Friday, June 4, 2010

Atlantic Cod - The Newfoundland Cod Tragedy

Overfishing is a global problem that impacts all facets of life from the human economy to the natural environment. The act of overfishing is defined as fishing a certain species of fish to dangerously low levels which occurs when more fish are being caught then fish being reproduced.


Atlantic cod are a part of history. Viking who settled in Newfoundland used the fish as a food source and survived because of it. The cod were so plentiful that when explorer John Cabot came to Newfoundland he reported, "the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets". This attracted settlers from England and also Spanish, French, and Portuguese fishing boats to travel to the Great Banks and fish cod. However, these historic instances of fishing were small operations and not considered overfishing. But when advances in both in-shore and off-shore fishing technology arose huge overfishing problems occurred. In-shore boats were not equipped with fish finding technology, better nets, and better engines. But the most massive change was off-shore where engines allowed trawlers to drag huge nets across the sea and factory boats were invented which could catch, prepare, and freeze cod all on one ship and stay at sea for months. To put this drastic change in perspective, from the year 1647 to1750 only 8 million tons of cod were estimated to be caught. The word only is used because in the 1960's to the 1975's that same amount of fish was caught in a 15 year span compared to that 103 year span.

That statistic alone is a tragedy, but it truly peaked in the 1990's. The increased technology, the ineffectiveness of the governing bodies, and greedy companies which blatantly over fished led to at least 6 cod populations collapsing. All six had lowered 75% in biomass, three has lost 90%, and the once abundant population of 'northern cod' had lost a tragic 99% of biomass. This extreme loss forced the Canadian government to shut the fisheries which led to a myriad of impacts. Below we will explore both the environmental and social impact of this cod tragedy.

 (This image shows how the catch increased dramatically and then fell when the ban on fishing was placed. If the ban was not placed the cod population could have been put on the verge of extinction)

Below is an image of a factory trawler which led to the dramatic increase in Atlantic Cod being fished. If the correct bodies had regulated this large fishing boats then history could have been changed for the better.

Social Impact

A huge victim of northern cod overfishing were the people who lived in Newfoundland and depending on the cod for a living. These were the people who warned the government of depleting stocks, but were ignored. A whopping 30,000 people lost their jobs directly because of the fishing ban to stop overfishing along with another 10,000 who were indirectly affected by cutbacks caused by the ban. The government even had to provide assistance through money and job training to help fisherman find another lifestyle. But money alone cannot help heal the scar. The loss of cod is an emotional loss too. Generations of families have survived by fishing cod and with it being gone it is truly heartbreaking. As for the fishing cooperation who over fished off-shore, sadly, they've simply moved elsewhere looking for a new species to destroy. An interesting statistic is that cod was responsible for 48% of the money made from fishing in Newfoundland.

Environmental Impact

Although many people are concerned with the economic repercussions; the true victim of overfishing of Newfoundland cod is the cod themselves and the environment the cod live in. One huge impact is the food chain. Cod larvae eat phytoplankton, young cod feed on crustaceans, while older fish tend to eat smaller fish. When cod almost completely disappeared, levels of the food they eat skyrocketed as shown in the graph below.

These new, large amounts of crab explain the reason why cod stocks have not replenished even after a complete ban. It is said that the crabs and small fish now feed on the cod eggs because a lack of larger cod cannot keep the crab and shrimp population in check. Ironically, most lost income in Newfoundland is being replaced with the new industry of shellfish. This upset in the food chain has also impacted the nitrogen cycle. There is less nitrate as more phytoplankton are now available to consume it.

I want to stress that there has been no extreme result of overfishing of the cod in Newfoundland. But I will stress that continually stripping the ocean of it's natural resources cannot be a good thing. The fact that us humans are fishing to a point where entire populations of fish are disappearing is unacceptable. The results of what we are doing are not even known yet. But the fact that my children's children may not be able to enjoy the ocean because it has been so badly upset by overfishing is a scary thought.


Marine Conservation Biology Institute. "A Run on the Banks : How "Factory Fishing" Decimated Newfoundland Cod." E, the Environmental Magazine: Current Issue. Web. 08 June 2010. .

GreenPeace, The. "CANADIAN ATLANTIC FISHERIES COLLAPSE." Site Has Moved. Web. 08 June 2010. .

MacKenzie, Debbie. "Cod Freeze to Death in Newfoundland." The Starving Ocean. 7 Apr. 2007. Web. 08 June 2010. .

Rose, G.A. "Reconciling Overfishing and Climate Change with Stock Dynamics of Atlantic Cod (Gadus Morhua) over 500 Years." Web. June-July 2010. .

"Cod Moratorium: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage." Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage/Patrimoine De Terre-Neuve Et Du Labrador--Entry Page: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Web. 08 June 2010. .


Sea Cuisine said...

The overfishing problem at hand is not improving fast enough. It's tragic to see the extinction of species in different oceans, and how late in the game sustainable fishing practices have been adopted. Hopefully more businesses will adopt sustainable methods so that the damage may be reversed.

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