Newfoundland's cod moratorium: empty nets and broken promises

Dec 21, 2017

Leo Hearn catching a cod using a hardline. This was the traditional way of fishing in Petty Harbour for the last 250 years.
Credit Kimberley Orren

Newfoundland is an island that has always been defined by fishing. The first settlers came over from England and Ireland to harvest the seemingly boundless supplies of cod that inhabited the grand banks. 

The cod was dried, salted and shipped all over the world, filling hungry bellies and pockets across the globe. Cod was the cornerstone of Newfoundland identity, and nearly everybody was involved in the fishery somehow.

A young boy stands between two 'blowers,' giant northern cod, in the iconic photo by Newfoundland photographer Robert Holloway taken in Battle Harbour, Labrador, in 1901
Credit (Robert E. Holloway / Public Archives Canada)

Traditionally Cod was harvested inshore using handlines, jiggers, and cod traps. Fishing was a community endeavor, and people looked out for each other. 

Fast forward a hundred years or so, and cod harvesting was industrialized, with Canadian, Portuguese and Japanese fleets harvesting and processing about a million tons of Cod a year.

Inshore fishermen began to notice the numbers of cod begin to decrees, and it wasn’t long until there were hardly any left.

After decades of mismanagement and overfishing, the once mighty cod stocks were fished to the brink of extinction.

In an effort to save the species, then Fisheries Minister John Crosbie called a moratorium on the harvesting of codfish in Newfoundland.

The moratorium was initially only supposed to last two years, but has lasted for over two decades. It was the most defining moment in the province’s history, and the ramifications can still be felt and seen to this day.

It has been 25 years since the advent of the Cod Moratorium, drastically changing the cultural and economic landscape of Newfoundland.

Journeys correspondent Rebekah Nolan spoke with fisherman Leo Hearn of Petty Harbour about what the Moratorium did to him and his community.

To learn more about Leo and Petty Harbour check out Rebekah’s previous piece on Fishing for Success:




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Rebekah Nolan was the recipient of the 2017 Silver Lowell Thomas Award for her digital media broadcast: “from Mine Closure to Reinvention: A Story of Bell Island Newfoundland” a featured KCBX/NPR.ORG podcast. Tom Wilmer won the Lowell Thomas Award Bronze for the series about Alcatraz Island National Park Service.
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