Cod was the economic and cultural bedrock of Newfoundland’s isolated ‘outport’ villages for more than 500 years.
That bedrock began to crumble in the mid-1980s after years of industrial overfishing and poor management decisions. By 1992 the Northern cod fishery had collapsed, and the Canadian government instituted a near-total moratorium that’s still in place today. Even though the moratorium is 25 years old, Northern cod, like many depleted fish species in Canada, do not yet have a rebuilding plan.
But there’s good news too: Early signs show cod are slowly returning. Thirty-five years ago, Payne said, he could net only about 10 fish every 24 hours. Now, he estimates that the same net could catch 1,000 cod in just two hours. “Our codfish is back to the point now that it interrupts us from doing other fisheries because of the bycatch,” he said.
With many Canadians anticipating the reopening of commercial cod fishing, Payne and others are hoping that a novel kind of fish trap can help Newfoundland revitalize its cod fishery, and thus its economy.
Cod pots enable the catching of fewer, but more valuable fish with less effort. “If we can get this right, it can actually be good for a lot of people,” said Brett Favaro, a researcher at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. “It has a conservation focus. It has an industry focus. It’s one of these rare projects that’s a win-win.”
Photo of Newfoundland fishing village via Adobe Stock.