|an environmental horror story
A Run on the Banks
How "Factory Fishing" Decimated Newfoundland Cod
Five hundred years ago, the explorer John Cabot returned from the waters around what is now Newfoundland and reported that codfish ran so thick you could catch them by hanging wicker baskets over a ship's side.
Cabot had discovered a resource that would change England forever, the basis of a maritime trade that would give that tiny island kingdom the wealth, skills and shipbuilding capacity which would transform it into a global empire. He had discovered the most fantastic fishing grounds the world had ever seen, waters so teeming with life that a vast swath of the New World was colonized just to harvest its seemingly limitless bounty.
A century after Cabot, English fishing skippers still reported cod shoals "so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them." There were six- and seven-foot-long codfish weighing as much as 200 pounds. There were great banks of oysters as large as shoes. At low tide, children were sent to the shore to collect 10-, 15-, even 20-pound lobsters with hand rakes for use as bait or pig feed. Eight- to 12-foot sturgeon choked New England rivers, and salmon packed streams from the Hudson River to Hudson's Bay. Herring, squid and capelin (a small open-water fish seven inches long) spawning runs were so gigantic they astonished observers for more than four centuries. Today, Newfoundland's fish are gone and the seas, streams and rivers lie quiet and empty.
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