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In 1497 the English explorer John Cabot sailed through the waters off the coast of Newfoundland and was astounded at the incredible number of cod which surrounded his ship the Mathew. They had only to lower baskets into the ocean and let them fill with fish and retrieve a large catch. It was suspected that English fishermen may have already been fishing this area now known as the Grand Banks. Many other countries, such as France, Spain and Portugal, joined in the fishing banks for the summer seasons and established summer bases to salt and process the fish.

The Northern Cod were so plentiful that until the late 50's over 250,000 tons was caught on an annual basis. The Canadian fishing industry would traditionally fish just off the coast in smaller vessels using traditional methods such as jigging from a dory or small inshore gill nets. In the late 50's the arrival of large factory ships from other countries hailed the first onslaught to the finely balanced renewable cod fishery. These factory trawlers were huge ships which would use enormous haul nets to capture large number of cod, flatfish, haddock, herring and many other fish. They came from England, the U.S., the Soviet Union, East and West Germany. Spain, Portugal, Poland and some Asia nations such as Japan and Korea.

The process would allow them to lay out their nets, from the stern of their ships, haul them in and then process the catch on the ship by gutting, cleaning and freezing the fish. With the arrival of these foreign fleets and the huge increase in their ability to net the fish,  the annual catch, in 1968 increased to over 800,000 tons. At this level the cod were not able to renew their numbers and the available cod began to decline so that by 1975 the annual catch had declined to 300,000 tonnes. The U.S. and Canada took action in 1976 by extending their marine jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles which effectively pushed the foreign factory ships off many of the prime fishing and breeding grounds. The catches continued to decline for a few more years and bottomed out at 139,000 tonnes in 1978. If the fishery were maintained at this level then the recovery and health of the cod may have occurred but at this point Canadian factory ships were replacing the banished foreign ones and by 1984 were hauling in 250,000 tonnes which did not allow it to recover.

The fishing technology had also taken another destructive leap in catch power by with deployment and use draggers. These ships dropped huge nets that were dragged along the bottom of the ocean which caught everything in its path and destroyed the underlying eco-system in the process. Fish, young fish, other sea life and the food source for the cod were all being destroyed in order to keep the catch rate on the rise. The entire eco-system was upset and destabilized. Much of the cod that was caught were spawning fish and hence the reproductive cycle was also disrupted.

The impact of this highly destructive path was pointed out by the local inshore fishermen who were alerted to the drastic drop in the normal patterns of the cod and the shrinkage in their overall numbers. It was only in 1986 that the scientists analysis of the cod caught up with what the local fishing industry had been saying and they recommended in 1988 that the allowable catch be cut in half. The government of the day put off any real action until 1992 when the Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was forced to impose a ban on fishing the Northern cod. The cod fishery had completely collapsed and by 1995 it was estimated that the entire cod bio-mass had declined to around 1,700 tonnes form an annual yearly catch in the mid 50's of 250,000 tonnes.

For over 400 years the cod fishery had been one of the richest in the world and by 1992 it had been almost completely eliminated. The Department of Fisheries estimated that even if the stock began and immediate recovery with no pressure from fisheries, it would take at least 15 years before any fishing could begin again. Over 42,000 people in the fishing industry were put out of work. This spelt the end of many smaller communities in Newfoundland that had been dependant on the fisheries. These people looked to Ottawa for relief and not only for a few years but for the foreseeable future

In hindsight a large part of the blame for the collapse of the cod fishery must be aid at the feet of the Federal Government which became caught up in the expansion of the fishery once the 200 mile limit was imposed and believed that Canadian companies could now expand its operations massively. One yields began to decline the government should have taken immediate, conservation action rather then adopting a wait and see attitude. This was an example of how government support of corporate profit acquisition, regardless of the negative impact upon the citizens, resulted in a devastating outcome for the fisheries in the Atlantic.

The Canadian government had been continually warned by all of the stakeholders except the large corporations that the fishery was in danger and had refused to take action. The fishery is now gone and may never be able to recover. A lifestyle, a source of earning a living, a major food source and an important piece of Canadian history are g=one and only time will tell if it can make a comeback.