Sunday, February 26, 2006

Aquaculture: Cod Walloped — Newfoundland's cod farming industry

Lindsay Royston
From the November 21-December 4, 2005 Issue of Canadian Business Magazine

If you don't have a Newfie accent and walk into any of the bars on George Street in downtown St. John's, it's a safe bet a bartender will dare you to kiss a codfish. If you pucker up and throw back a shot of Screech, you will qualify as an honorary Newfoundlander. It's a small but telling example of how, despite the decline and fall of the Atlantic cod, the fish that sustained Newfoundland for centuries still has its hooks in the province — its culture, its lingo and its popular imagination.

Perhaps that's part of the reason aquaculture — an industry that promised to revive the cod's economic importance — was so widely embraced in Newfoundland. After the wild fishery faded in 1992, the tiny coastal towns and coves that depended on cod became even tinier — they have lost upward of 10% of their populations. Former fishermen who stayed in rural Newfoundland instead of migrating to larger centres like St. John's or Corner Brook found employment prospects bleak, and the many fish processors dotting the province were forced to run at significantly less than capacity. Amid the hard times, fish farming has come to hold an especially strong allure. "Aquaculture is the very best opportunity for some rural communities and regions to derive livelihoods from the sea far into the future," says Mike Rose, executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (NAIA) and Newfoundland's leading aquaculture advocate. As in New Brunswick, salmon aquaculture is now established in Newfoundland — 2003 revenue came in at $6.7 million. Yet the farming of cod held out the promise of rejuvenating the province's most important and traditional industry in a way that, unlike the wild fishery, might have proven sustainable.

Too bad Newfoundland's cod aquaculture experiment has ended up in the tank. The industry's failure is a tale of poor execution, difficult economic realities and bad luck that is all too familiar to those living on the Rock.

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As an aquaculturist and a Newfoundland born lad, it's sad to see such a downturn in events.


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