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‘Some survival notes for Newfoundland’

Cabot Martin was one of only a handful of Newfoundlanders I’ve ever met with his head fully around the fishery — northern cod in particular. From our first mistake with the Terms of Union with Canada, and “sluffing off fisheries to Ottawa without any restrictions”, to rolling over and “allowing all powerful bureaucracies to govern our lives,” he knew the score like few others.

Born in Channel-Port aux Basques, Cabot was a lawyer by trade specializing in marine law with a background in sciences. He passed away on Friday, Sept. 2nd.


Cabot's 1992 book, No Fish in Our Lives, Some Survival Notes for Newfoundland, consists of articles he wrote between 1989-1991 for the old Sunday Express newspaper in St. John’s.


Cabot was one of the architects of the Atlantic Accord that made Newfoundland and Labrador principle beneficiary of offshore oil and gas resources off the province's shores.


It has been argued the province needs a similar Atlantic Fisheries Accord.


The following quotes are from Cabot’s book:


“It all started in 1977 when the merchant princes of Nova Scotia, who controlled National Sea, decided they wanted access to our northern cod stocks. Instead of investing in the Newfoundland inshore fishery, the traditional users of this resource, National Sea set out with federal subsidies to built a new “distant water” fleet.”

“Ottawa’s dragger-oriented policies also represent vital social and economic choices. In 1991, Ottawa deliberately chose to have 60,000 tonnes or (132,000,000 pounds) of northern cod caught by only 500 or so dragger men rather than spread it amongst over 10,000 inshore fishermen, who have, in addition to sheer numbers, an historic and moral right to this fish.”


“Just think: The 1991 northern cod catch was 123,000 tonnes; a rebuilt stock could produce annual harvesters of at least 400,000 tonnes — an increase of 277,000 tonnes or 600 million pounds per year. At a yield of 27%, that means 160 million pounds of skin-off, bone-out fillets. And at an export price of $2.50 Cdn. per pound, our current policies cost our economy over $400 million a year, every year, on just this one mismanaged stock.”


“If good fisheries management doesn’t represent a vital development opportunity — what does?”


“Doesn’t the current total mismanagement of our northern cod stocks tell us something about the way in which we have allowed all powerful bureaucracies to govern our lives? And, most importantly, doesn’t our ability to solve this problem give us some clue about where we go from here as a society?”

“Any healthy society would be galvanized by the two-pronged danger of total stock collapse and inshore liquidation. Yet Newfoundland is numbed by its dependency on government. Does anything really matter anymore? In our hour of danger, our self-proclaimed myths of toughness and courage fail us.”

"Iceland, a national totally dependent on fishing and not noted as a home of eco-freaks, prohibits the fishing of cod on spawning grounds. Do they know something we don’t?”


"I once asked an ecologist friend how man could push a highly abundant species like the passenger pigeon past the point of extinction. How come, when the species was say three-quarters gone, someone didn’t call a halt?

Total depletion, he said, takes time; people simply lose their remembrances of what the former abundance of the species of bird, animal, or fish once was."

"But now, with stocks pulverized and the incompetence of Ottawa fully exposed, the impossibility of good fisheries management by remote control from Ottawa has been proven beyond doubt."

"There are lots of effective levers out there if we really felt that better fisheries management was important to us. For a start, our university could start teaching fisheries management. For another, the province could, for small money, built up a competent team of fisheries managers. These are not frills, but the essential preconditions of ensuring that we, Newfoundlanders, regain full control over our fisheries, which is to say over our essence and sense of self.

If we do not go this, we can expect to become nothing more than a pathetic shadow of ourselves; no longer a Newfoundland people; no longer a Newfoundland society."

“We have for far too long blamed our weather, our location, or others for our problems. It’s about time we took a long, hard look in the mirror. No society can escape the responsibility for how it lives. And it is in that basic, fundamental way that gaining power over our fisheries is the first essential step to growing up."


Deepest condolences to Cabot's family and friends.


The province has lost a brilliant mind and patriot.


Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.


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