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Newfoundland cod fishery to partly reopen after four-year halt

April 16, 1997

TORONTO (AP) _ Four years after shutting Newfoundland’s economically vital cod fishery, the government said Wednesday that stocks have recovered enough to allowed limited resumption of commercial fishing.

The decision came just two weeks before the expected start of a federal election campaign, and critics say the viability of cod stocks remains in doubt.

The four-year moratorium put an estimated 40,000 fishermen and fish-plant employees out of work and contributed to a persistent jobless rate of nearly 20 percent in Newfoundland, Canada’s poorest province.

Federal Fisheries Minister Fred Mifflin planned to announce details of the reopening Thursday in St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital. But he confirmed Wednesday that a decision had been made.

``This is a good-news story,″ he told reporters at Parliament in Ottawa.

Asked if there were political overtones to the decision, Mifflin said: ``This has nothing to do with votes.″

The government was expected to follow the recommendations of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, an advisory group that proposed a limited resumption of cod fishing in December.

The council suggested a catch of 10,000 tons of cod off the south coast of Newfoundland, 6,000 tons in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence and 6,000 tons in the southern gulf.

In the early 1980s, a boom period for the industry, about 40,000 tons were caught off the southern coast and more than 100,000 tons in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The conservation council called for numerous measures to protect smaller and younger fish and ensure tight monitoring of the catch limits.

``All these control mechanisms will be put in place,″ Mifflin said. ``The light is not green. The light is amber.″

Josephine Cheeseman, a spokeswoman for Newfoundland’s Department of Fisheries, said provincial authorities were pleased by the decision and doubted it would raise false hopes of a return to the boom days of the past.

``I think there are realistic expectations,″ she said in a telephone interview. ``The northern cod was the primary fish for our processing plants, and there’s a general awareness the northern cod stock will take more time to recover.″

She also noted that many former cod fishermen have moved successfully into other fishing sectors, including a fast-growing aquaculture sector.

Ransom Myers, a professor of Ocean Studies at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University and former scientist with the federal fisheries department, denounced the federal decision.

``I don’t think there is any basis for reopening the fisheries at this time,″ he told the Toronto Globe and Mail. ``It is very clear that the stocks are at a very low level.″

During the four-year moratorium, the government paid hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to idled fish-industry workers. Many Newfoundlanders left _ federal census figures released Tuesday showed the province’s population declined by 2.9 percent between 1991 and 1996.

Coinciding with the cod decision, the federal government Tuesday resolved a bitter dispute with British Columbia over management of the West Coast’s salmon fishery. Under the deal, the fishery will remain a federal responsibility, but the province will gain a greater say in developing conservation plans.

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