Americans are eating a lot more fish these days and Canadians, the world's leading exporters of fish, couldn't be happier about it.
The continuing demand for fish and the record-high prices Americans are paying are prime reasons that the long-suffering Atlantic Canada fishing industry is booming. In just three years the fishermen and processors of the maritime provinces have moved from deep losses to prosperity that even Canadians don't quite believe."It's been a dramatic, fast change from the bankruptcies of 1983," says Roger C. Stirling, executive director of the Seafood Producers Association of Nova Scotia, representing operators of offshore fishing vessels.
The turnaround is due partly to problems in New England's fishing industry, where landings declined 11 percent in 1986. New England's overfished waters simply cannot meet demand, especially for such popular species as haddock, flounder and scallops. Catches from the adjacent rich fisheries off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are filling the void.
The weak Canadian dollar and international politics have helped, too. Since 1984 Canada has controlled, within its 200-mile limits, a scallops-rich slice of Georges Bank that was considered American until the World Court said it was Canadian. U.S. boats are now chased off by the Canadian coast guard.
And one major reason for Canada's newfound fishing prosperity flies smack in the face of free market mythology, so it's often overlooked. There is a remarkable degree of cooperation between Canada's government and its fishing industry, amounting in some cases almost to guaranteed market share and elimination of competition. The big companies that dominate Canada's modernized fishing industry have taken full advantage to reap production and marketing efficiencies.
Canada's fishermen accept quotas aimed to prevent overfishing, restrictions on entry into the industry, limitations on boat size, and other rules and red tape that New England fishermen have refused to consider. Going a step further, in a new "enterprise allocation" program, the government now literally tells the major players in Canada's fish industry how much fish each company can catch each year, dividing overall quotas for groundfish into fixed company shares.
Fishermen grumble about quotas being too small and Nova Scotia politicians scorn the bureaucrats in Ottawa, but it has the ring of ritual griping within an accepted system. There seems little real resistance to government intervention, perhaps not surprising in a country where government has traditionally played a much larger role in business than in the United States.