Ressources of Newfoundland

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Situation of the island on the coast of Newfoundland.

This work in progress page is a body of researches meant to be used in the context of the Labrador Current Foodways residency in Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada. As Fogo Island Inn states on its website, Fogo (“fire” in Portugese) is “an island off an island” called Newfoundland (“Terre-neuve” in French).

Economy and climate change

Offshore platform from Hibernia oil field, 315km off St. John’s shore.

Newfoundland economy

Newfoundland is very wide, with 115 thousands square kilometres, and makes a whole province of Canada with the Labrador land. The whole “Newfoundland and Labrador” represents 405 thousands square kilometres of wild land (1,3 inhabitant/km2) filled with ressources:

  • Petroleum from offshore platforms (making ±15% of GPD in 2006 with ±4,5% of Canada’s petrolum);
  • Metals from mines in Labrador (half of the iron in Canada, copper, zinc, sliver and gold);
  • Seafood despite the collapse of the Atlantic northwest cod (Gadus morhua) fishery in the 90’s (wild fishes and snow crabs (Chionoecetes opilio), growing aquaculture (salmon and shellfishes));
  • Limber to make newsprint paper from huge forests of black spruce (Picea Mariana typical from the taiga);
  • Dairy from industrial Holstein cattle like most North American systems, pretending to be less carbon intensive because of high productivity (still small compared to other activities with less than $150 million revenue).[1]

Representatives’ hypocrisis

Fogo island seems to be a laboratory for “good practices” for the century to come when it comes to socio-economical activities.[2] Still, it belongs to a region which main source of revenues are non-durable extractive industries. It is a drop of goodwill in an ocean of interests that consist in nourishing the notorious oil hunger of their neighbour (the U.S.A buy more than 95% of Canada’s petroleum). Inhabitants of Fogo island are inevitably “trapped” in these cynical contradictions — as many citizens of our present world.

Ironically, inhabitants of Newfoundland now grave for the disappearance of icebergs brought from the North by the Labrador current?[3] With the loss of those magnificent decaying icebergs appearing every Springs, climate change already affects their main activity, tourism; while their government continues to let the oil companies prospect, with Billions dollars of interests for the province’s treasure. On the other hand, the Canadian government shows goodwill to decarbonise massively its electricity production (14% of total carbon emissions) with Muskrat Falls hydropower. But the scale of this is no match to the expansion of oil/gas production (already 34% of total emissions) that should double until 2030.[4]

History of ressources

Diagram illustrating the sudden collapse of the Atlantic northwest cod fishery in the 90’s.
Snow crabs, the new over-fished animal of Newfoundland.

Western settlement

The exploitation of Newfoundland starts in the 16th century according to Basque fishermen records, after this ressource-full region was discovered by Western expansionist civilisations who could not get enough from their own lands (Basque, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Portugal).
Two main activities first emerged:

  1. Cod fishing in the close seas, which marine life benefits from the combination of Labrador and Gulf Stream currents;
  2. Fur production on land, from a diversity of wild mammals of the forests.

Western countries started to share unpeacefully these ressources until France and England controlled most of it. Regular conflicts between the two countries stoped with the Utrecht treaty in 1713 and the following agreement: fishing rights are allocated to the French (mainly fishermen from Brittany) but lands belong to the English settlers. This is the “French shore”, a convenient agreement that will last until the start of the 20th century: French were not allowed to settle, and their cod salting plants were limited to a limited part of the coast; while England fulfilled its imperialists intents. In the process, last remaining indigenous people from Newfoundland, the Beothuks, were whipped out from their land until extinction in the early 19th century.

French business was the most prosperous of the Island, as salted cod soon became a convenient staple food for European populations. Among them, the Portuguese people relied so much on it that it became the most iconic ingredient of their cuisine until the present days.[5]

Recent collapse

New technologies paired with modernist belief in infinite growth starting in the 50’s led to the sudden collapse of the Atlantic northwest cod fishery in the 90’s. It had tremendous effects at the socioeconomic scale on people of the Canada’s eastern coast: many lost their jobs, wether in fishery or processing industry. Following the scientific study of this ecological crisis, a moratorium on cod fishing was decided by the government in 1993. Since then, mixed evaluation of the stocks recovery got the cod quotas to up and down, but catch is now growing back (>1200M tons/year since 2016).[6]

Following the cod population collapse, snow crab “replaced” cod as main focal fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador, more than 25 years ago. For nearly three decades, snow crab has supported thousands of fishing enterprises and enabled the NL fishery to prosper to unprecedented economic status; but since the 2000’s stocks experienced a large and forecasted decline. A 2014 review concluded that temperature rise caused by climate change had been the over-arching factor of crabs decline. Despite this alarming path, catches are on the rise (>1100M tons/year since 2014).[7] Has anything been learnt from the cod crisis?

Emerging practices

Salmon farm from international company Cook Aquaculture Inc. in Canada.
The 2018 report made by CAIA (Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance).


Today, there is a vast enthusiasm for mariculture in Labrador and Newfoundland. Aside from the sustainable aspect of mariculture (in relation to cattle farming, wild fishing, and inland aquacuture[8]), its capacity to maintain populations together in the homeland where they would benefits from durable jobs is one of the main narratives used by NAIA (Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association); relying on locals’ bad memories from the 90’s moratorium.[9] But then, what are the real improvements since the controversies of the Norwegian salmon industry ? Off course their blue mussels can be sustainable and even organic, but what about their salmons which main webpage is inaccessible? When inquiring on local actors in aquaculture, it’s always back to pledges for sustainability without enough real described actions stated, aside from philanthropy.[10]

The 2018 report made by the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance is not an independent view on the subject, but its observation are clear and sourced:

  • Good practices are described and promoted by the Alliance, but none of them seem to be mandatory.
  • When it comes to energy inputs, it is stated per unit of production, which does not consider the rebound-effect typical from those kind of improvements. But the oddest part is that it talks about decline while showing a rising curve.
  • The advantage of Canada’s coastline are their strong currents, where fish farms are placed to avoid an excess of organic deposition below, on the oceans’ bed.
  • Finally, the report often recognise the efficiency and beneficial ecosystemic services from shellfish farming; which brings us to “Regenerative Ocean Farming”.[11]

Regenerative Ocean Farming

A diagram of the restorative farming system.

Among sustainable systems emerging, “Regenerative Ocean Farming” is the most promising. Pioneered by former cod fisherman Bren Smith, born in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland; “Restorative ocean farms“ are designed around kelp seaweeds (mostly kelp, Laminariales) and shellfishes. This model requires very low capital costs as it is based on underwater “scaffoldings of rope” attached to floating buoys. Cheap to build, a restorative farm can be put together in two days. This implies that a farm can be built sporadicly for one single season, or kept active all year round. Other than sucking up the excess of nutrients (mainly nitrogen responsible for eutrophisation) by intensive agriculture upstream, seaweeds can actually absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification being caused by excess anthropogenic CO2 from the air migrating in the oceans, cultivating fireproof seaweeds forests able to absorb CO2, might be even more durable than land forests. Seaweed makes cheap and reliable base material for biodegradable paper and cardboard; but also provide healthy habitats for other species to thrive in. This is where shellfish comes into play: requiring zero input such as fertiliser, fresh water or feed, shellfish can simply grow and filter the water which will later help the seaweed grow.[12]

Although first developed in Thimble Islands, Connecticut, regenerative ocean farms have spread in North America thanks to non-profit GreenWave. It reached an international attention during the last 10 years, with Bren Smith as main iconic figure, describing its gradual awareness of the destructive commercial fishing methods until he co-founded GreenWave and won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge prize in 2015.


Wikipedia sources


  1. Another corporative website without much proper data and poor references.
  2. 2. From the “Economic Nutrition” certification used by Fogo Island Workshops for their timber furniture production; to the numerous environmentally conscious activities and “wellness retreats” proposed by Fogo Island Inn that include foraging and hiking, sustainable cooking and fishing with locals, etc.
  3. As we can hear from the French speaking people of Twillingate island in 2021.
  4. Zach Goudie, What's the plan? Explaining the N.L. climate change strategy, CBC news, 2019.
  5. André Magord, «L’établissement d’une population francophone à Terre-Neuve : entre traités officiels et dynamiques de peuplement clandestin», Le Golf du Saint-Laurent et le Centre-Ouest français, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010.
  6. Species Quotas reports from Newfoundland and Labrador, Government of Canada website.
  7. Darrell R.J. Mullowney, Krista D. Baker, Gone to shell: Removal of a million tonnes of snow crab since cod moratorium in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, 2020.
  8. About the effects of cattle farming and aquaculture of fish or shrimp, see our wiki page: Overall impact of the 40 most produced_foods on the environment
  9. Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association website.
  10. “Mitigating against litter, pollution and lost or abandoned marine debris” but how and with what investments? Cooke seafood, Sustainability Policy 7th edition, 2021.
  11. “the use of “cleaner fish” (usually a member of the wrasse family), lice traps, the development of an eco-bath closed delivery system, and the use of full tarps for all net-pen therapeutant applications […] the trend in expenditures on energy used in production has declined on a $/tonne of production basis […] Canada’s farmed finfish feed conversion ratio is about 1.2:1. This means 1.2 kg of feed is needed to produce 1 kg of fish. This ratio has improved dramatically from previous decades, and is significantly lower than the FCRs for other sources of food protein: poultry (1.7:1 to 1.9:1), pork (2.8:1 to 2.9:1) and beef (6:1 to 9.1:1). […] Since 1990 the ratio of marine protein to produce 1kg of finfish protein has dropped from 3.8kg of fish meal and 2.8kg of fish oil to only 0.7kg of fish meal and 0.5kg of fish oil, a reduction of more than 81% and 82% respectively […] Locating marine farms strategically in areas of deeper water and strong currents, combined with mitigation measures such as site fallowing, help to minimize deposition from farms. Under federal and provincial regulations finfish farms are monitored for changes to the seabed. […] Pesticides used in farming seafood are evaluated by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency with strict environmental protection measures in place under the Pest Control Products Act. […] Recent studies reveal that farming shellfish can improve species abundance and diversity, have beneficial impacts on pelagic fish around farm sites, reduce pressure on wild stocks, and play an important role in stocking programs to replace depleted wild stocks.” Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, The State of Farmed Seafood in Canada, 2018 Report.
  12. The Soft Protest Digest, Fishing series: How to better farm the ocean? A look at “restorative ocean farming”, wiki online. 🐟 Fishing series: How to better farm the ocean? A look at “restorative ocean farming”