Canary in the global coal mine.

Currently indigenous to Newfoundland are moose, caribou, salmon, and some remaining cod. There are no naturally residing canaries on the island. However, in this case, the island itself was the canary.

Why is Newfoundland important? In much the same way the canary in a coal mine is important. That bird is an early warning of impending trouble. Ignore it at your own peril. In 1992, that is what happened in Newfoundland. Heard, seen, and ignored – just the opposite of the military phrase HUA(!) – Heard, Understood and Acknowledged. They (the government) heard the canary, saw it laying there, and essentially said, “Don’t pay that any attention” until it was too late. It was mismanagement writ large.

So, what was this canary? It was the disappearance of cod stocks. Stocks that had been fished for over 500 years and sustained Newfoundland throughout that time. Then in 1992, the government realized that the cod stocks had plummeted to perilously low levels and imposed a 10 year moratorium on cod fishing. Historically, they knew if left alone for 5-6 years, the stocks should return to previous levels. They didn’t. In actuality, they were in worse shape than before.

In those first 10 years, because there was no fishing, 20% of Newfoundland’s population left the island. It was an out-migration the likes of which had never been seen. And the lack of fishing created much hardship throughout the province. Newfoundlanders continue leaving the island in search of work returning occasionally for vacation. The Newfoundland musical group Ennis addresses this beautifully in their song, “Fortunate Ones.”

Now 20 years later, the moratorium is still in place. But then in 2006, 14 years after the original moratorium was put in place, Professor Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia published a paper that received world-wide notice. In this paper he predicted that by the middle of this century, the entire global stock of wild fish will be in total collapse. This is certainly the result of over-fishing; there is also growing evidence that ocean acidification may be contributing to this as well. Either way one looks at it, both of those causes are man-made.

The “canary” was laying there, gasping for breath and people essentially just walked on by. It has taken too long to realize what this means.

In the short term, forget about your seafood dinner, that isn’t going to happen unless you’ll be willing to take out a mortgage on it. Any fish we’ll have will come from farmed stocks and their purity is suspect.

In the long term, your guess is as good as anyone’s. No one knows what will happen to the seas themselves because of this shock to its eco-system.

So much for Red Lobster!

2 thoughts on “Canary in the global coal mine.

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