In 1992, as little as 72,000 tonnes of cod remained in the Grand Banks, and Canada declared a total commercial moratorium. Just as the fish had all but disappeared, so too was there an exodus of fishermen and their families. In less than 10 years, almost 50,000 Newfoundlanders — 18 per cent of rural Newfoundland — had vanished from the province’s outports and coastal towns.
The ban on commercial fishing, initially expected to last two years, stands to this day. In the intervening years, collective memory of the collapse and scientific surveys and government reviews have transformed attitudes and approaches to the harvesting of groundfish such as cod, halibut and flounder in Canada. The DFO’s 2004 Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review and its 2009 Sustainable Fisheries Framework made conservation, sustainable use and more transparent management of stocks top priorities, and while harvesters are anxious for the return of the industry, they too are now acting out of a vested interest in stewardship.
As for the northern cod stocks, things are finally looking up, and with greater certainty than has been seen in the last 25 years.
In 2008, massive schoolings of cod were first observed in the Bonavista Corridor, north of Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula in the species’ historical Grand Banks range. And in spring 2015, Canadian researchers running acoustic-trawl surveys discovered that more northerly stocks had also been resurrected, though they don’t yet have reliable biomass estimates.
Part of the reason for this resurgence, explains Ryan, is the simultaneous reappearance of capelin, a small, silver smelt and cod’s chief prey, which appears to be thriving again as ocean temperatures rise — one local benefit, at least, of global warming. “Without capelin and other forage fish you wouldn’t have many cod around,” she says.
Ryan, who takes part in Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s regular groundfish assessments, is enthusiastic about the reports of annual cod increases of more than 30 per cent in recent years, but cautions that stocks are still far from historic levels.
“We still need a ‘go slow’ approach,” she says, “but we’re very optimistic that things are going to continue getting better, that we’re seeing a regime shift out in the ocean.”
read more: www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/newfoundlands-cod-industry-poised-rebound
article: Nick Walker
photo: Neil Ever Osborne/Canadian Geographic