Lessons from cod collapse

By the end of World War II about 320,000 people lived spread out over 1,000 small “outports”, small fishing villages many of which dating back as far as the Napoleonic Wars (*source: Atlasobscura.com). These communities were self-sufficient and lived by fishing the abundant cod and herring fields, and by logging and seal hunting.

The beginning of the end came In 1949, when Newfoundland and Labrador voted to join Canada. The studies done by the departments of Welfare and Fisheries proved that this way of life was backwards and that there was much more money to be made by “modernizing” how resources were extracted. In came the trawlers, the machines, the corporations to run it all. The poet Al Pittman said it all in this verse "My home was St Kyran’s, a heavenly place, It thrived on the fishin’ of a good hearty race; But now it will never again be the same, Since they made it a pawn in the government game.”

Between 1954 and 1975, around 30,000 people were forced from their homes and relocated as part of the government “resettlement” programs, leaving behind 300 “ghost villages”

In the summer of 1992, Minister John Crosbie announced that 500 years of history would be wiped out overnight. The cod was gone. People were told to stop fishing. The fishermen didn’t take that too well. “We’ve always fished. The cod is our life. Newfoundland was built on the cod.” Some argued to continue because there was still 1% of the biomass left. But, as can be proven today, not enough to regenerate it. The whole ecosystem that produced such riches, all there for the taking, had been so over-harvested, that never, even in our grandchildren’s lifetime, will it ever come back. Today, corporations make money running fish farms that produce poor imitations of what was there for all to harvest freely.

We see the same thing happening in BC with the destructive practices used in forestry. There is practically no natural forest left. Even the plantations are getting so sparse as to offer a visible proof that the system is collapsing. Studies are showing that the interior replanted “forests” are not regenerating as expected. As logged watersheds lose their water purifying and retention ability, communities are asked to pay the cost of building sediment retention ponds and spend more on water treatment that is done freely by intact watersheds.

While corporations and shareholders push practices that makes them a fast buck, forests and local jobs are disappearing. Isn’t it time that our local and provincial governments stop supporting these destructive practices and give local citizens control over their watersheds?

Huguette Allen

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