Most Canadians are aware of the collapse of Atlantic groundfish stocks like the northern cod and of the problems that beset British Columbia’s salmon fisheries. Canada’s experience with its fisheries is not unique but is rather part of a global phenomenon in which relentless fishing pressure and environmental degradation are pushing fish stocks to the brink of destruction.
Overfishing has altered the ecological balance in some areas; as commercially valuable species have been exhausted they have been replaced by other, less commercially desirable, species. Deforestation, industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, domestic sewage, and urban development have degraded fish habitat and reduced productivity. Much of the most important and productive coastal habitat, consisting of estuaries, mangrove, wetlands, and coral reefs, has already been damaged or destroyed by development.
When industrial fishing came along people dissapeared from small ports in Newfoundland.
In the 1970s Canada’s coastal fisheries looked progressive, with better boats and closer management. Scientific research and statistical analysis of catches increased. Vessel size limits and fishing zones became common.
So did conservation quotas, especially for ground fish and herring. Quotas often got subdivided by area and fleet, to give fish harvesters a more secure share. By the early 1980s individual boat quotas, followed by individual transferable quotas, were spreading into many fisheries.
Under LeBlanc, scores of fishery advisory committees gave fish harvesters a bigger voice in management. On the Atlantic, his policies prevented larger companies from taking over licences for boats less than 65 feet long.
LeBlanc also encouraged Atlantic fishermen’s organizations. In Newfoundland, the Fishermen Food and Allied Workers led by Richard Cashin became the most powerful organization since Coaker’s time.
Other groups such as the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, and dozens more represented groups of all types and sizes.
Despite rising ground fish abundance after the 200-mile limit, a cost-price squeeze in the early 1980s forced several large-trawler companies into near-bankruptcy. Again federal aid helped them survive, in somewhat consolidated form. Federal and industry initiatives brought some improvements in quality and marketing.
The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, a federation of fish harvesters’ organizations that came together in the 1990s.
In 1992 the Canadian Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, John Crosbie, declared a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery, which for the preceding 500 years had largely shaped the lives and communities of Canada's eastern coast.
Fishing societies interplay with the resources which they depend on: fisheries transform the ecosystem, which pushes the fishery and society to adapt. In the summer of 1992, when the Northern Cod biomass fell to 1% of its earlier level, Canada's federal government saw that this relationship had been pushed to breaking point, and declared a moratorium, ending the region's 500-year run with the Northern Cod.
In November 2006, Fisheries and Oceans Canada released an article suggesting that the unexpectedly slow recovery of the cod stock is due to inadequate food supplies,cooling of the North Atlantic, and a poor genetic stock due to the over fishing of larger cod.
Excess capacity and over capitalization of many of the world’s fishing fleets have resulted in over fishing. In part this is because many countries, for social and political reasons, have subsidized their fishing industries.
As a result, fishing fleets have grown too large to be supported by the resource and are neither ecologically sustainable nor economically viable in the long run. The consequences are the depletion of stocks and financial losses to both private and public sectors.
Although over fishing is often characterized as "too many fishermen chasing too few fish," the real problem is not so much the number of fishermen as the enormous harvesting capacity made possible by an industrial approach to fishing. The industrial assault on fish stocks is characterized by an expansion in gross tonnage of fishing fleets, augmented by new technology, much of which has been developed since the Second World War.