How do you save small islands off Newfoundland’s northeast coast where the main business of its residents has been devastated?
The Shorefast Foundation is hoping its New Ocean Ethic project will help. Focused on improving the fishery and tourism industries in the Fogo and Change Islands while helping people learn about the ocean, the project could create long-term benefits for those living on the Islands.
“It’s an essential component of rebuilding the social and economic activity,” says Gordon Slade, the Shorefast Foundation’s chair and ocean advisor, as well as a Royal Canadian Geographical Society fellow and 2002 RCGS Gold Medal winner. “The health of the ocean is almost more important to Fogo Island than anywhere else in the world because these people base their livelihoods on the ocean.”
Slade is optimistic the New Ocean Ethic Project will be a model for other places in the world that are looking at the ocean’s health while also aiming to get an economic return. “Over time, what I’m hoping is that we’ll have a place people visit where it will be obvious that people in this community are doing something different and what others should be doing.”
The project began in 2008, arising out of discussions surrounding the oceans and their affect on the Fogo and Change Islands. “We were looking at what we could do on Fogo Island that would make a difference and what we could get fishermen doing that could provide more return to them.”
One of the early projects was to introduce cod potting.
“Catching cod in a pot is the most sustainable way to fish for cod because it’s sitting on the bottom of the ocean and it’s not moving around. There’s no real damage to the habitat and the ocean floor.” He adds that there’s also no bycatch.
Although cod fishing is only open for three weeks in the summer, every little bit helps the local economy.
Slade says the area has a history of cod fishing going back over 300 years. Fishing was critical to the survival of the islands, but people began to take advantage of the ocean’s resources. In 1992, the cod fishery closed due to overfishing offshore, forcing fishermen to move on to other animals, like snow crab and northern shrimp. While cod is now open again for a short time, there’s still a moratorium on northern cod.
With the introduction of cod potting in recent years, several restaurants in Newfoundland have added this type of cod to their menus, including Bacalao Restaurant, Blue on the Water, Nicole’s Café and Gitanos Restaurant.
“Restaurants are paying a lot more money for these cod,” Slade says. “Last year, we had five fishermen that were using cod pots on Fogo Island and they were receiving two-and-a-half times as much for their cod as the regular fisheries.”
But the project is more than just sustainable seafood. Among its many initiatives, it also attempts to promote ocean literacy and citizen science.
“Citizen science is something that’s emerging as an important topic,” Slade says. “It used to be the only science you could count on is the science the marine biologists collected in their research that they did in very rigorous conditions. Now, citizen science is an important part of looking at the overall picture.”
In the future, Slade says the project will open an Ocean Literacy Centre, where Islanders, school children, and people from the region can visit and learn about what’s happening with the ecology of the area.