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The Folks Who Fish
Employment in the Fishery

Over the years, many different people have worked in the Canadian and Island fishing industry. The following chart shows the number of people involved in these industries from 1878 to 1996. In Canada as whole, the number of people involved increased during the late 1800's and early 1900's. By the 1920's, there was a drop in the number of people involved in fishing, largely due to industrialization. The very same trends can be seen in Island statistics as well.

Industrialization had three major effects on the fishery. First, the motor engine began to replace the sail. The motor engine allowed a smaller number of fishermen to do more work, because their boats could go further, faster, and were more maneuverable. Second, new technology such as refrigeration led to more efficient processing techniques. Fewer people were required to process the fish catch. Finally, the growing factories of the big cities drew many fishermen away from their traditional work to take up other jobs. Of course, it is difficult to tell whether the factories drew fishermen away from their jobs or whether the fishermen went to the factories because there was no longer as much work to be found in fishing.

When the Great Depression struck in the 1930's, many workers lost their jobs and returned to fishing. This increase in the workforce can be seen in the Canadian and Island statistics for 1938, the last year of the Depression. The increase put a severe strain on the Island's fishing industry, which had already been devastated by the Depression. The number of fishermen decreased once again with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when many young fishermen and fisheries workers joined the armed forces to train and fight overseas.

After the Second World War, the number of people involved in the fishing industry increased relatively quickly across Canada. On the Island there was a gradual increase as well, but a much slower one. However, with the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland in the late 1980's and early 1990's, the number of fisheries workers at a national level dropped drastically. Prince Edward Island, which has focused almost exclusively on its inshore fishery for the past 200 years, was not badly affected by the collapse of cod stocks, and so the labor force has continued to gradually increase.

Number of Persons Engaged in the Fishery 1878-1997
Year Canada PEI
1878 61,337 5,206
1888 62,683 4,379
1898 81,534 4,404
1908 71,070 3,499
1918 68,516 3,684
1928 62,785 2,396
1938 71,510 3,309
1948 66,116 3,046
1958 82,930 3,209
1968 71,585 3,301
1978 - -
1989 - 4,928
1996 31,045 4,849