Unproductive Banks

We were reluctant to spend much time at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic because it was such a beautiful day, but we’re glad we did, after all. The museum is staffed by very well-informed docents and the exhibits are all very good. Our favorite was the exhibit describing the history of cod fishing on the Grand Banks. We were the only visitors to the exhibit while we were there and the friendly docent on duty was like a walking encyclopedia.

On the far wall in the picture above, you can see a wooden carving of a 112 lb. cod that was caught in these parts. The codfish looks a lot like a catfish, complete with whiskers. Cod is a white, flakey non-fishy tasting fish that can be dried and stored without refrigeration for long periods of time, thereby making it an ideal product for export in the old days from the American colonies back to the Motherland of England. Since colonial days, the economy of the Maritime Provinces of Canada has been dependent upon fishing the Grand Banks, primarily for Atlantic Cod.

In the foreground of the photo, above, is a fishing dory. For the first 200 years or so of cod fishing on the Grand Banks, fishermen used individual, baited hand lines that they dropped right over the side of the main ship. But in the 1800s, fishermen started to use fishing schooners to get out onto the Banks, carrying 10 or 12 fishing dories on deck that they would drop overboard with pairs of fishermen in order to cover a larger geographic area. As the dory-men landed their catch and filled their dories, they would either row over to the schooner, or the schooner would come to them to relieve them of their catch. Eventually, the dory-men stopped fishing with individual hand lines and started using longlines.

Long-line fishing then consisted of dropping a long cord with smaller, baited fishing lines attached to it every couple feet. This “long line” was anchored to the bottom at each end and the ends were marked by floating barrels. They dory men would pull themselves back and forth along the long line from barrel to barrel, pulling off any fish they had caught and rebaiting the hooks before dropping them back into the water. They would just keep going from one barrel to the other until their dory was full of cod.

Here’s a restored fishing schooner that is docked outside as one of the museum exhibits. You can see a dory on deck.

It’s the geography of this area that makes the Grand Banks such a fantastic fishing ground. Warm Gulfstream water from the south collides with cold water flowing south from the Arctic, right where the Continental Shelf drops off and the St. Lawrence dumps nutrient-laden water onto the shallow (150′ deep) Banks. Hopefully, you can make out the currents and seafloor in this model that was in the Museum (the island in the middle of the photo is Newfoundland; Nova Scotia is at the bottom-left and Lunenburg is marked on the model; the mouth of the St. Lawrence is marked with a “2”):

Unfortunately, cod fishing on the Grand Banks was so good that every fishing fleet in the world came to reap its harvest and by the 1980s, the cod fishery was decimated. Today, there is a moratorium on cod fishing in the Canadian waters of the Grand Banks. Too bad that Canadian waters extend only 200 miles offshore – there, commercial fishing boats from Japan, Norway, the USA and all over the world, wait for the cod to swim out beyond the protected waters to be caught. Too bad fish can’t read maps.

We toured below deck on the fishing schooner, then returned topsides…

…just in time to greet this ketch returning to port…

…as the sun started to go down.

A nice way to end the day.

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