Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. funds cod fishery research on 15th anniversary of moratorium

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is commemorating the 15th anniversary of the cod moratorium with a new scholarship at Memorial University that will help post-graduate students do research into ways to revitalize the fishery.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is commemorating the 15th anniversary of the cod moratorium with a new scholarship at Memorial University that will help post-graduate students do research into ways to revitalize the fishery.

The Wilfred Templeman Memorial Scholarship will pay for research in areas such as fish population and assessment of fish stocks.

Successful applicants will receive $5,000 for the completion of a two-year postgraduate program.

The government will provide the university with $25,000 for the scholarship.

"What this scholarship will do is it will probably make it possible for a student to engage in graduate studies who otherwise might not be able to do that, and that's a very positive undertaking," saidAxel Meisen, president of Memorial University.

Students in the Marine Institute, the Ocean Sciences Centre and in departments such as biochemistry are all eligible for the scholarship.

Meisen said the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador ground fishery lies in hard research from young, provincial scientists.

He welcomed the scholarship as an attempt by the government to get out from under the shadow of the northern cod moratorium.

"I'm really delighted, both from a financial perspective for the students of course, but from also a symbolic perspective. This moratorium was truly tragic, although it was necessary."

"It was the end of an era," said Bernard Martin, a fisherman for 30 years in the outport town of Petty Harbour, N.L.

"The cod fishery was the most important fishery, not just for decades but for centuries. It's like a part of the fabric of Newfoundland culture. It's like farming on the Prairies."

On July 2, 1992, John Crosbie, then the federal fisheries minister, announced a moratorium on the northern cod fishery along Newfoundland's east coast.

The largest mass layoff in Canadian history gutted the heart of rural Newfoundland, and is a major factor behind the thousands who are still leaving the province to find work elsewhere.

The moratorium was only supposed to last for two years, but by the end of 1993, it was clear the cod stocks were in worse shape than many had imagined. A similar moratorium was then imposed on the south coast. Nearly 40,000 people lost their livelihoods.

Crosbie's announcement sparked storms of protests in a province where many still argue at kitchen parties and on talk-radio shows that it's a Newfoundlander's right to fish.

Nothing has changed: Crosbie

"It's not my fault. I didn't take the fish out of the God damn water," Crosbie told enraged fishermen at the time.

Looking back, Crosbie said nothing has changed.

"This is astounding that this occurred and we're still not taking any fundamental steps to correct it," Crosbie said.

"In fact, it's the other way around."

He points to the federal government's decision last year to reopen a small-scale commercial and limited recreational cod fishery as one of the reasons he remains pessimistic.

"It's a wonder the cod survived at all," Crosbie said.

Just three weeks ago, Fisheries and Oceans Canada released a report warning that such a fishery could impede efforts to replenish offshore cod stocks. It also predicted that stocks could decrease by up to 22 per cent over the next three years under a limited fishery.

Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn was out of the country and unavailable for an interview, but he has insisted that there's enough cod to sustain such a fishery, and he prefers a small annual fishing season that everyone can enjoy.

'Unwise thing to do'

Many fishermen throughout the province support that sentiment, but it's one that bewilders many scientists.

"It's an unwise thing to do, given the circumstances," said George Rose, chairman of fisheries conservation at Memorial University's Marine Institute in St. John's.

"We have in many ways thrown in the towel and just said, 'Well, we've only got this little bit left, we might as well fish it, we might as well just enjoy what we've got because it's never coming back.' "

But the collapse and recovery of the spring-spawning herring in the Norwegian Sea offers hope for the cod, Rose said.

In the 1970s, Norway implemented several long-term measures, including a moratorium to protect the species. The desire to bring back the herring was so strong that scientists caught the minimum number of fish they needed for research purposes and, where possible, threw them back into the sea, Rose said.

In the mid-1990s, the stocks began to rebound.

Larger catches

"It took a lot of patience and dedication and protection, but it came back, and now the Norwegians are sitting pretty," Rose said.

Newfoundland's northern cod fishery can be traced back to the 16th century. On average, about 300,000 tonnes of cod was landed annually until the 1960s, when advances in technology enabled factory trawlers, many of them foreign, to take larger catches.

By 1968, landings for the fish peaked at 800,000 tonnes before a gradual decline set in.

With the reopening of the limited cod fisheries last year, nearly 2,700 tonnes of cod were hauled in.

Today, it's estimated that offshore cod stocks are at one per cent of what they were in 1977.

With files from the Canadian Press