Moratorium Lessons

Tony Doyle is a sixth-generation fisher from Bay de Verde and Vice President of the Inshore Division at FFAW-Unifor. He endured the devastating impact of the Cod Moratorium on Newfoundland’s outport communities, in 1992, and went on to diversify his catch and help reshape the fishing industry in more sustainable ways. The following is a condensed excerpt from his presentations at Bacalao and Rocket Bakery.

“Fishing wasn’t just a job; it consumed us all in our community every single day. The off-season, winter, was all about preparation; even at parties, we’d sit and talk about cod. 

1992 was the year of the Moratorium. We had fished cod for around 500 years here before that. But a number of things went wrong—in the mid-60s to early 70s—starting with foreign overfishing.

Once the cod fishery closed in ‘92, it was very difficult for most of the communities here: A lot of people upped sticks and left. Some of us, myself included, hung on. We tried to keep body and soul together with some money the federal government was giving us to stop fishing cod, and also by fishing other species.

Around 1996, the crab resource took off. As small boat fishermen, we weren’t fishing the crab at that time, but we lobbied politicians and bureaucrats, so we could get into it. Eventually we got our own zone. And we started to initiate some ideas that would help us sustain the resource and help rebuild stocks to a higher level.

We only fish the large, male crabs, which are over 95mm—some of those guys can get up to 120 mm, and they’re something really big. We use traps with escape mechanisms that allow undersized and female crabs to escape. They’ll crawl out of the pot at the bottom, so that we don’t have to take them aboard the boats and handle them, because when you do that, there’s mortality. 

Another thing we did was a trial with biodegradable twine, so if we lost a pot and it was left in the water, within twelve months the twine would deteriorate and rot. That way, there’d be a hole in the pot and any crabs that got in there could crawl out. That meant there was no ghost fishing [unmanned pots or nets trapping and ultimately killing fish and shellfish that would never be harvested]. The DFO brought that in as a condition of getting a license in 2013. Those are just some of the things that we have done.

Now shrimp and scallops have been caught here too for the last twenty years. And the cod is coming back. That’s part of the reason why we did the fisheries improvement program with WWF, because we want to make sure that as the stock rebuild and we start a fishery again and processing the cod and getting into the markets, that we do it in a sustainable manner. We want to offer good quality fish that people will really like.”

(Photos: Rick O'Brien)