1992: The catastrophic collapse of the cod population off the eastern seaboard of Canada forced the government to impose a moratorium on catches.
European sailors who reached Newfoundland at the end of the 15th century found the seas “full of fish which are taken not only with the net but also with a basket”. In 1851, Newfoundland’s display at the Great Exhibition in London dealt solely with the history and manufacture of cod liver oil. Cod sustained the Newfoundland economy, and cod numbers seemed inexhaustible.
In the 1950s, however, huge European trawlers arrived off Canada’s Atlantic coast and began to scoop up enormous quantities of fish. Between 1960 and 1972, 4 or 5 billion cod were caught.
The fishing grounds could not withstand the onslaught. Catches collapsed in the 1970s, briefly recovered and then collapsed even more dramatically at the start of the 1990s. The inexhaustible had been exhausted.
Source: George A. Rose, Cod: The Ecological History of the North Atlantic Fisheries (2007), pp. 180–1, 197–8, 412–16