Exploring uncharted waters : government's role in the development of Newfoundland's cod, lobster and herring fisheries, 1888-1913

Hewitt, Keith W. (1992) Exploring uncharted waters : government's role in the development of Newfoundland's cod, lobster and herring fisheries, 1888-1913. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Dependence upon a single-sector economy often leads to cycles of prosperity and despair. The society that developed in Newfoundland based upon the exploitation of the fishery resource certainly reflects this description. Near the end of the nineteenth century a consensus evolved based upon an acknowledgement that the fishery in general was in danger. If the industry could not be sustained, the prospects for the four-fifths of the population that relied upon it for survival were bleak. Government demonstrated an awareness that unless changes were adopted, the day that it could no longer support the mass of the population might be perilously near. -- Faced with declining catches, increasing competition in traditional markets, and an insufficient understanding of the scientific basis of the fishery, government in 1888 established a Commission of Inquiry. The centrepiece its report was a recommendation that Newfoundland establish a Fisheries Commission to study the fisheries and make recommendations for their improvement. When this proposal was accepted, the basis was laid for the creation of a formal Department of Fisheries in 1893. Equally important, by embracing this recommendation government was also tacitly accepting the principle that increased public intervention in the affairs of the private sector was acceptable. Once involved, government continued to take initiatives in this sector. The new Department was an important part of this new activism. It served as a medium to continue cod and lobster propagation initiated by the Commission; to expand and improve rules and regulations for the preservation of stocks and the production of a standard output; and to stimulate the production and export of herring. -- Though these initiatives were for the most part based on rational assumptions, not all achieved the level of success promised by their proponents. In part, these shortcomings can be attributed to a distinct preference to adopt models developed abroad rather than attempt to construct solutions suited to Newfoundland conditions. As well, government's desire to keep control of the fishery and its predilection to use fishery reforms for political purposes weakened the initiatives. Finally, a climate of mistrust between government, the Department, fishermen, merchants and exporters worked against the successful implementation of reform. -- The result was that at the outbreak of World War I, the fishery, despite a quarter-century of government attention, looked remarkably similar to its condition in 1888. Remaining overwhelmingly dependent upon the export of a single staple—dried cod—to the same markets that had been favoured for more than a century, the fishery still offered dubious prospects for those who depended upon it for their livelihoods.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5554
Item ID: 5554
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 235-242.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1992
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Fishery management--Newfoundland and Labrador--History; Cod fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--History; Lobster fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--History; Atlantic herring fisheries--Newfoundland and Labrador--History

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