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Wednesday 23 February 2011

Raison D'être: 1497-1992

July 2, 1992 is a day that will always be know as the day the fishery died in Newfoundland and Labrador. Following almost 500 years of living off the sea the live's of the people of this province changed forever as their reason for being was stripped away. From then until now there has been great debate over who was at fault, who "owns" the resource, and how long the stocks would take to rebuild, but regardless of either of those issues the simple fact was that a way of life was changed forever.

All it takes is a quick glance at a map and you can trace the coastline by drawing a line between communities around the Island and up the coast of Labrador. We were settled as fishing communities, our songs and stories and culture largely developed around our relationship with the sea. To put it simply, our currency was cod.

As a result, an industry worth $700 million (at the time) and employing around 40,000 people was over. While the numbers are striking, the real change for NL was immeasurable.

The CBC captured the anger and frustration of the announcement in the July 2 edition of The National as fishermen pounded on the doors of the room where then MP, and Fisheries Minister John Crosbie, announced the end of an era. The imagery is striking and the raw emotion is palpable. To refresh your memory you can watch the clip at the CBC Archives here. Perhaps the only other moment that reflected the frustration of the time was a couple of days prior to the announcement of the moratorium. Crosbie was at a public gathering, and as fishermen harassed him about details of the upcoming announcement he shot back "I didn't take the fish from the God damn water, so don't go abusing me!"

There is no doubt that even before the moratorium came into being, there had been declining catches and a series of other issues that rural communities were struggling against. Perhaps one of the reasons our rural communities continue to struggle to find a place in the 21st Century is because they have lost part of their reason for being. Can we help them find a new raison d'être?

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