fishery science at Memorial.  He also personally supervised their graduate degrees.  Temp took on this extra work on top of his punishing workload as director of the St. John's Station.  But, in spite of this, he still found time for his family.

Interviewee
He was man who was absolutely dedicated to his work and his family.  There was to parts to Temp's life, his wife and kids and the house and his work and very little in between. 

Narrator
In 1958 the 177 foot research trawler, AT Cameron, named after a former Research Board Chairman, was finally launched and made available to the Newfoundland Station.

Interviewee
It was a big side trawler and it was the Tajma Hall compared to anything that people had used before.  It was able to go offshore anywhere, to stay offshore for weeks at a time, to fish in 400, 500, 600 fathoms, if necessary, so it was almost the equivalent of going from a small plane to a spaceship.

Narrator
The arrival and utilization of this magnificent research ship marked the change and emphasis at St. John's.  Although voyages of exploration would continue with the Cameron, the major part of the exploration and cataloguing of Newfoundland's marine resources, which began with the Investigator II in 1946, had been largely completed.  The enormous area covered by this pioneering survey stretched from the Arctic waters and Davis Strait through sub-Arctic and temperate waters to the Southern Grand Banks and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The results of this extensive exploration would eventually be published in Templeman's landmark work Marine Resources of Newfoundland in 1966.

The main effort would now turn to monitoring the exploitation by the growing foreign fleets in Newfoundland waters.  This work would be done in cooperation with the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, or ICNAF, an organization Newfoundland had joined prior to Confederation in 1949.  Temp strongly believed in it because it was dedicated to the sharing of research and the formulation of agreed upon regulations to provide sustainable catches in the Northwest Atlantic Fishery for future generations.

Interviewee
ICNAF was the only organization, the only opportunity where Canada as a coastal state, United States as a coastal state could sit down at the table with these people and hammer out agreements and try and move forward enforcement regulations and agreements and this sort of thing.

Narrator
In the early post-war years the presence of foreign draggers and factory trawlers was barely noticeable, but Temp could see that was rapidly changing. 

Interviewee
Templeman had a lot of foresight.  He could look ahead and guess at what was coming and his guesses were pretty accurate.

Narrator
Temp was particularly concerned about the cod population off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, because earlier surveys had proven that these cod were different than the cod found off the Grand Banks, in that they matured at a much slower rate and that they would be most vulnerable to overexploitation.  This stock was the one which sustained the inshore fishery along the northeast coast and Labrador, by far the biggest fishery in the province.

So, he dispatched the Cameron under the direction of Art May to monitor the effect of the foreign trawler fishery there.  Dr. May carried out troll surveys in the area to ascertain the stocks' abundance, distribution, growth, mortality, migrations and life history generally.  Temp was right, the fishery had developed at an alarming pace.

Interviewee
And I began that work in 1959.  By 1966 that fishery had reached a level of something like 800,000 tonnes, and in retrospect the fishery was killed at that point, although it didn't die until about 25 years later.

Narrator
It was clear that the agreed ICNAF policy of employing larger mesh sizes allowing the smaller fish to escape was not working and unrestricted fishing continued.  ICNAF responded by asking Temp and another scientist to formulate new fishing protocols to better regulate the fishery.

Interviewee
We recommended quotas and that is where quotas started.  A quota on each particular species, which was allocated between the various nations, it brought some measure.. some measure of control to the organization that without a doubt would never have been there without the influence of Dr. Templeman.

Narrator
But, just as the over exploitation of the commercial fishery seemed to be under a measure of control the situation soon began to change rapidly.  Over fishing of cod and the other commercial stocks by the offshore fishing fleets continued in earnest in spite of the quota regulations.  By now, they numbered over 600 draggers and factory trawlers employing nearly 28,000 men.

Interviewee
It was obvious, both within the ICNAF structure and the annual meetings it held and the scientific reports that were presented annually, that the resource from 1970, for example, onward was in serious trouble, it was a downward trend in practically every species.

Narrator
Templeman was now nearing 65 and retirement from the St. John's Station.  But, before he left in 1971, he gave out a grim warning in the press.  If ICNAF regulations drawn up to protect and conserve the fisheries of the North Atlantic were only given lip service by the great trawler fleets, the collapse of the North Atlantic Fishery that had endured for 1,000 years was inevitable.  But, there was little he could do about it.

Interviewee
The size of ships increased enormously, the numbers increased and so there was a massive effort.  And then, on top of that, there was enormous misreporting.  Misreporting not only in terms of the quantity caught, but fish that was discarded and therefore not probably recorded by the scientists who were trying to do some kind of assessment.

Interviewee
ICNAF never never managed to get real, solid, down to earth management measures which everybody agreed to and everybody obeyed.

Narrator
Upon retirement, he returned to Memorial University where he took a research chair as the JL Paton Professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries.  Here, apart from his academic duties, he devoted his time to the pursuit he loved most, original scientific research, concentrating on the mountain of data collected on the odd fish and other underutilized species over the years of exploration. Many of the specimens he studied are now housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.  After 10 years at Memorial he came here to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre located at the White Hills on the outskirts of St. John's, a world renowned aquatic science centre that he and Art May had laid the foundation for before his retirement in 1972.

At the White Hills he was given a small office and the unrestricted use of the Centre's laboratory facilities to continue his research and to publish the results of his investigations.  By now, many honours had been bestowed upon him over his career:  the OBE in 1948; Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada in 1950; the Public Service Merit Award upon his retirement in 1972; in 1982 a modern 50 metre fisheries research trawler assigned to the Newfoundland and Labrador region was named The Wilfred Templeman, the first time a fisheries and ocean ship had been named after a living person; in the same year Memorial University bestowed on him an honorary Doctor of Science degree.  By now, he had published more than 250 papers over his long career.

Interviewee
His publication record is just incredible.  His lifetime record of publications is astounding for an individual in marine biology and certainly an inspiration to any scientist who is in this field.  And his work will form the basis of other people's work, the background to their work, for decades to come.

Narrator
It is fitting than an annual publication award is given in his name.  In 1990 he handed in his last scientific paper and that night suffered a fatal heart attack, he was 82 years old.  Dr. Arthur May who had succeeded Temp as director in 1972 recalled the early years at Water Street.

Dr. May
Looking back, looking at the publications, looking at what they accomplished with minimal resources was just amazing.

Narrator
In an interview in 1972 Temp was asked what motivated him to accomplish what he did.  He replied, "What I did I did for Newfoundland."

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