For centuries the Atlantic cod provided a way of life for Canadians. Jeff Lee of ToroLUG (dr_spock_888) has built a model of a small cod fishing trawler, which captures the essence of what sustained the people of Newfoundland, and much of Canada, for so much of its history. Even the water has a feel that calls out to Canada’s cool Atlantic coast.
Cod provided sustenance for the Beothuks, as it is believed they lived off a diet of primarily fish. On John Cabot’s 1497 voyage, it was said that the cod was so plentiful, the mariners simply had to lower baskets into the Newfoundland waters and they would come up overflowing with fish. This led to one of the first permanent British settlements in North America in Cuper’s Cove in 1610.
By the 18th century, cod became the backbone of the Newfoundland economy, and the cod was said to have continued to be as plentiful as Cabot’s voyage well into the mid 20th century. In the 1950s, it was estimated that over 250 000 tons of cod were sustainably caught in Newfoundland waters on an annual basis (nearly 2.3 million cod fish).
However, by the late 1960s came large, commercial supertrawlers, many from foreign nations who did not preserve the balance of the cod ecosystem. These massive ships dropped nets that were dragged along the bottom of the ocean which caught everything in its path – not just adult fish, but the lower lying young fish, and other sea life and the food source for the young cod – and it effectively destroyed the eco-system in order to keep the catch rate on the rise.
Catch levels rose to 800 000 by 1968, but this high level of catch had a devastating effect on the cod. By the mid 70s, the cod population was so heavily affected that the hauls were already had decreased to 300 000 due to the declining fish populations. It was not until 1992 that a moratorium was placed on cod fishing. Cod fishing collapsed – one of the biggest fisheries collapses the world has ever seen. By 1995, it was estimated that the entire cod population had declined to around 1,700 tons, and over 42 000 Canadians in the fishing industry were put out of work.
Most types of cod fish in Canada’s Atlantic waters are now assessed as in Critical preservation status. The population is only now starting to show signs of making a comeback