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29 years of northern cod moratorium have cost NL at least $26 billion

Iconic stock still categorized by DFO in the critical zone, with rebuilding plan only unveiled five months ago

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In his 1992 book, No Fish and Our Lives, Some Survival Notes for Newfoundland, Cabot Martin wrote that a rebuilt northern cod stock could support annual harvesters of 400,000 tonnes (881 million/lbs).

At a yield that Martin pegged at 27%, that works out to 238 million pounds of skin-off, bone out fillets.

At a 2021 export price of $3.97 Cdn. per pound, that would mean a boost to the NL economy of $945 million this year alone.

Instead, the northern cod quota for 2021 — the 29th anniversary of the northern cod moratorium — is 12,999 tonnes (28.6 million/lbs), which, based on the same 27% yield, and this year's export price, works out to $30.6 million.

That's a difference of $914 million this year alone between a well-managed northern cod stock, and where we are today.

Multiply that by 29 years since the moratorium was handed down, for a total loss of around $26 billion — on just one mismanaged stock.

As Martin wrote, "If proper fisheries management does not represent a vital development opportunity, what does?"


The moratorium remains the biggest layoff in Canadian history, and while there’s a small-scale inshore stewardship fishery, Fisheries and Oceans does not set a total-allowable catch (TAC), and it’s not considered a full-fledged commercial fishery.

This year’s quota of 12,999 tonnes is only 6.8% of the TAC in 1991 (the year before the moratorium), when it stood at 190,000 tonnes.


All three commercial cod stocks adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador are categorized by DFO scientists as in the critical zone, meaning removals are to be kept to a minimum.

There was talk earlier this year of a moratorium on the south coast cod stock (fishing zone 3Ps), but the quota was later cut in half to 1,346 tonnes (offshore draggers are still allowed to fish the stock).

In its 2021 northern cod management plan, DFO made it official that the first 115,000 tonnes of northern cod quota will be reserved for the inshore fleet/Indigenous groups.

A decision has yet to be made whether Indigenous groups will be permitted to have offshore factory-freezer trawlers catch their share.

It was only in January of this year — seven months ago — that DFO unveiled a rebuilding plan for northern cod.

In 1992, there were 20,021 fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador — including 11,488 full-time, and 8,533 part-time.

In 2019, there were 3,409, for a drop of 83%.

The province’s share of adjacent fish stocks has also sunk like a stone (15% share of turbot on the Grand Banks), plankton numbers are at historic lows, seismic blasting continues flat out, and the inshore sector is still apparently expected to “transition” from lucrative shellfish like snow crab ($7.53/lb as of mid-June) back to groundfish species.

Today's 80¢/lb (Grade A) paid to harvesters is exactly what it was 20 years ago.

Ryan Cleary,


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