Northeastern Canada

Along the northeast coast of Canada, Arctic conditions extend southward to the central Grand Bank (46° N). This extension far to the south results from the Labrador Current, which transports cold water southward from Davis Strait, the Canadian Archipelago, and Hudson Bay over the plateau east of Labrador and Newfoundland. The median southerly extent of sea ice is on the northern Grand Bank at approximately 47° N and bottom water temperatures on the northern Grand Bank are below 0°C for considerable periods. Fish has always dominated the history of Newfoundland. The great interest in Britain for Newfoundland after its "discovery" during the Cabot voyage of 1497 was generated by the presence of incredibly large amounts of codfish. Exploitation of this fishery by the British would reduce that country's dependence on Iceland for fish, a dependence that was creating difficulties at that time. The French also saw the value of Newfoundland's fishery; hence, possession of the island was one of the goals of both sides during the colonial wars of the 18th century.

The distribution of Atlantic cod along the coast of Canada has historically been from the northern Labrador Shelf southward beyond the limit given above, although during the 1990s there have been few cod off Labrador. Atlantic cod tend to live on the continental shelf, but have been found at depths up to at least 850 m on the upper slope off eastern Newfoundland. The European fishery for Atlantic cod off eastern Newfoundland began in the late 15th century. For the first few centuries, fishing was conducted by hook and line, so the cod were exploited only from late spring to early autumn in shallow water along the coast and on the plateau of Grand Bank to the southeast of the island. Annual landings increased through the 18th and 19th centuries to about 300,000 t during the early decades of the 20th century.

Landings increased gradually from about 150,000 t in 1850 to between 200 and 300,000 t during the first half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, there was a dramatic increase of cod landings as large numbers of trawlers located and exploited the overwintering aggregations on the edge of the Labrador Shelf and the Northeast Newfoundland Shelf. At the same time, the numbers of large cod in deep water near the coast of Newfoundland are thought to have declined quickly as the local long-liner fleet switched to synthetic gill nets. Catches peaked at 894,000 t in 1968, and then declined steadily to only 143,000 t in 1978. Following Canada's declaration of a 200 nautical mile EEZ in 1977, the stock recovered somewhat and catches were in the range 230-270,000 t during most of the 1980s. However, catches fell rapidly during the early 1990s as the stock declined to very low levels. A moratorium on directed fishing was declared in 1992. A small cod-directed fishery was opened in inshore areas in 1998, but closed once again in 2003.

The Greenland halibut fishery in northeast Canadian waters has been conducted primarily with otter trawlers in the second half of the year. Landings come mainly from off southeastern Baffin Island. The fishery expanded even further north into Baffin Bay in the mid- to late 1990s. This fishery, which extended to 73° N in 2002, has been limited by ice cover to the months of September to November.

Prior to the initiation of a commercial offshore fishery during the early 1970s, capelin were fished on or near the spawning beaches. Annual catches, used for local consumption, may have reached 20,000-25,000 t. Offshore catches by foreign fleets increased rapidly, peaking at about 370,000 t in 1976, and then declined rapidly. This offshore fishery continued at a low level until 1992. During the late 1970s, as the foreign fishery declined, Canadian fishermen began fishing mature capelin near the spawning beaches to supply the Japanese market for roe-bearing females. This fishery expanded rapidly, exhibited highest catches during the 1980s, and declined during the 1990s. The catches in the inshore fishery have generally not been as high as those from the offshore foreign fishery.

Although the fishery for Canadian capelin has been relatively small when compared to the capelin fisheries in Iceland and the Barents Sea, there has been concern about the potential impact of a commercial fishery on capelin because of its role as a forage species. However, there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that the fishery has had an impact on capelin abundance.

Arctic cod is broadly distributed through the Arctic and in cold waters of adjacent seas. It occurs on the shelf from northern Labrador to eastern Newfoundland, with the average size of individuals and the size of aggregations decreasing from north to south. There has been no directed fishery for Arctic cod off eastern Canada, but it is likely that small quantities have been taken as bycatch by other countries.

Northern shrimp is distributed off West Greenland from Cape Farewell northward to about 74° N and thence southward off eastern Canada to beyond the Arctic. The depth of highest concentration tends to vary from area to area, but is generally in the range 200-600 m. A fishery with large trawlers began off northeastern Canada in the late 1970s. For the first decade, most of the catch was taken from two channels in the central and southern Labrador Shelf, but in the late 1980s there was an increase in effort and landings both to the south on the northeast Newfoundland Shelf and to the north off northern Labrador. Catches increased above 25,000 t by the mid-1990s. New survey technology introduced in 1995 indicated that commercial catches of shrimp were very small relative to survey biomass, and quotas were increased considerably during the late 1990s. Much of the increase in catch from 1997 onward came from a new fleet of small (<100 ft) vessels that fished with bottom trawls primarily on the mid-shelf.

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