No single resource has influenced socio-economic development in the Atlantic Maritime Ecozone more than fish. For 500 years the seas off Atlantic Canada were one of the world's richest commercial fisheries. Traditional fisheries focused on groundfish: Cod, Pollock, Haddock, Plaice, and, closer to shore, Mackerel. Modern fishing technology led to new heights in the number of ships and catch levels. The Northern Cod catch rose from about 200 000 tonnes to 300 000 tonnes a year between 1850 and 1950. With the introduction of foreign fleets, the annual catch in the northwest Atlantic climbed to a peak of 800 000 tonnes by the late 1960s. A drastic decline to 200 000 tonnes a year in the 1970s was followed by a catastrophic collapse in the 1980s.
The collapse of the groundfish industry is the result of a diminishing resource base and severe environmental pressure.
Traditional fishing-dependent communities now face many challenges. Aquaculture, or fish farming, may compensate for some of the economic setbacks. This new and expanding industry often employs former fishers and helps satisfy a world-wide demand for high-quality fish products. Today, aquaculture concentrates primarily on finfish, such as Atlantic Salmon, and various shellfish, such as Blue Mussel, Oyster, and Lobster. In 1993, P.E.I. alone exported nearly 4 500 tonnes of cultured mussels, worth almost $10 million.
A relatively short, cool growing season and mediocre soils have hampered farming in many regions. Specialized potato farms on fertile lowland soils throughout most of P.E.I. and northwestern New Brunswick, along with prosperous fruit orchards in the Annapolis-Cornwallis Valley of Nova Scotia, are two exceptions. In 1991, agriculture accounted for 31% of total resource-based employment. Although less land area is farmed today, that which remains is used more intensively. In fact, only 8.7% of the ecozone's surface cover area is now classified as agricultural cropland.
Both forestry and tourism contribute significantly to the ecozone's economy. The 1991 forestry and forest products labour force consisted of some 48 000 workers. The ecozone's economically strong pulp and paper industry uses roughly 65% of the total volume of wood harvested. Naturally scenic landscapes are principal attractions for tourists. Places of interest include Cape Breton Island and its celebrated Cabot Trail, and the Bay of Fundy, which features 16 metre tides, the world's highest. Hiking, birdwatching, and photography are popular ecotourism activities.
The Atlantic Maritime Ecozone had an estimated 1991 Gross Domestic Product of approximately $40 billion, contributing 7% of Canada's total. The ecozone provides 12% of Canada's total resource-based employment, with the fishery and fish products sector accounting for 25% of this total.
Home to over 2.5 million people in 1991, the ecozone represents 9% of Canada's population and 6% of its urban population. Contrary to most ecozones, more people live in rural areas than cities. Today, the urban population sits at 49%, significantly less than the national average of 76%. Halifax represents the largest metropolitan area, with 320 000 residents in 1991. Small fishing villages and resource-dependent communities hugging coastlines are more commonplace than large urban centres.