Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
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Building economic strength, Fogo Island-style

Fogo Island’s stunning new arts studio. Photo credit : Bent René Synnevåg At first glance, fine arts and the cod fishery may not seem to have much in common.  But on Fogo Island, they are working hand in hand as part of a remarkable economic and community renewal.

Sitting off the northeast coast of the Island of Newfoundland, this small rocky island is home to 3,000 inhabitants who, for generations, relied upon the fishery. Until the depletion of fish stocks in the 1990s, cod was king on Fogo Island.

When the fishery fell, Zita Cobb saw the perfect opportunity to build a stronger, more sustainable economy on the island, by adding another leg to the island’s economy all while enhancing its cultural vitality.    

One of seven children of a local fishing family, Zita left Fogo Island at 16, graduated from university and worked her way up in the fibre optic industry, eventually retiring with millions ... over $7 million of which she invested in her home community.

With her brothers, the self-described social entrepreneur founded the Shorefast Foundation, a registered charity that works to strengthen the local economy and preservation of local culture.

Shorefast projects have since spread across a variety of old and new industries, from geo-tourism to new developments in the fishery, attracting millions in additional investments, including over $5 million from ACOA, and $5 million from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Recently in the news is one of Shorefast’s most novel economic development projects — the Fogo Island Arts Corporation.

Its stunning new arts studio and artists residency program, designed to attract some of the world's top contemporary artists to Fogo Island, have been garnering media attention from around the world ... and bringing a myriad of economic spin off benefits to the local community in the process, including the creation of nearly 60 jobs.

“I’m passionate about finding new ways to secure the future of this powerful, special place we call home,” says Zita. “I strongly believe our community’s survival hinges on our ability to build on who we are and put our heritage to work.  Together with partners like ACOA, we can become a leader among rural communities by finding new ways to sustain our local culture, environment, and economy.”

But the vision doesn’t end there for Fogo Island.

With partners like ACOA and the Fogo Island Co-op, Shorefast’s latest innovative project is the Fogo Island Cod Pot, a new method of harvesting, processing and marketing cod at sea, resulting in a more sustainable and marketable cod product.

And then there is the Shorefast Foundation’s new micro-loan fund, which looks to help a variety of small, local economic and community development projects get off the ground.

It’s all part of building success on Fogo Island.

Interested in finding out more about initiatives on Fogo Island? Check out this documentary profiled on CBC’s Sunday Edition, October 24, 2010: A Rock, Turning or view Les trésors de l’île Fogo which aired on Radio-Canada’s Le Téléjournal National on July 21, 2010.

And the Shorefast Foundation - a charity dedicated to revitalizing the economies of Fogo Island and Change Islands - was named one of Canada's Top 10 organizations addressing environmental and social problems. Click here to learn more about Shorefast Foundation.

Published in 2010