Newfoundland’s Cod Industry Poised for a Rebound
After a total collapse of Grand Banks fisheries in the 1990s, the cod are coming back. This time, the Canadian government and Newfoundland fish harvesters are ready to manage the stocks sustainably.
By Nick Walker
For 500 years, European fleets sailed west to fish the cod that crammed Newfoundland’s Grand Banks and other regions of the North Atlantic. Wars were waged and northern nations built on the backs of Gadus morhua, and small communities sprang up all along the Newfoundland coast. But it wasn’t until the 1900s that new fishing techniques and technologies truly transformed the waters.
First came the longliners, larger, faster boats than ever before, ships that could reach new and abundant areas, dropping lines with hundreds of baited hooks. In deeper waters, schooners were made obsolete by steam- and diesel-powered trawlers, powerful large vessels that could drag for cod in any weather, and that by the 1950s had evolved into ruthlessly efficient factory freezer trawlers capable of pulling in and preserving fish without seeing shore for months.
The estimated 1.6 million tonnes of northern cod teeming in the Grand Banks in 1962 couldn’t out-spawn the annual harvest, which by 1968 had reached a staggering 810,000 tonnes — most of it taken by foreign vessels. And an extension of Canada’s maritime boundaries and controls, more rigorous international management and a 40 per cent reduction in catch quotas couldn’t stop the drain, as adjacent international waters continued to be plundered and the Canadian government’s fishery scientists and managers themselves repeatedly overestimated their stocks, at times by more than double.