Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery returns 32 years later

"Ending the Northern cod moratorium is a historic milestone for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," said Canada's Fisheries and Oceans Minister.
The traditional fishing village of Quidi Vidi in St John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

The traditional fishing village of Quidi Vidi in St John's, Newfoundland. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said this "responsible reopening" will support well-paying jobs in the commercial fishing and processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Photo: Paul Brady / Adobe Stock.

Yesterday, Canada ended the moratorium on the commercial Northern cod fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador's north and east coasts. Canadian Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard Diane Lebouthillier announced this "historic" decision which, after 32 years, re-establishes this fishery in Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Divisions 2J3KL with a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 18,000 tonnes for Canada in the 2024 season.

A historic decision on paper, but not so much in practice

In the same vein of its argument in communicating the ban on open net-pen salmon aquaculture in British Columbia a few days ago, in announcing now the reopening of this historic fishery, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) remarked that it continues to be "committed to sustainable management practices that balance conservation with economic considerations in Newfoundland and Labrador’s fisheries."

"As a government, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering sustainable and economically prosperous fisheries that honour our shared resources for generations to come. I encourage all participants to prioritize safety and enjoy a rewarding season on the water," said Lebouthillier.

DFO added this "responsible reopening" will generate significant economic benefits for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy and, at the same time, support well-paying jobs in the commercial fishing and processing industry.

For this purpose, it will have the aforementioned quota of 18,000 tons. Of this, the inshore fleet sector will receive approximately 84% percent of the TAC, 20% of this inshore sector allocation will be provided to 2J-based harvesters, and 6% of the TAC to the Canadian inshore fleet. The Canadian TAC accounts for 95% of the total Northern cod fishery TAC.

However, what on paper is a "historic milestone" is less so for practical purposes. The 2J3KL Northern cod stock has been in the cautious zone since 2016 and, as local media CBC reports, in recent years, DFO has managed, under strict conditions, a limited Northern cod fishery that last year allowed a catch of 13,000 tons.

In other words, the TAC of 18,000 tons this year actually represents an increase of 5,000 tons over last year. Good news, no doubt, although perhaps with not such a big impact as it may seem at first glance.

Liberal MPs emphasize the historical significance of the decision

Even so, in his statements on the news, Lebouthillier insisted on the historic nature of the decision. "Ending the Northern cod moratorium is a historic milestone for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stated. "It’s through working together that we have reached this moment. We will cautiously but optimistically build back this fishery with the prime beneficiaries being coastal and Indigenous communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador."

Along with the Minister's, the DFO release included testimony from six other politicians, all from the governing Liberal party, and all emphasizing the historical significance of Fisheries and Ocean Canada's announcement.

"The shutdown of the Northern cod fishery more than 30 years ago changed our province. Its return is historic. We now have the chance to build a sustainable cod fishery that reflects the modern industry it has - and can – become," said Minister of Labour and Seniors, Seamus O'Regan Jr.

"I remember the day we got the news announcing the collapse of the Northern cod. I remember the overall atmosphere felt across our great province and the devastation it left. Today is a great day; this fishery is coming back with the hopes of sustaining this industry and our future generations for decades to come, and I couldn’t be happier for the prospects this brings," added, for his part, Churence Rogers, Member of Parliament for Bonavista – Burin – Trinity.

"Our fishers have waited a long time for the return of a commercial cod fishery, and they are ready to meet the moment. Our processors are ready to deliver our province's best product to markets at home, and abroad. Cod has been a part of our history, and it will be a part of our future," said Minister of Rural Economic Development, Gudie Hutchings.

"Northern cod has been an economically important and culturally significant element of our province for decades. I fully support our government's decision to open a lucrative and sustainable northern cod fishery," stated Joanne Thompson, Member of Parliament for St. John’s East.

"The reopening of the commercial cod fishery is a bright day for our inshore, offshore and indigenous fishers of Labrador. I look forward to the sustainability of this powerful coastal fishery for all our people," claimed Yvonne Jones, Member of Parliament for Labrador.

"Historically, the Northern cod fishery has been one of the most important industries in the province, it has defined our heritage and our culture for generations. As MP for Avalon, I fully support a lucrative and sustainable fishery," added the Member of Parliament for Avalon, Ken McDonald.

Precisely the latter, in statements to the local CBC media, denied that the DFO announcement was politically motivated. "Definitely not," he remarked adding they have been talking about this in Ottawa for months, maybe a year ago, intending to help fishing communities. "It had nothing to with the election, not that I'm aware of," he concluded.

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