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Newfoundlanders protest cod moratorium on Canada Day

It's greedy, it's ugly and it's built to last. For more than 500 years the Atlantic cod was the king of the global fish market, helping build empires, spark wars and found Britain's first colonies in North America. CBC Archives looks at how Canada's abundant cod stocks off of Newfoundland and Labrador were fished to the brink of extinction in what is considered one of the biggest ecological disasters of the 20th century.

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When Federal Fisheries Minister John Crosbie arrives in Newfoundland on Canada Day, he's looking for a joyous Confederation celebration. Instead, he's met by a furious crowd of fishermen, plant workers and their families. They hold brown cardboard placards and taunt him: "Is this the best you can do, buddy?" The group is angry because tomorrow Crosbie will place a moratorium on fishing Atlantic cod, which represents their livelihood.

That means no more work for at least 20,000 inshore fishery workers. The industry has supported rural Newfoundlanders for more than 400 years. And the province's infrastructure relies on it -- everyone from truck drivers to grocery store owners will be affected. The fishermen believe the huge decline in cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland is not their fault and blame government mismanagement. Crosbie disagrees, shouting: "I didn't take the fish from the God damned waters."

The next day, Crosbie announced that the moratorium would last until spring 1994. In 1993, the fisheries department extended the ban indefinitely and closed the food fishery. In 1997, they lifted the ban in certain areas.

• The moratorium put 30,000 Newfoundlanders out of work. They received compensation packages ranging from $225 to $382 a week.

• In 1497, John Cabot said the Grand Banks were "swarming with fish" and called the area terra dos baccalaos, Portuguese for "land of cod."

• In 1968, the yearly northern cod catch was 800,000 tonnes, the largest ever recorded, compared to only 5,400 tonnes in 2000.

• Codfish spawn once a year, but not until they reach five years old. The larger the cod, the more eggs she can produce. The average weight is 2.2 kilograms but cod can grow as large as 90 kilograms. It is common for codfish to live 16 years or more.

• In 2000, a Canadian Coast Guard study found that fishermen in ill-equipped boats travelled farther out to sea because of the moratorium limits. Rescue incidents rose from 193 in 1993 to 382 in 2000.

• Cod stocks haven't recovered since the moratorium. In 2001, scientists said an overgrowing seal population feeding on cod was likely the reason.

• The foreign fisheries have also been blamed. In 1990, they caught 360,000 tonnes of cod off the Grand Banks.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 1, 1992
Guests: Glenn Critch, John Crosbie
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Deanne Fleet
Duration: 2:21

Last updated: February 4, 2015

Page consulted on February 4, 2015

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