Day 28

14th November 2001

I had a good look at the cod among the catch today; A fish with a lot of history attached to it, and the weight of the world on it’s shoulders. It is a beautiful fish and I feel sad that we pushed this species to the brink. We are not allowed to target cod, but inevitably some gets caught as bycatch, and when it does the crew rub their hands together thinking of the money it will bring at market.

Cod Atlantic- gadus_morhua_swI keep check that the cod catches are within the allowable range, and so far it easily has. It’s strange to think that the one fish the Grand Banks are known for, is now so scarce.

Not much to report on today. Dinner was awful – it was boiled hake and boiled potatoes but I think they had been cooked together because it all tasted the same. The Chief Engineer loved it though, and doused it in gallons of olive oil. Some of the bits of hake are very bony and rather than pick out the bones before putting them in his mouth, the chief just stuffs the lot in his mouth and then spits out all the bones on his plate. It turns my stomach.

14th November 2017


In the 20th century fishing became mechanised. Ships no longer relied on the wind, and so could travel further, faster and stay at sea longer. In the 1950’s the first factory trawlers began to exploit the fish stocks on the Grand Banks. Vessels came from all over the world for their share of the bounty. With powerful engines capable of towing huge nets, and with refrigeration plants to freeze and preserve the catch so that it no longer needed to be salted and dried. It was a revolution in the way we caught fish, and so followed a cod boom.

The cod catch peaked in 1968 at 810,000 tons, approximately three times more than the maximum yearly catch achieved before the super-trawlers. Approximately 8 million tons of cod were caught between 1647 and 1750, a period encompassing 25 to 40 cod generations. The factory trawlers took the same amount in 15 years. – Wikipedia


No natural system could take that sort of pressure, and after 500 years of fishing, finally the cod stocks collapsed. In 1992 Canada declared a moratorium on cod, which saw 30,000 Canadian fishermen without jobs overnight, understandably provoking anger and dismay. These were dark days for the cod, and dark days for the people who depended on it for their livelihoods and way of life.

These sort of events are best captured in art, and my favourite folk song about the moratorium tells the story perfectly. It is called Codfisher by Casey Neill. I didn’t have this song with me on that first trip, but haven’t been to sea without it since. If I wake up and feel down, or wonder why I bother to be a Fisheries Observer, I listen to that song and feel inspired and energised to carry on. I also took the Blue Planet DVD box set to sea with me for the same purpose!


I was born in Halifax, upon the Atlantic sea,
Where the wind blows hard and strong relentlessly.
I first saw the Blue Nose sail, when I was but a lad. And since I was a young man, fishing’s the job I’ve had.

I worked on board my father’s boat, until he passed away.
Out with hook and line I was most every single day.
I wasn’t rich but the catch was good and I always could get by
I thought this would be the work Id do, until the day I died.

But out beyond the Grand Banks, where my small craft cannot go, 
out upon the ocean where the whale fish blow, 
giant boats with many men by the thousands bring fish in. 
They’ve scoured the ground fish stocks of Cod, Turbot, and Capelin.
When we saw our catch decline, we were sorely grieved.
So went to petition the minister and department of fisheries.
But our pleading fell on deaf ears and nothing did they do, 
So now in desperation I bring my case to you.

The draggers and hard trawlers from many countries came, 
And they scoured the ocean floor all o’er until no fish remained.
Then the government came back to us and said, “Hey, there’s a problem on our shores.”
And declared a moratorium and said I could fish Cod no more.

So I say to hell with Canada and to hell with mobile gear
The ban has been extended now for indefinite years
While in international waters, the great waves rise and fall.
And the multinational companies continue the dragger trawl.

So now we’ve organized and we’re taking our case to sea.
Out on the continental shelf, we’ll confront the companies,
We’ll throw stink bombs aboard their boats, and cut and slash their nets.
We’ll let the greedy bastards know that we’re not beaten yet.

I was born in Halifax, upon the Atlantic sea,
Where the wind blows hard and strong relentlessly.
They’ve taken away my livelihood but they’ll never break my will.
For I wish my son could be a fisherman and I wish that I was too.

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