Northern Cod is the most abundant and most valuable groundfish stock in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. There are over 40 other groundfish stocks in Canada's Atlantic fishery. Cod, turbot, redfish (or ocean perch), haddock, pollock and flounder are the main species and they all have the same characteristic: they feed near the bottom in the more shallow waters of the submerged plateaus or "banks" of our Continental Shelf.
Fish are by nature a moving resource. Tuna, salmon and mackerel can range thousands of miles over the ocean in their seasonal and life cycles. Groundfish, such as cod, swim too, but within a much more limited area. Cod live within well defined geographic areas, in well defined stocks. On this basis, scientists can manage each stock separately. Fishermen know this too, of course. They know that cod are on the same grounds every year. Northern Cod is thus distinct from the Scotian Shelf cod stock, which in turn is distinct from the Gulf of St. Lawrence cod stock, and so on.
Northern Cod are found in a confined area next ot the north and east coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. These fish do not migrate to any other areas of Canada's Atlantic coast.
As Shakespeare would have it, Northern Cod has "a local habitation and a name". For this reason, it has been fished over the centuries from the inlets of the north and east coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. No other part of Newfoundland, and no other region of our Atlantic Coast, has developed an historic dependency on this resource.
Today, the Northern Cod stock has a total living volume of almost 2 million tons. This has allowed, in recent years, an annual harvest of over 250,000 tons. It is fished from small vessels, run by independent fishermen based in hundreds of communities from St. Mary's Bay, in southeastern Newfoundland, to Nain in Labrador. This inshore fishery takes advantage of the annual summer migration of Northern Cod to inshore waters. A second type of fishery developed , is undertaken from much larger vessels, known as trawlers, owned and operated by large fish processing companies, to take advantage of the winter concentration of Northern Cod.
Northern Cod once represented almost one-half of the total Canadian cod catch, and is easier and more profitable to catch than most other groundfish stocks. For this reason there has been a controversy in Canadian fisheries policy about who gets access to Northern Cod. In order to understand the position of the Province of Newfoundland on this issue, it is important to know the place of Northern Cod in our history.
"Many of the problems of the Newfoundland fishery, and through it the province's economy, and society, have their roots in the deterioration of the resource base through overfishing or at least the excessive competition which Newfoundland fishermen must face for the available stocks". David Alexander, The Decay of Trade; An Economic History of the Newfoundland Saltfish Trade, 1935 - 1965 (1977).
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