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The Fishing Industry of Atlantic Canada Term Paper


Globally, the fishing industry, as a natural resource sector, forms an integral part of national economies by enhancing trade globalization, liberalization, and encouraging investment from transnational organizations (Hoogensen 42). Fish trading is one of the most acceptable trades with several nations working towards improving their fishing industries to cope in the international trade. Apart from trade, fisheries form one of the largest employment sectors globally especially to the costal communities. However, several prior studies have continuously demonstrated pitfalls within the fishing industry; for instance, the collapse of fisheries in various parts of the globe, with research attentively focusing on possible causes and solutions towards the menace (Roughgarden and Smith 5078). For the last few decades now, famous international fisheries including the Canadian fisheries have drastically collapsed with reasons behind such subsidence remaining widely unknown, thus resulting to widespread economic harm. Due to the above-mentioned problem, this essay seeks to explore the fishing industry of Atlantic Canada and the reasons of its recent collapse.

Synopsis of the Canadian Fishing Industry

The Canadian fishing industry is core to this study. Historically, along with the discoveries made from the new world, the Northwest Atlantic fisheries emerged. The Northwest Atlantic rose exponentially throughout the centuries proving quite significant to most of the North Atlantic regions, especially to the Canadian population, by forming the most reliable economic backbone to the Canadians as well as a potential source of seafood for the Europeans (Fuller et al. 4).

The fishery industry originally operated under the watch of anglers from Western Europe ports, but it later attracted numerous costal communities into settling around the coast. Cod species became the most precious seafood across Atlantic, which became important basis for economic expansion between Newfoundland coastal communities and Europe by expanding industrial and trade development. The fisheries played an “important role in the development of Canada’s economy being one of the first bulk staple products exported from Canadian shores” (Hoogensen 42). Several Europeans including Spanish, Portuguese, and French became the most popular fish vendors across the Atlantic.

Throughout the centuries, the Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Grand Banks continuously played a significant role by supporting enormous fishing activities across the Atlantic, and thus providing important codfish and groundfish stocks for fish traders. The rapid growth of the Atlantic fisheries pulled extraneous population of migratory anglers into the seashores leading to exponential fishing competition that led to overexploitation of the fisheries (Rutherford 11). Initially, during the late centuries, Canadians fished in shallow waters relatively closer to the seashores sailing using small crafts and traditional fishing techniques including small gill nets, small trawlers, and traps. With the increasing demand for the codfish and other precious edible fish, the Atlantic shores of Canada continued witnessing abnormal population growth with New England fish traders invading the Canadian coast and introducing dangerous fishing methods into Atlantic Canada (William 49). These fishery companies continued to exploit the sea and extend their fishing miles, and this trend went on unnoticed until the codfish became scarce.

Economic Importance of the Industry

Most probably, no industry could match the economic importance of the fishing industry of the Atlantic Canada for several centuries from 1470s to late 1900. After the surpassed growth of the Canadian coast, fish solely became the most important sea commodity for trade that supported the regional economic life of the residents within Atlantic Canada. According to Fuller et al., globalization and commercialization of fish trade now became eminent with fish industry becoming the reason behind migration and immigration activities across the Newfoundland of Atlantic Canada (3). Millions of traders flocked the Atlantic Canada thus providing employment opportunities to several Canadian coastal communities. “The number of fish processing plants, promoted by the Newfoundland government for employment and development purposes, had also increased in the early 1980s” (Fred 4). By providing employment opportunities, the Canadian fish industry became one the greatest dependable economic sectors employing millions of Canadians across the coast as well as the entire Atlantic Canada.

As the fishing industry and the fish market across the famous Newfoundland and Labrador expanded within the economical perspective, this situation called for government intervention to enhance elaborative infrastructure to enable trading activities. Copes asserts, “Conversely, the fortunes of the fishing industry are much influenced by the infrastructure, service base, and local market access that other economic activities characteristic of the region may provide” (293). The government involvement continued to increase throughout the centuries by building elaborate transportation network that enhanced distribution of codfish and other groundfish related products across Europe and beyond (William 41). Exporting fresh and frozen fish to North America and other parts of the globe played a significant economic role in Canada. This move in turn increased the number of traders in twofold making the fishery industry one of the most important economical sectors during that time with economical impacts of the discovery of the New World being eminent in the current Canada.

Collapse of the Industry

As the fishing industry boomed, the Atlantic Canada became the world’s renowned fishing industry with the most productive cod fishing area stretching across North Atlantic region in Labrador and the Eastern parts of Newfoundland. The growing fishing industry of Atlantic Canada became the hot point and this aspect overwhelmed the Canadian government, which continued to support private enterprise fishing activities across the Newfoundland (Hoogensen 46). In the nineteen centuries, the number of fish started to decrease with private fishing companies exceeding the fishing boundaries beyond 200 nautical miles, with the government ignoring the conservative plans and disregarding the 200-mile national jurisdiction on fishing practices. As the demand for codfish and groundfish augmented, private fishing companies continued to sail with distance-water fleets using enhanced fish harvesting technology, consequently subjecting the Canadian coast to unprecedented and intense fishing pressure (Copes 291). The government continued to support the expansion of private investors in the fishing industry across Atlantic Canada, especially in Newfoundland.

The ecological effects went unrealized until late nineteen centuries when pitfalls became eminent to the Canadian fisheries management. Fred asserts, “In 1992, the once abundant cod stocks of the coast of Newfoundland collapsed and thus suspension on their fishing followed” (1). The government realized the mistake and thus there was a need to avert the situation. In a bid to control the situation, the Canadian government imposed a ban forbidding fishing for Northern cod across the waters surrounding Newfoundland province. This move consequently led to the crumple of the big fishery industries within Canada and England following the bans initiated by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and New England Fishery Management from their England counterparts (Roughgarden and Smith 5078). There was no other way out and thus the fish companies had to down their tools to allow the recovery of cods across Atlantic Canada, with the government giving exceptions to fisheries for home consumption.

Possible Reasons

The collapse of the famous Atlantic Canada fisheries sent an international signal, which led to raging public debates concerning the issues pertinent to the collapse of the fishing industry. Initially, scientists and environmentalists had warned the government and the public against human practices that could possibly result to complications in the ecosystem (Lane 3). Due to this move, there has been a considerable debate concerning the possible reasons for the collapse of northern cod. As demonstrated in the history, most researchers agued that overfishing was the major cause of collapse of codfish stocks. However, overfishing is clearly the contributing factor, but scientists and researchers assume that it is not the only cause of subsidence. Several causes streaming from economical, political, social and environmental factors largely exacerbated the dramatic collapse of the northern cod stocks in Atlantic Canada. They included overfishing, mismanagement, and detrimental environmental conditions among others.


Overfishing refers to engaging in fishing practices that overexploit or over burden normal fishing, which threaten the future of fish population in the waters. Prior studies on the causes of collapse of Northern code of Atlantic Canada have revealed overfishing as the most contributing factor to the falling of the stocks. Lane affirms that overfishing is universally renowned as the single most significant cause for fish stock collapse across the coasts (4). Characterized by the mismanagement of the Fishing industry by the Canadian fishing authorities and the organized criticism by fishers to exempt laws governing overfishing practices, this element became the most probable cause of the collapse of codfish stocks across the Atlantic Canada. According to William (65), disregarding the 200-mile jurisdiction set by the Canadian government to curb overfishing led to overexploitation by the Canadian and England fishing companies as well as foreign poachers, which consequently led to the collapse of the Northern cod stocks.

In respect to overfishing, several fishing practices contributed to the collapsing of the Northern cod apart from ignoring and extending the national jurisdiction over marine. Specifically, technologically influential fishing methods appear as the most significant contributory factors in the overfishing aspect. According to Fred, the case of collapsing of Northern cod involved three distinct groups including bottom trawlers, Canadian draggers, and deep sea foreign vessels scrambling for the codfish, redfish, and American plaice within the Newfoundland locale (3). There also existed inshore fishers who had the least impact on the fisheries since they harvested fish in swallow waters with small vessels, but they also increased fishing pressure across the waters of Newfoundland. The Canadian draggers have been among the greatest contributors of the collapse of the Northern cod stock as fishers using draggers massively exploited the coast leading to overfishing (Newell and Ommer 271). Until the late imposing of the 200-nautical mile rule in 1977, Canadian draggers overfished.

The introduction of trawlers into the Canadian fisheries worsened the situation. Operating like the Canadian draggers, the trawlers caused even the greatest harm to the Northern cod stocks. Almost every fishery company acquired trawlers, which contributed much to the Northern cod collapse as they dragged their nets, thus sweeping everything along the sea bottoms. Rutherford notes, “Equipped with high powered, all season factory trawlers, and sonar equipment, annual cod catches tripled” (12). With the existing prominence of the bottom-trawling gears to quench the regional and global supply demand for codfish, trawlers became the most common fishing facility for fishery companies. Foreign fishing fleets played a significant role in the collapse of the Newfoundland cods. After the discovery of the Newfoundland, the region witnessed an increased populace from fishers who travelled from other countries and docked to venture in fish trade in Canada. Foreign deep-sea vessels from Spain, Portugal, and France exploited the coastline leading to overfishing practices.


Throughout the centuries, the Canadian government played an important role in controlling activities across the Canadian coast. Pitfalls in the governance were eminent from the top political to regional perspective with the Fisheries ministry and other local authorities of the Canadian Federal government exclusively contributing to the collapse of the north Atlantic cod stocks (Parsons and William 21). Politically, the trouping in of foreigners to venture in fishing activities became polemical within the Canadian political panorama. Since the beginning of fishing activities around the Newfoundland, the political arena continued to accuse each other thus politicizing the Fishery industry intensely (Parsons and William 21). The Englanders, Americans, Frenchmen, Portuguese, and native Canadians now received political influence putting the waters and the fishing activities under abnormal pressure, with each of the parties contesting on the possible shares for the Fishing industry. This move initiated the beginning of management defaults around the North Atlantic Canada.

Political influence

The political chaos and influence came to a halt after several political interventions between Canada, and the US, and England and consequently the Canadian Federal Government took control of the management of the Atlantic fisheries. At this point, according to Parsons, the provincial government of the Canadian Federal Government established its powers constitutionally through several government acts (“Management of Marine Fisheries in Canada” 89). The Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was now in a position to exercise powers and authorities to manage fisheries under the Fisheries Act. The federal government had the authority “to regulate the conservation and preservation of fisheries resources including such matters as type of fishing gear, limits on the amount of catch, close seasons, and species and size of fish caught” (Parsons “Canadian Marine Fisheries Management” 398). Thereafter, any pitfalls on the mismanagement were the liability of the provincial administration of the Canadian Federal government. Several malpractices became clear to the public during this regime with fishers taking advantage of the underlying mismanagement conditions.

Controversial Licensing System

Licensing practices by the federal government portrayed the probable reasons of the collapse of the entire fishing industry of Atlantic Canada. Licenses were an assurance that all fishers and their respective companies strictly followed the maritime legislation enacted through the constitutional Act of 1868, which restricted all fishing activities without a valid license. Despite the licenses being ad hoc in curbing the fishing activities around Newfoundland, several pitfalls emerged within the management (Fred 7). According to a research conducted by (William 60), the fisheries’ management started to become reluctant in handling licensing activities effectively. Moreover, due to affluence, they allowed some trade tycoons to continue with their exploitive activities by acquiring common property and quasi-private fisheries licenses, which allowed anglers to harvest different species under the name of paying certain taxes for such activities. This aspect motivated several fishing companies to engage in private licensing deals with the licensing board, and thus encouraged overfishing in the process.

Mismanagement Of Acts And Laws

It is crucial to note that the Canadian Federal Government proposed, enacted, and amended several laws governing the fishing activities within the Newfoundland and the entire Atlantic Canada. However, just as it is now evident globally, the implementation of the proposed acts became a major confront. According to Drinkwater, in a bid to respond to the increasing overfishing and overexploiting of Canadian coast, the government imposed acts including quotas and Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to avert overall production increase and restrict geographical extensions in waters (1335). These regulations became common and the population became resilient to them. Instead of ensuring that the fishing activities are following the set rules and regulations, the federal government became reluctant and made efforts to adjust the acts to suit the production of fish. Fred (8) affirms that it now remained clear that the government intervention targeted the efficient production and marketing activities associated with the booming activities of the fishing industry.

In this context, the Total Allowable Catch Act set to control the amount of harvested fish per single catch continued to face challenges with the responsible authorities campaigning to increase the fish production limits to accommodate fishing activities. According to William, “most quotas established at these meetings were based on the yield-per-recruit curves and set each year as closely as possible to the level necessary to generate maximum yield-per-recruit from the curves” (65). Therefore, the act could not manage the extraneous activities, which led to overfishing across the Canadian coast. In spite of the quotas, including the Magnuson Fishery Conservation Act in 1973, by excluding vessels permitted to exceed 200 miles; the federal government could not still manage this law and thus lifted the ban ultimately. Fuller et al. (9) assert that Newfoundland cod fishers continued to put pressure across the Canadian coast following the lifted bans and the reluctant push on the implementation of the laws by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Environmental Factors

Politics, mismanagement, and overfishing are not the only causative factors towards the collapse of the Atlantic Canada fisheries. Other natural aspects including detrimental environmental variables contributed to the collapse of some parts of Northern Cod Fisheries. According to a research conducted by Rutherford (15), a report tabled by both independent scientists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, indicating that the environment is the least contributing factor, remains controversial to date, with several researchers currently citing environmental factors as significant contributor to the collapse of the Atlantic Canadian fishing industry. For instance, Drinkwater (1329) argues that climatic changes remain the most significant contributor of the falling of the cod stocks, with temperature being the most influential variable that affects the breeding and population of the codfish. However, scientists and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans have continuously underestimated the adverse effects exacerbating the collapse of cod stocks across the Atlantic Canada, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Temperature conventionally means the coldness or hotness of a given region as scientifically established. The Atlantic Canada has been experiencing fluctuations in temperatures since time immemorial. As demonstrated by Drinkwater (1329), temperatures account for about 90 per cent of the observable disparity pertinent to the growth rates in codfish for warmer temperatures accelerate the growth rates and lower temperatures decelerated the growth rate of codfish. Apart from being influential on growth of codfish, temperature affects the reproductive behavior of the codfish with higher temperatures enhancing sprawling and reproduction. Temperatures further affected the migration distribution of codfish with a majority of scholars associating migration with a shift towards warmer zones. According to Rutherford, “the Department of Fisheries and Oceans placed blame on forces beyond their control including cold water temperature and predation by seals” (15). Typically, temperature remains a natural uncontrollable factor, which is the most influential factor on the presence of cod stocks within a given geographical zone.

With this insight in mind, the global climatic changes are still threatening the welfare of several human activities including agriculture and fishing. A Research and a report documented by DFO and private scientist associated the collapsing of the Atlantic cod stocks with the climatic fluctuations, and temperature changes stood out as the most influential climatic variable. According to Roughgarden and Smith (5080), the Atlantic Canada has consistently been experiencing lower annual water temperatures in recent years, thus hampering the inter-annual production of fish due to changes in migration, distribution, and affecting the reproduction and growth patterns of the codfish and other groundfish. Changes in climatic conditions with temperature fluctuating throughout the centuries, decades, and in recent years led to abundance of capelin, which is the common food depended by codfish (Newell and Ommer 260). In addition, seals at the same moment continued to predate on the codfish as their population surged due to decelerated fishing of the species.

Other Factors

Despite the fact that several studies have shed light on the possible reasons behind the collapse of the fish stocks across the Canadian coast, numerous other significant factors remain unnoticed. As highlighted by Roughgarden and Smith (5078), other possible factor, which may have contributed to the collapse of the Atlantic Canada fishing industry include overoptimistic assessment by the DFO and fisheries scientists, overcapitalization of fisheries, and subventions to fishers. However, latest renowned causes according to a report documented by the Task Force on Incomes and Adjustment on Atlantic fisheries in 1993 highlighted some significant contributors to the collapse of the Atlantic Canada. According to Williams (71), high Total Allowable Catch levels, underreporting of actual figures on catches, failure to control the expanding fishing industry, foreign fishers’ invasion, and unanticipated long-term ecological challenges in the nineteenth centuries underscore some of the other unmentioned factors behind the decline. Within the twentieth century, lack of close mass market for fish, political antagonism to modernization, inadequacy venture capital, and proper conservation of the business community are contributing factors.


The drastic crumple of the Atlantic Canada fishing industry is a solemn national and global concern. In spite of studies that have cited several factors, which supposedly contributed to the subsidence of the Northern Atlantic cod, and most depended sources of economic support that led to thousands of people losing their jobs; everyone is to blame. Williams states, “Fishers, processors, scientists, fisheries managers, and politicians all made mistakes” (71). Almost everyone involved in the fishing business knew quite well the consequences of overfishing, with those governing the fishing activities across Newfoundland and Labrador maliciously remaining reluctant to exercise their constitutional rights to avert overfishing (Newell and Dianne 355). If the blame rests on certain individuals, then the question remains, how can one blame the uncontrollable environmental variables including the fluctuating climatic conditions that only God can control? However, all human factors that led to the collapse of the great Atlantic Canada were controllable and thus people should take caution in future fishing actions.

Works Cited

Copes, Parzival. “Fisheries Analysis: A Marine Dimension for Regional Science.” Canadian Journal of Regional Science 14.2 (1991): 291-297. Print.

Drinkwater, Kenneth. “The response of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) to future climate change.” Journal of Marine Science 62.1 (2005): 1327-1337. Print.

Fred, Mason. “The Newfoundland Cod Stock Collapse: A Review and Analysis of Social Factors.” The Green Journal 1.17 (2002): 1-21. Print.

Fuller, Sussana, Candace Picco, Jennifer Ford, Chih-Fan Tsao, Lance Morgan, Dorthea Hangaard, and Ratana Chuenpagdee 2008, Addressing the Ecological Impacts of Canadian Fishing Gear. Web.

Hoogensen, Gunhild. “The Canadian Fisheries Industry: Retrospect and Prospect.” Canadian Political Science Review 1.1 (2007): 42-56. Print.

Lane, Daniel. “Property rights and governance in Canadian fisheries.” The Journal of Public Sector Management 29.1 (2000): 1-8. Print.

Newell, Diane, and Rosemary Ommer. Fishing Places, Fishing People: Traditions and Issues in Canadian Small-Scale Fisheries. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Print.

Parsons, Scott 2010, . Web.

Parsons, Scott. Management of Marine Fisheries in Canada. Canada: NRC Research Press, 1993. Print.

Parsons, Scott and Leah William. Perspectives on Canadian Marine Fisheries Management, Issue 226. Canada: NRC Research Press, 1993. Print.

Roughgarden, Jonathan, and Fraser Smith. “Why fisheries collapse and what to do about it.” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93.2 (1996): 5078-5083. Print.

Rutherford, Jacquelyn. “Too many boats chasing too few fish: The collapse of the Atlantic groundfish fishery and the avoidance of future collapse through free market environmentalism” Studies by Undergraduate Researchers at Guelph 2.1 (2008) 11-17. Print.

William, Leah. “History of Fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic: The 500-Year Perspective.” Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science 23.1 (1998) 41-73. Print.

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