Great Fish for a Change

TBTI e-book offers a glimpse into Newfoundland's small-scale fisheries of the 21st century

The book is based on the ‘Great Fish for a Change’ events, which took place in small outport communities across the province, during the summer and fall of 2015. TBTI organized these events to facilitate a much-needed discussion about the value of fish for food security and nutrition, as well about their significance for the local food systems.


While the primarily focus of the book is to shine more light on the importance of locally sourced fish for the food security, the authors explore a much wider spectrum of issues that are all in one way or another, linked to small-scale fisheries. The book offers a glimpse of what small-scale fisheries in Newfoundland look like today and the transformations they are going through.

Great Fish for a Change: Newfoundland Stories is a second book published under TBTI Global Book Series. This publication series that aims to highlight why we need to pay close attention to small-scale fisheries. The series will be of use to anyone interested in learning more about small-scale fisheries, especially about their important contribution to livelihoods, well-being, poverty alleviation and food security, as well as to those who are keen to help raise profile of small-scale fisheries in the policy realm.

Nestled amidst steep, shrub covered rocky hills, lies the town of Petty Harbour about 13km from the heart of St. John’s. Despite its close proximity to the city, Petty Harbour feels distinctly remote. Home to roughly 1,000 residents, Petty Harbour has a rich fishing heritage. The bountiful coastal waters first drew fishers of Basques, Portuguese, and French origin to the area in the 1500s. English and Irish immigrants then settled in Petty Harbour in the 1600s. Today, the town’s maritime culture continues to have a strong presence on the landscape. The waterfront of the narrow harbour is lined with fishing boats and skirting the wharf’s edge are old landed boats and anchors, mounds of crab pots, fish cleaning tables, and coils of weathered rope. Tourism has expanded in the harbour and includes a popular restaurant, a new coffee shop, bed and breakfasts, whale watching outfitters, a mini aquarium, a zip line course, as well as cod jigging tours during the food fishery season. Environmental and cultural stewardship efforts in Petty Harbour have many champions; some of them are introduced here.

“It was not very long ago that children used to hang out on the wharfs, eagerly awaiting the safe return of their family members. Affectionately referred to as “wharf rats,” youngsters grew up amidst the hustle and bustle of a fishing community. However, the implementation of the cod moratorium created a generational gap in the fishery. Youth, in consequence, did not grow up around small-boat fishers and do not have the same opportunities of pursuing a livelihood in the fishing industry as their forefathers. As the fishers of today age and retire, fewer and fewer youth are ready to fill their boots. With little government support for young fishers to pursue a career in the small-boat fishing industry and the costly licensing fees newcomers face create substantial economic challenges, small-scale fishing is implicitly being treated as a sector that is no longer viable.”

A major part of Monkstown’s fishing history lies in the design and perfection of the Monkstown dory by the Monk family. A dory is a flat-bottomed boat where the sides and bottom are planked lengthwise; they don’t have any keel structure aside from the bottom planking. These little boats, regarded for their practicability, dependability, sturdiness, and craftsmanship were widely used for offshore fishing along the Grand banks and the shoreline. They were sturdy yet light and could be easily stacked one on top of each, which meant they took little space on the deck of the schooners. While they were predominantly used for fishing, they could also be used for transportation to and from the outports.

After leaving Lisa’s busy kitchen, we moved on to see a woman that everyone in the community refers to as Aunt Beet. Not long before we arrived, Aunt Beet had just finished preparing close to 100 fish cakes for the coming event. As she stood in the kitchen with her hands against her dress and a big smile, she told us that this is a dish that she has been preparing for most of her life. She began to reflect on her life in Monkstown sharing with us the difficulties of living in such a remote community, the hardships of winter and an aging population.

Right next to the Factory are old row-houses. Edith Sampson hopes that in the near future, some of these houses will be turned into art residencies, and others host visitors to the area. Originally, the houses were planned so that its occupants were as near as possible to their workplace. Mechanics and captains lived right next to the Factory, near to the harbour and waterfront. Those whose occupation was less directly linked to the ocean lived uphill, further away from the waterfront. While most of these houses are nowadays empty and slowly falling apart, the Coaker Foundation plans to renovate the houses and open them to the visitors. At the moment, only one house has been renovated, and the demand exceeds the supply. Art projects, including visiting artists, art students, art classes, and workshops, are the niche that will bring visitors and help Port Union to differentiate itself from Bonavista and Trinity.

Jim tried to fish on the Great Lakes but after only 3 or 4 months he was back in the shores of Trinity Bay: “Newfoundland was the place I belonged, I missed the raft, I missed being here and the culture and everything, to hunt and fish, everything that is about Newfoundland”.

Despite the small population, there is a very strong volunteer and non-profit sector in Stephenville, likely credited to the unique history of collaboration and community education in the region. This culture of collaborative work has grown from what is known today as the Community Education Network (CEN), a non-profit organization that traces its roots to a partnership on the Port au Port Peninsula in the early 1980s, between a development organization and school board. The organization continues to hold a strong presence in the region, and plays a key role in developing and providing services to people at all stages of life, ranging from literacy, career and youth development, to employment and leadership. Through initiating a range of programs and services, the CEN has built, and continues to foster a culture of learning and collaboration.

Recitations are a tradition in the province, and include a variety of spoken tales, myths and songs. They are a way of passing on knowledge, culture, and values, and are also a great form of entertainment. Adorned in his black oilskin sou’wester hat, with a pipe in his mouth and an old framed photo of the S.S. Kyle his hand, Dave captivated everyone at the Great Fish for a Change Café with an animated recitation of Ted Russell’s Smoke Room on the Kyle. This is a performance about fisheries, and provides entertaining examples of exaggerated stories told by fishermen at sea.