The history of Newfoundland is essentially the history of its fishery. The English and Irish immigrants who settled Newfoundland derived a livelihood solely from the fishery. Most of these people settled along the northeast coast of the Island of Newfoundland, and on the coast of Labrador. Here, from the beginning, they were totally dependent on the annual shoreward migration of Northern Cod.
Their dependence had, by the 1900's created a society, an economy and a political community based on cod. The Newfoundland economy has diversified over the years, but Northern Cod is still as central to the Newfoundland soul as the wheat fields are to Saskatchewan, or the forests and salmon are to British Columbia.
For the past century enormous Northern Cod landings have dominated the Newfoundland fishery, in some years peaking at over 300,000 tons. From 1884 to 1984, Northern Cod was the main source of the rich harvests Newfoundlanders have drawn from the seas.
This special dependence on Northern Cod has been a recurrent theme in our history.
"This is not a new stock recently discovered but the stock that has provided the basis for a large inshore cod fishery along southern Labrador and the east coast of Newfoundland. It has been fished for over three centuries and has been the main determinant of settlement patterns along the coast. It has been and continues to be the principal economic base for all the communities along the coast".
From Toward a Policy for the Utilization of Northern Cod: A Discussion Paper, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, September 28, 1979.
For almost a century before Confederation with Canada, Northern Cod was exclusively fished from Newfoundland. Indeed, until foreign vessels began plundering this resource in the 1950's, virtually the entire catch of Northern Cod was taken by Newfoundland fishermen.
This historic dependency, based on centuries of fishing, establishes for the the adjacent coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador a compelling and prior claim on the present and future benefits of Northern Cod. This claim has been nurtured by the very evolution of our settlement pattern, much the same as other regions of Atlantic Canada have developed an historic exploitation of the fish stocks in their adjacent waters.
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