The implementation of the northern cod moratorium in July 1992, marked the beginning of a period of dramatic change in the Province's fishing industry. The combination of events leading to the closure of the fisheries, and the repercussions that followed, are unprecedented in the fishing or economic history of the Province. While numerous regional and/or annual failures in the cod-fishery have been documented over the years, none were so widespread and deep as that experienced since 1992. The initial moratorium effectively brought to an end all directed fishing activity related to the northern cod stock along the east coast of the Province. Furthermore, this was not the end of difficulties emerging in the industry as problems with other stocks became abundantly apparent. Closures and quota reductions for many other groundfish species such as redfish, flounder and American plaice, which also formed the backbone of the fishery, had to be applied to other fishing areas.

The large decline in fishing activity has created a situation where groundfish landings dropped to about 6 percent of normal levels and employment in the fishing industry declined precipitously. The earnings crisis which loomed because of the fisheries closures became the backdrop for the implementation of income replacement measures. In the meantime, events within the industry, such as the unexpected growth in the shellfish sector, have mitigated some of the hardship caused by the fisheries closures. Other segments of the industry have also remained strong and performed well. Thus, many workers affected by the moratorium have been able to continue to find work in the industry and earn income while others have not. Traditional fish stocks have not had a strong recovery since the moratorium began, and as a result The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS) has continued as a prominent factor in the industry and in the economic lives of those affected by the problems in the industry.

Income support measures were implemented to deal with the immediate needs of people whose means of employment and income had been severely limited or severed altogether. Initially, several short-term programs were implemented by the Federal government to offset income lost by affected fish harvesters and plant workers. By 1994 there was no evidence that the fish stocks were recovering and groundfisheries had plummeted in other areas of the northeast Atlantic. In May 1994, a moratorium was declared for groundfisheries in the Atlantic and Quebec regions directly affecting about 40,000 workers. In response to the crisis, HRDC and DFO developed and implemented TAGS.

The program was initially set to run for five years. However, an underestimate of the number of people affected, along with other factors, created an imperative to refocus the program. In July 1996, the Federal government announced that, aside from current commitments to training, some aspects of the program would be curtailed and the funds saved would be directed toward income support. It was also announced that the program would end when all of the $1.9 billion are used and this could be as early as May 1998, a year earlier than had been initially planned. The actual endpoint is uncertain because it is a function of the number of people needing assistance and the amount of benefits they are paid. Market earnings affect the amount of benefits paid because they reduce the amount of TAGS income support clients receive. While many no longer need, or have a diminished need for the program, the majority remain eligible and depend on it for all, or a substantial share, of their income.

The development and exploitation of alternative opportunities in the fishery gave rise to a situation where the volume and value of landings increased even though a moratorium remains in effect for major fisheries. In fact, the value of landings was higher in 1995 than in any year leading up to the declaration of the moratorium. While value levels have since dropped, they remain high by recent standards. The circumstances giving rise to this situation and other prospects in the fishery are reviewed. These are contextual to the fact that, while many remain eligible for income support, the degree of dependency varies amongst individuals. In fact, a substantial number (several thousand) have required little or nothing from the program.