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Cod moratorium deemed ‘The biggest layoff in Canadian history’

The Story

Fisheries Minister John Crosbie has just made the announcement everyone feared. Following six months of rumour and protest, the native Newfoundlander has shut down the fishery. Crosbie's announcement in a St. John's hotel unleashes a wave of fury from fishermen, all of which is caught on camera. This CBC Television clip looks at that reaction and how the loss of nearly 40,000 jobs will affect the region. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 2, 1992
Guests: Walter Carter, Richard Cashin, John Crosbie
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Tonda MacCharles
Duration: 3:37

Did You know?

• On July 2, 1992, John Crosbie, the federal fisheries minister, announced a two-year moratorium on commercial cod fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to allow dwindling cod stocks to recover.

• As this clip reveals, the Atlantic cod had reached its lowest level in history along the coastal waters and the ban was intended to give the stock time to recover. Crosbie said he regretted having to make the decision but, "we are in an emergency situation here."

• The cod ban left 40,000 full-time and seasonal fishery workers without a job in what was, at its peak in the 1980s, a $700-million industry. Several observers called the moratorium the "biggest layoff in Canadian history."

• "This situation is really unprecedented in modern Canada," Fred Morley, an economist with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council in Halifax, told the Hamilton Spectator. "The only thing you can compare this to is the dust bowls on the Prairies in the 1930s."

• Crosbie also announced an aid package of $225 a week for 10 weeks, in addition to any Unemployment Insurance payments. But the $5-billion package didn't go over well with a group of fishermen who were watching the announcement in a media room within the hotel.

• The group stormed the hall at the St. John's Radisson where Crosbie was addressing reporters. As a security guard jammed the door handles from inside with a chair, the police were called in.

• The near riot spilled out into the street and Crosbie was ushered to his car by an escort of more than a dozen police officers.

• Crosbie's constituency office was also the scene of violence later the same day as angry fishermen ripped the handles off the doors and a staff member was thrown to the ground.

• Though the fishermen in this clip reacted angrily, the announcement was certainly no surprise to any of them. Many media outlets, including the CBC, had been reporting the imminent closure of the commercial cod fishery for months.

• When Crosbie arrived in St. John's for Canada Day festivities the day before his announcement, he was met by an angry throng of fishermen who held cardboard placards and taunted him, saying: "Is this the best you can do, buddy?"

• Provoked, Crosbie responded, to one fisherman by saying "Why are you yelling at me? I didn't take the fish from the goddamn water, so don't go abusing me."

• By the time the 1992 ban was announced, the federal government was spending an average of three dollars on the fishery for every dollar it earned.

• In April 1992, Newfoundland ships protested the ban by dropping a flag and a symbolic fishing dory in the waters outside Canada's 200-mile limit as a protest against foreign fishing.

• The moratorium was expected to last only two years, but most fishermen knew that was a conservative estimate. In 1993 Ottawa made the cod fishing ban indefinite and in 1994 Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin extended it to include recreational fishing.

• The federal government announced it believed the cod stocks would rebound by the end of the century. But leading environmentalists, including Greenpeace, estimated that the once-plentiful stocks of Atlantic cod would need at least 15 years (the cod's natural lifespan) to get back to historic levels.



Fished Out: The Rise and Fall of the Cod Fishery more