By Andrew Robinson
ST. JOHN’S — When news of the cod moratorium was made public in Newfoundland and Labrador 20 years ago, Ryan Cleary was a young reporter with The Evening Telegram seated inside the Radisson Hotel (now the Delta Hotel) to hear federal Fisheries Minister John Crosbie announce the news.
“20 years ago I sat in that front row there, and I heard as John Crosbie shutdown the northern cod fishery,” said Cleary, standing inside the same St. John’s hotel on Monday. “The first commercial fishery shutdown in 500 years. 20 years later, and the stock is still in desperate shape.”
Cleary hosted an event held at the Delta Hotel to mark the 20th anniversary of the moratorium, which was announced on July 2, 1992. The NDP MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl said the violence of the moment has remained with him ever since — fish harvesters anxious to hear the news themselves attempted to enter the room while Crosbie made the announcement.
“The doors at the back were shut. The fishermen were trying to barge their way in, were trying to ram their way in with their shoulders. The security guys had chairs they were putting through the metal bars in the doors. If the announcement of the shutdown of the 500-year-old fishery wasn’t hard enough to take, there was the tension of the physicality of the moment.”
Cleary was briefed by a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist on Friday, and the news he received did not please him. According to Clearly, the cod stock in 2011 was between two and three per cent of 1960s levels, compared to the 1992 figure of one per cent of 1960s levels.
“There’s been no improvement,” said Cleary, who added he is shocked that a recovery plan has not been put in place.
“It’s been 20 years, and they’re working on a recovery plan with no deadline on when they’re going to implement it, no details whatsoever. That’s not good enough.”
Mike Hearn of Petty Harbour has fished for 50 years, and was also among those present at the hotel 20 years ago when Crosbie made the announcement.
“I wasn’t by the door, but I wasn’t too far from it,” he said. “Not saying the guys were right or wrong how they done it.”
The loss of cod makes Hearn feel like there has been a 20-year gap in his fishing career. Though he said crab has helped matters, Hearn believes the fishery’s future is still dependent on the recovery of cod stocks.
In Petty Harbour, he said there are almost no young people getting involved in the industry, and Hearn anticipates that in 10 years there will be one-third the number of boats fishing from the community.
At the time of the moratorium, Hearn said he had new traps and a new boat that had barely been used.
“We had two traps in the water, two more ready to go, and all this time we got out here that day, and it turned off everything for 20 years. We waited those two years for things to happen. Nothing happened.”
Cleary is conducting his own independent audit of DFO management practices in comparison with other nations that have dealt with the collapse of a stock but subsequently managed to experience a recovery.
St. Barbe MHA and Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett said there are a number of countries that have managed to do just that.
“Iceland, an island nation smaller than Newfoundland with only 300,000 (people), lost their cod,” said Bennett. “Iceland had a moratorium. Today, cod makes up 20 per cent of their seafood. Iceland stopped catching cod, drove out the foreigners, and the cod came back.”
Bennett said a similar scenario played out in Norway, and that problems with the fishery are the fault of the federal and provincial governments.
“At the government level, we have an appalling mismanagement of the fishery in this nation, and this fishing province of ours is suffering.”