, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 195-215

Above and Below the Water: Social/Ecological Transformation in Northwest Newfoundland

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Abstract

Marine fisheries and fishing societies develop around the resources provided by a particular ecosystem. As they exploit these resources, fisheries transform the ecosystem, which pushes fishery and society to adapt in turn. This process is illustrated by fisheries, ecological and social data tracking dramatic changes on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula and its adjacent marine ecosystem, the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. There a longstanding fishery for cod and other groundfish collapsed in the 1990s, and was replaced by fisheries targeting invertebrates. The new invertebrate fisheries have different socioeconomic characteristics than the former groundfish fisheries. The shift in target species reflects deep ecological changes that were underway at least a decade before official recognition of the crisis. Our analysis of biological data reveals that the main ecological changes occurred during “the glory years” of the 1980s, when Newfoundland's domestic fisheries were at their peak. Overfishing and interactions with adverse climatic conditions drove the changes. As the ecosystem transformed, human population declined due to outmigration, and social indicators show signs of distress. Accounts by outport residents paint a generational picture of social change.