Cod Collapse: The Rise and Fall of Newfoundland’s Saltwater Cowboys by Jenn Thornhill Verma

Jenn Thornhill Verma’s Cod Collapse: The Rise and Fall of Newfoundland’s Saltwater Cowboys is a tricky text to categorize. Part memoir, part historical overview, and part reckoning, Cod Collapse traces the development and decline of the ground fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. Centred on what is commonly known as the ‘cod moratorium’ of 1992, Thornhill Verma uses her personal and familial connections to Newfoundland to contextualize the ripple effects of the closure. 
As the “largest industrial lay off in Canadian history”, the scale of the devastation caused by closing the fishery is difficult to grasp. More than just the loss of work, a way of life was and remains altered¾houses are left empty as people look for work elsewhere, aging populations struggle to retain services, and social spaces once central to these communities no longer function as hubs of connection and culture. The psychological, social, and economic impacts of this loss are complex. Yet there is hope, and later sections of the text comprehensibly outline what a sustainable fishery could look like if focused on jobs creation, food security, and waste reduction. 
Thornhill Verma moves expertly between historical fact, qualitative interview, and personal reflection. Stories of resilience and ingenuity rest alongside accounts of hardship and death. Detailed profiles of burgeoning photographers and well-known songwriters are buttressed against ecocritical reflection. Careful descriptions of different fishing methods are nestled next to overviews of programs aimed at supporting a new generation of fishers. In a particularly poignant passage, she writes: “In the years leading up to the ‘cod moratorium,’ I was a preteen, finding myself in the world. In those formative years, it felt as though my family and province were losing their identities.” Later, with the ebb of collective identity loss continuing to impact her maturating sense of self, Thornhill Verma recalls developing complex feelings toward Newfoundland due to outsider perceptions of the province as ‘have not’ and ‘lazy.’ “I came to think of fisherman, Newfoundlander, and Newfie as dirty words”, she recounts, noting it wasn’t until well into adulthood that she reflected on the origins of these feelings. Personal recollections like this contextualize the historical record, and make the scientific data more accessible and affective for readers. [perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#a8bf90″ class=”” size=””] “The tactile energy of Thornhill Verma’s prose and her attention to narrative structure underscore the enduring significance of the ‘cod moratorium.’ “[/perfectpullquote] There are areas where the volume of material becomes overwhelming. The movement through different family trees is a bit hard to follow, and I found myself wondering about some of the information discussed in passing but not developed more fully. This is, however, due to the nature of such a vast topic. Overall, the text is well-organized and offers a captivating account of personal and collective experiences of loss and resilience.  
In preparing to write this review, I found myself wondering who the ‘ideal reader’ would be for Cod Collapse. In the end, I can’t land on a single answer. Those interested in regional history, environmentalism, and/or extractive and industrial labour practices will certainly find this a thought-provoking read; so too will lovers of memoir, those interested in principles of community conservation, or concerned with the role of the arts in cultural preservation. Ultimately, though, Cod Collapse will appeal to those who enjoy a well-written story. The tactile energy of Thornhill Verma’s prose and her attention to narrative structure underscore the enduring significance of the ‘cod moratorium.’ Weaving a tapestry of historical reflection with the beauty of the everyday, Cod Collapse dynamically presents the complexities of place, the ongoing impacts of governmental failure, and the precious and intense pull of home.  

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771088079
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771088077
  • Product Dimensions : 15.24 x 1.8 x 22.86 cm
  • Publisher : Nimbus Publishing Limited (Oct. 30 2019)

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Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.