For the last 2,500 years or so, Atlantic tides and the abundance of sealife they contain have formed the identity of New Brunswick maritime culture.
In 1784 the first settlement was established and then, like now, fishing was not only a means of sustenance and survival, but also a source of enjoyment. Weir fishing, an ancient technique that tricks shoals of sardines into permanent wooden nets, is still practiced in New Brunswick. These days few can make a living off weir fishing, as decades of overfishing have depleted the stock to a fraction of its traditional size. And it’s not only the sardines that have been overfished. In 1992, the Canadian government put a moratorium on North Atlantic cod fishing. The cod had been decimated by 500 years of people taking as much as they could catch. At the time, it was estimated that less than 1% of the original cod biomass in the Atlantic remained.
Despite the depletion, the diversity of wildlife has brought crowds of people — like me — camera in hand, hoping to glimpse the still-beautiful natural bounty of the Bay of Fundy…making tourism the other leading industry in the province. But just like the fishermen and the canneries, the lives of those working in this burgeoning sector are tied hand and foot to the health of the environment. The future of New Brunswick’s fragile ecosystems remains unclear. Will the tourism industry help protect, preserve, and replenish the great natural abundance that originally drew people to this place? I hope so.