In Newfoundland, the timid return of cod fishing

In Newfoundland, the timid return of cod fishing
In Newfoundland, the timid return of cod fishing

“Historical” : the word has been bandied about repeatedly by Canadian ministers and MPs to describe the end of the 32-year moratorium on northern cod fishing in Atlantic waters off the island province of Newfoundland. Federal authorities in Ottawa made the decision because, in their eyes, the cod have left the ” critical threshold “ of the species, to join “the caution zone”mainly due to a change in the calculation model.

However, the quantities of fishing permitted at the reopening are light years away from those of the past. Just before the imposition of the 1992 moratorium, 190,000 tonnes could be fished annually. This year, the quota is set at 18,000 tonnes.

Some of the most fish-rich waters in the world

This return, although timid, nevertheless reminds Newfoundlanders of the glory days of an era that seemed to be over. Cod fishing was the alpha and omega of the island for centuries, from the first voyage of explorer John Cabot in 1497 until the moratorium.

It shaped its settlement and its relations with Europe because the waters of Newfoundland, at the confluence of ocean currents, were among the richest in fish in the world and attracted covetousness. The cold Labrador Current crosses the Gulf Stream, bringing fresh water saturated with nutrients to the surface, a feast for fish.

As early as the 16th century, the English and French went fishing off the Grand Banks. They left after the fine weather, with tons of salted cod on board. This was the beginning of the epic of the Newfoundlanders, these sailors who brought life to European cities at the cost of risky fishing campaigns in waters known to be unpredictable. More than 170,000 cod fishermen left the French ports of Granville and Saint-Malo between 1670 and 1763.

In 1992, more than 30,000 jobs were lost

Centuries passed, fishing became industrialized. In the 1960s, up to 800,000 tons of cod were landed annually on the coasts of Newfoundland. Deep-sea trawlers raided the cod, eroding the resource. Overexploited, the stocks plunged into an abyss. The government had no other choice: in 1992, it suspended commercial fishing.

Cyr Couturier, a professor of aquaculture at Memorial University’s Maritime Institute in St. John’s, remembers the shockwave the moratorium caused: “30,000 jobs gone: fishermen no longer had a reason to get up in the morning. Fish processors had to train in hairdressing, welding. Many left to work in the mines, in Alberta, in western Canada. There was great disarray.”

“Ottawa knows that the stock is low”

Cod has still not recovered from the excesses of past centuries. The national body that oversees scientific advice provided to the fisheries ministry estimated this spring that cod numbers had stagnated for nearly a decade and that the stock would risk declining in the next three years, even if they were not fished, given its slow recovery.

“We are far from opening the floodgates, because Ottawa knows that the stock is low. The fish is not increasing, because its favorite food, capelin, a small fish, is no longer there. The ocean is no longer as productive.”says Cyr Couturier. How can we ensure then that the 18,000 tonnes of fishing authorised this year are not already overfishing? “We consider that fishing is sustainable if each year, 10% of the stock is taken without endangering it. It is not certain that this is the case», says Cyr Couturier.

The risk of making the same mistakes

Observers see the return of the symbolic fishery as a political maneuver by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to secure Newfoundlanders’ votes, as a federal election approaches and Conservative rivals lead the polls. If that was the case, the move appears to have missed its target.

The Newfoundland and Labrador inshore fishermen’s union, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, has also used the term “historical” after Ottawa’s announcement, not to welcome it, but rather to qualify what he considers to be the government’s lack of vision.

He accuses it of making the same mistakes as in the past, by allowing ocean-going vessels to share the resource., rather than reserving it only for coastal fishermen. For the union, the risk, as 32 years ago, is that cod will decline rapidly.


Cod or codfish

Cod, or cod, refers to fish of several species in the order Gadiformes. This also includes haddock, whiting and pollack, but also, in some classifications, monkfish which, unlike the other species, lives in fresh water. In European cuisine, “cod” refers to fresh or frozen fish, while “cod” is dried and salted fish.

These fish live in cold waters. Their flesh is particularly appreciated because, devoid of fine bones, it detaches easily from the backbone and the robust ribs. And in cooking, cod is the marine equivalent of pork: everything is good.



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