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What happened to all the cod?

The Story

While the 1992 and 2003 fishing moratoriums were seen as tough medicine, fishermen were told that the bans were necessary if the cod stocks were ever expected to recover. But more than a decade after the initial ban the Atlantic cod population continues its free fall. This CBC Television report looks at new scientific research that suggests decades of overfishing has adversely affected the cod's breeding cycle, leaving them permanently stunted as a result. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 14, 2003
Guest(s): Scott Morehead, Ransom Myers, Daniel Polley
Hosts: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Eve Savory
Duration: 8:52
Movie footage "Old Man and the Sea" courtesy Warner Bros.

Did You know?

• For more than a century Canadian fishery research supported the notion of an unending supply of cod.
• The work of the late 19th-century British scientist Thomas Huxley put forward the idea of "the indomitable force of nature" that resisted attempts to exploit it.
• During a gathering of international fishery officials in 1883 he argued that overfishing was an unfounded fear saying, "Any tendency to overfishing will meet with its natural check in the diminution of the supply."

• An 1885 report on the fisheries prepared for the federal government echoed Huxley's beliefs. It said, in part that "It is impossible, not merely to exhaust them, but even noticeably to lessen their number."
• Research conducted in the 1930s and excerpted in 1937's Book Of Newfoundland, stated "these investigations have given no indication that the stocks of cod are being unduly depleted by the present fishing methods."

• That opinion was more or less upheld by fishery research scientists until 1989, when DFO scientists admitted that they had severely overestimated the population of Atlantic cod.

• In May 2003, former DFO scientist Ransom Myers made the cover of the journal Nature with his research into the effects of overfishing on the cod's breeding cycle and genetic structure.
• His research argued that excessive offshore fishing practices had destroyed an entire adult generation of cod in the space of 15 years.

• As a result Myers said the species' breeding cycle was permanently disrupted, leaving the remaining cod to reproduce at a younger age and smaller size.
• As Myers puts it in this clip, "we've cut the head of off the fishery."



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