Problems in the Fishery, 1950 - 1969

The rise of the industrial, frozen fish sector did not solve all the problems of the fishery, as many had hoped. Although it did put Newfoundland fish into new markets, and removed the burden of curing fish from fishing families who lived near fish plants, many other difficulties arose.

First, there were problems with the market for frozen fish in the United States in the late 1950's and 1960's. The demand for fish did not increase as much as had been expected. Americans, for the most part, preferred beef, pork and chicken to fish, and did not suddenly begin eating significantly more fish than they had in the past. At the same time, other countries such as Norway and Iceland had also industrialized their fisheries and were selling frozen groundfish to the United States. This meant that there was plenty of competition among sellers, and American buyers of frozen groundfish were able to keep prices low. This had an impact on fishers in Newfoundland, as the low prices for fish meant it was harder for them to invest in new vessels and gear.

A Soviet Trawler, n.d.
A Soviet Trawler, n.d.
The Andrey Markin in St. John's. Built in 1977 in the USSR, it is one of the many trawlers of the former Soviet Union that have fished on the Grand Banks since the mid 1950's.

Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive (PF-001.1-M17a), Memorial University, St. John's, NL.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the Newfoundland fishing industry in this period was the rise of European participation in the offshore fishery. Beginning in the mid-1950s, countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and the Soviet Union began building large, diesel-powered otter trawlers that they could use to fish off the coast of Newfoundland. The numbers and size of these vessels vastly increased the amount of fish that was caught each year in the northwest Atlantic. In 1953, there were 540 otter trawlers fishing in the northwest Atlantic; by 1962, the number had risen to 975. Historically, total catches of cod had ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 metric tonnes. Between the mid 1950s and the late 1960s, the total amount of cod caught by Canada and other countries off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador tripled, reaching an historic high of 810,000 tonnes in 1968.

Some evidence suggests that increased catches by the European offshore fleets affected the fishery in Newfoundland. Local companies that owned trawlers complained it was getting harder to compete for fish offshore. Inshore fishers also claimed they had difficulties catching as much fish as they had in the past. Indeed, scientific studies suggest that between the mid - 1950's and mid - 1960's, the average catch per in the inshore fisher declined between 20 and 40 percent, on the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Legally, however, there was little that Newfoundlanders could do to stop the fishing by Europeans. The internationally accepted fishing limit was measured three miles from shore. After years of protests from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Canadian government implemented a 12-mile fishing limit in 1969. Not until 1977, however, when Canada finally declared a 200-mile fishing limit were European vessels prevented from fishing close to shore.