top of page

Throwback Thursday: ‘Soviet Floating City’ scours Grand Banks

It’s often said that Newfoundland trawlers were just as responsible as foreign fleets for the destruction of the Grand Banks, but the numbers tell a different story. In 1962, an estimated 25,000 Russian fishermen alone aboard 200 trawlers fished the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador (back then there was a three-mile limit) — outnumbering our fishermen by 7,000. And that was just the Russians.

The trawlers Zebu and Zibet tied up at Burin were owned by Fishery Products Ltd. Harry Stone photo.

Those numbers are included in a Maclean's magazine piece from the day: The Soviet's floating city in our Atlantic waters.

The article tells the story of how ships from the then-Soviet Union — some of which could catch 5,500 tonnes (12 million/lbs) of fish a year — carried out "the biggest, most relentless fishing operation in history", threatening Canada's East Coast fishery.

The late Dr. Wilfred Templeman, chief biologist at the Newfoundland fisheries research station, said "a Newfoundland dragger trying to fish with the Russian fleet would be like a man on a bicycle in New York traffic."


Newfoundland's fishing effort in the waters off her shores between 1952-62 was but a drop in the bucket compared to other countries.

In 1962, Newfoundland's offshore trawler crew numbered 508 — 1.5% of the total 34,715 crew estimated on or just off the Grand Banks, most of whom were from the foreign countries listed below (Russia had 11,134).

The above document was published by the late Dr. Templeman

Canada's three-mile limit was eventually extended to 200 miles in 1977, although Newfoundland had been promised that the territorial limit would be extended to the edge of the continental shelf.

Because that continental shelf extends beyond 200 miles (most countries' shelves are totally within their waters) migratory groundfish stocks such as cod were/are subject to foreign overfishing once they cross the imaginary line in the water.

Quotas in international waters are management by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (or NAFO), which is generally seen as toothless, unable to enforce the quotas it sets.

The Government of Canada routinely refuses to release information that would expose NAFO's ineffectiveness in managing quotas.

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.

191 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page