St. John's

Canada was founded on the Atlantic cod fishery over five centuries ago. But in Newfoundland and Labrador, this industry came to an abrupt end in July 1992, after overfishing nearly drove cod to extinction, and a moratorium was imposed indefinitely. In a single day 30,000 people lost their jobs.

This was a devastating blow, with profound social and economic repercussions. But by diversifying their catch and adopting ocean-centered practices, the remaining local fishers reemerged in better shape. Having experienced firsthand the crisis of fisheries collapse, the Newfoundlanders are well positioned to educate the rest of the world about the importance of respecting our oceans, lakes and rivers and making responsible choices.

In St John’s, Terroir participated in a crucial conversation between chefs, government, fishers and certification boards. We also came together for a phenomenal collaborative dinner at Raymonds. We brought team members and international chefs and journalists on a field trip to talk with diverse specialists and piece together a story of resilience. Here’s who we met, what they shared, and where we went:

Dr Jonathan Fisher a research scientist from Memorial University’s Fisheries and Marine Institute brought firsthand testimony from his work collecting ecosystem information in chilly northern waters. He warned that changing ocean conditions are dramatically affecting the dynamics and distributions of marine species populations.

On a visit to the Fisheries and Marine Institute, we learned from several key staff members about responsible aquaculture and aquaponics, and their potential for sustainably feeding our exploding global population. We discovered scientific initiatives in the testing phase, such as using fish farm waste for fertilizer and shellfish industry waste for health supplements. The highlight was viewing an $8.5-million flume tank filled with 1.7 million litres of water—the world’s largest—used to do research for some of the worlds most significant marine institutes and corporations. It can be manipulated to recreate different ocean conditions for testing new technologies and experimental design.

Petty Harbour is a unique fishing community, 15 km from St John’s. There, local fishers have historically played an unusually active role in managing their resources and insisting on traditional methods, such as hand lines and cod traps. In 1961, they banned gillnets and longlines to ensure that more people in the community could profit from fishing and fewer cod perished in ghost nets—lost and damaged nets on the ocean floor that continue catching fish indefinitely. There we met:

With Michelle and Jim Lester, a seventh generation farming couple, we toured the new state-of-the-art, zero-waste aquaponic facility on Lester’s Farm, just outside of St John’s. The Lesters’ goal: to grow lettuce and raise tilapia to sell across the province in a combined and sustainable system.

Mark Lane of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association spoke with us about the possibilities of developing land-based fish farming systems. NAIA represents finfish and shellfish farmers, hatchery producers, supply and service companies as well as academic Institutions developing products with Blue Mussels, Atlantic Salmon, Steelhead trout and Atlantic Cod.

Anthropologist, historian and author of Fish Into Wine, Peter Pope, gave us a bigger-picture view of fishing across the centuries in Newfoundland and explained the notions of triangular trading and the much-maligned merchant system.

Larry Dohey, an archivist from the Rooms—home to the biggest museum, exhibition space and archival collections in the province—primed us on the cultural history of Newfoundland and Labrador, covering everything from the first French and Portuguese fishers on local shores to today’s diversified fisheries.

(Photos: Rick O'Brien)