Newfoundland Revives Commercial Cod Fishing After 30-Year Moratorium


In a move that signals rebirth and resilience, the final curtain has fallen on the Newfoundland and Labrador cod moratorium, a chapter of Canada’s history that deeply shook the economic core of the Atlantic coast province and forever altered its small communities over three decades ago.

An announcement was made on Wednesday by the Fisheries Department, reigniting the province’s commercial cod fishing industry in a cautious but steadfast manner. An upper limit of 18,000 tons has been slated for the 2024 fishing season, reinstating a strategic lifeline that was abruptly severed more than thirty years back.

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“This closure of the northern cod moratorium marks an historical turning point for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” declared federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier in a press statement. “Our vision is to rebuild this sector skillfully and prudently, with the primary advantage being reaped at the grass-root level by the coastal and Indigenous communities that span Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The initial proclamation of the cod moratorium on July 2, 1992, delivered a catastrophic blow to the people and economies of these coastal regions. Cod populations off the northern and eastern shores of the province were plunging dangerously, and the moratorium was seen as a desperate yet necessary lifeline for their survival. Prior to this, cod fishing was a vital artery of prosperity and livelihood in the province, employing tens of thousands of individuals.

John Crosbie, the federal fisheries minister in office when the moratorium was announced, became a notorious figure for his candid declaration to disgruntled fishermen regarding the plummeting cod numbers, claiming not to have “taken the fish out of the goddamned water!” The moratorium was declared the very next day.

The aftershocks of the moratorium were felt far and wide, with fish processing plants shuttering down and employment prospects dimming considerably. The younger demographic of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, devoid of opportunities, sought refuge and employment in the province’s urban hub, St. John’s, or emigrated to mainland Canada. As a consequence, the province witnessed a considerable dip in population, recording a loss of roughly 10% between 1991 and 2001 due to the exodus from these outport communities, according to the Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador records.

The moratorium, originally envisaged to be a two-year measure to replenish the dwindling fish stock, stretched on indefinitely as recovery proved elusive.

However, in a progressive development last year, scientists from the Fisheries Department revealed the results of a newly employed model that showed that the cod stock had moved out of the “critical zone” for the first time in decades, suggesting that the species was no longer on the precipice of extinction. Despite this advancement, the fisheries remained cautious, maintaining low catch limits.

With the present stock now labeled as being in the “cautious zone,” the emphasis remains securely on promoting growth. The set cap of 18,000 tons for the 2024 season remains just a sliver of the towering 120,000 tons recorded in February 1992, a mere few months before the moratorium was implemented.

Celebrating the end of an era and the beginning of renewed industrial activity, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey displayed his anticipation and optimism on a social media post stating, “Our province has waited a long time for the end of the northern cod moratorium.” He added that “the most important aspect is a sustainable harvest that provides maximum benefits for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”