Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category


Centaph Memorial – Neil’s Harbour

Neil’s Harbour is located in Victoria County, as a part of Cape Breton Island. Neil’s Harbour is situated in the northeast corner of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, alongside the Cabot Trail. The village is named after Neil McLennan. The first school in Neil’s Harbour was constructed in 1878. Artifacts in the area indicate that Neil’s Harbour may at one time have been inhabited by the French. The main industry in Neil’s Harbour is fishing, mostly for lobster and crab. Neil’s Harbour is 165 km (102.5 mi.) north of Sydney.

Considering the fact that Neil’s Harbour is located in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park – and is an ocean-side town – Neil’s Harbour is a scenic haven. The Cabot Archives is a repository of various local historical documents, photographs and manuscripts that is a must see for anyone interested in the history of the area. Neil’s Harbour is also home to the Neil’s Harbour Beach, fishing boats, the Sea Breeze Restaurant and the Chowder House.

Aspy Off Loading Freight -Neil’s Harbour

Neil’s Harbour accommodations include cottages and bed and breakfasts. Neils Harbour Cape Breton Nova Scotia The small fishing town of Neils Harbour along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Neils Harbour in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is a small fishing town nestled away on the point, highlighted by the Neils Harbour Lighthouse and the beautiful coastline. Boats are always tied up in the harbour as they are used daily by the fishermen of Neils Harbour. Boats docked in Neils Harbour with the Neils Harbour Lighthouse on Neils Harbour Point, Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Neil’s Harbour is a small fishing village in northern Cape Breton Island, in Victoria County, Nova Scotia, Canada. It is located between Ingonish and New Haven.


Cabot Trail to Neil’s Harbour


St Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Neil’s Harbour. Although the population is unknown, an estimate is between 200 and 404. The town has one operating church which is Anglican, and one non-operational church which was Presbyterian. There are a few cottages/summer homes in Neil’s Harbour, but mostly there are local residents who work in the Lobster/Crab and Fishing Industry

Stop at Chowder House for Lunch

Some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world is found here where the Cabot Trail winds along spectacular gorges, awesome seascapes at every turn! From the quaint working village of Pleasant Bay with its Whale Interpretive Centre, whale watching boat tours, restaurants and accommodations, to the ascent of North Mountain and ‘the Lone Sheiling’ a replica of a Scottish crofter’s hut in the midst of a beautiful virgin forrest of 300 year old sugar maples.

Neil’s Harbour – Boats at Rest

On to Cape North, a beautiful, massive headland which juts into the Cabot Strait, the most northerly point on the Cabot Trail. The Cape is carpeted with a variety of trees and plunges 1,465 feet to the warm summer ocean. The Cape has miles of breathtaking rugged cliffs that are home to a variety of shore and sea birds. Along scenic Aspy Bay and St. Lawrence Bay, dotted with fishing villages and harbours, you’ll be wanting to have your camera ready to capture Cape Breton at its most spectacular! You’ll definitely not want to miss the magnificent drive to Meat Cove where you can often see whales in the bay and eagles, moose and the occasional bear as you drive along. There are also hiking trails and beaches which local people are happy to share with visitors. The coastline of Aspy Bay is dotted with villages of Sugar Loaf, Aspy Bay, Cape North, Dingwall, South Harbour, Smelt Brook and White Point (the oldest community on the Bay) and at the region’s southern boundary, New Haven and Neil’s Harbour. As you descend the North Mountain on the Cabot Trail, before you lies the vast expanse of the majestic Aspy Valley, with miles of unspoiled sandy beach between the valley and the ocean. The ocean side Cabot Landing Provincial Park, a picnic and beach park 10 km (6 miles) north of Cape North overlooking Aspy Bay, gives travellers a chance to discover local history and relax. A commemorative plaque marks the spot where it is said that explorer John Cabot landed in 1497 to claim the land for England.

St. Peter’s Church 





All encompassing view of North Sydney

Hey do you remember old North Sydney back in the 30s, 40, 50 and 60s? North Sydney was a very busy spot with fishing fleets from Newfoundland, Portugal, and the United States often in the harbour. A very large fish plant and the ferry to/from Newfoundland. As well we had the Vooght Brothers department store when it was once a popular spot in North Sydney “Back in the 1870s and 80s North Sydney was the fourth largest port in Canada. Only Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal, exceeded it in total tonnage handled. It also had the largest department store east of Montreal, with the first elevator in Atlantic Canada.”

Turn Right Ahead – North Sydney

(Rannie Gillis local author, writer for the Cape Breton Post and noted Celtic Historian has permitted me to put this article in my Blog for the interest of you all. CAPER)

This statement, in last week’s column, led to several emails and telephone calls asking for more information on this particular department store, when it was in existence, and who owned it. But first, I must correct part of the above statement. In the 1870s and 80s North Sydney did not have the largest department store east of Montreal, that did not come until the early years of the 20th century, and it was known as the Vooght Brothers.

Vooght Brothers Department Store – North Sydney

However, in 1870 there was a Vooght store in North Sydney, which had opened in 1862. It was built by John Vooght, who had emigrated to Canada from England, while only a young man. It was only a small store, but when he was joined in 1873 by two brothers, Tom and James, the three decided to build a large general store on the corner of Commercial and Court streets. At that time it was the largest commercial building on Cape Breton Island.

Because of the town’s status as the fourth largest port in Canada, their business prospered and did very well. However, when it was destroyed by fire in 1902, the brothers decided to build a larger four-storey building on the same site, now the location of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Constructed of brick and stone it was not only the largest department store east of Montreal, it also had two elevators, the first in the Maritime provinces.

I vividly remember riding on those two elevators back when I was in high school, with Peter and David Miller, whose father had a business (Herald Stationers) in the former Vooght building. The passenger elevator was enclosed, but the freight elevator had open sides, and you could plainly see the walls of the elevator shaft as you made your way between the four floors.

I have several interesting photographs of the new store. One, from 1902, shows the massive building under construction, and you can just make out the scaffolding around the exterior of the building, as well as the large water tower on top of the building. This tower was required in order to provide enough water pressure for the bathrooms on the upper floors.

Piers – North Sydney

The Vooght brothers also operated a substantial wholesale business, with their own wharf and two warehouses located on the waterfront, directly across from their new super store. By 1914 they employed a total of 33 staff, made up of 19 women and 14 men.

Another photograph, from 1914, shows the entire staff lined up on the sidewalk in front of the huge store. You can see the name Vooght Brothers carved above the main door, and the brass hitching rail at waist level along the front of the building. This rail, which was at least six inches in diametre, was used to tie up your horse and wagon, when you came to town to shop. This rail remained in place until a few years before the building was demolished in 1982.

Newfoundland Ferry Loading

Would you believe there were 5,000 pairs of shoes in the Vooght Brothers shoe department?

I have a fascinating photograph that was taken in 1914 of the shoe department at the Vooght Brothers store in downtown North Sydney. Located at the far right of the ground floor, on the corner of Commercial and Court streets, this department usually contained at least 5,000 pairs of shoes. (In 1929 this section of the store became the town’s official outlet for the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission.)

The shoe department extended from the front windows to the back wall of this very large building. In this black and white picture, taken from the front of the store, shoe boxes are neatly stacked on wooden shelves that run the full length of the building. On both sides of the department the shelves were at least nine or 10 feet high, and contain hundreds of shoe boxes stacked in layers, one on top of the other.

On the left side of the picture, glass display cases showcase the latest styles in footwear, for both women and men, while the courteous staff made sure that the shoes or boots were properly fitted. This often involved accurate measurements of the contours of an individual’s foot, something which is rather hard to come by in today’s large and impersonal department stores.

In the centre of the photo a woman sits in a chair, modestly lifting her long skirt just above her ankles, while a saleswoman helps her try on a new pair of shoes.

The ground floor of the Vooght Brothers store was open in concept, with 16 massive doric-style pillars supporting the considerable weight of the three upper floors. A large number of tall windows on each floor provided most of the illumination, augmented by a few gas lamps. Electric lights were installed as soon as they were available, and the building was probably the first in the Maritime provinces to have a sprinkler system.

The five departments on the ground floor were separated from one another by eight-foot high wooden dividers. These included: shoe department; men’s and women’s clothing; groceries and chinaware; notions (hair ribbons, handkerchiefs, hat pins, etc.); and the quaintly named gentlemen’s furnishings, with socks, ties, and a wide selection of fancy umbrellas.

Back in 1914 there were no individual cash registers in the Vooght Brothers store. Instead, located above each sales counter, at a height of about seven feet, a system of wires ran off toward the back of the store. Bills of sale, and monetary payments, were placed in little metal boxes which were then carried along these wire tracks to the mezzanine located at the back of the first floor. Here, in this elevated gallery, cashiers made change and sent the transaction back to the customer.

Also located at the rear of the ground floor was the accounting department, where trained accountants kept track of all business transactions associated with the successful operation of the Vooght Brother’s store. This involved accounts receivable and payable, as well as salaries, taxes, and other legitimate company expenses. In the beginning, before the age of mechanical calculators, this involved largely handwritten entries. It was tiresome and mind-numbing work, usually at a salary not much greater than that of an ordinary clerk.

The second floor also contained a second lady’s clothing department, strictly off limits to men, which offered a wide selection of dresses, gowns, swimsuits, and female undergarments. There was also a millinery department, displaying women’s hats of every size and description, many of which were made on site.

Fishing Boats at Rest – North Sydney Harbour

On the third floor, frequented by working-class men, the glass display cases and racks of business suits found in the men’s first floor department were replaced with simple wooden tables piled high with durable and relatively inexpensive work clothes. Tradesmen, along with sailors, fishermen, coal miners and stevedores, came here to purchase what they needed for their various occupations. Large open boxes of work boots and shoes were also available.

The third floor also contained a large selection of carpets and rugs from Canada, the United States and Europe. Each year, in addition to North American jaunts, one of the Vooght brothers would travel to Europe to check on the latest clothing and furniture items available from European producers. At these trade shows they would place large orders for merchandise and clothing to ensure a steady supply of up-to-date items and fashions for the family business.

Indian Beach – North Sydney

The fourth floor of this massive building held furniture, baby carriages and cradles and appliances of all types, as well as pianos and other musical instruments. These often heavy items were transported to the ground floor by means of an open-sided freight elevator. The Vooght Brothers also had two warehouses on the waterfront, where schooners and other coastal vessels would pick up cargo for delivery to all parts of the Maritimes and Newfoundland.

I have on file a photo of the Vooght Brother’s building dated 1972, with signs displaying business names that many of us can easily remember: Grant’s Jewelers; Herald Stationers; Simpsons-Sears; and the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission. By this time the brickwork on the upper floors had started to deteriorate and a special gutter had been placed between the first and second floors to catch any falling bricks or debris.

By 1972 two of these firms had been in business for 100 years, although each started at a different location in the downtown area. Grant’s Jewelers first opened in 1871, while Herald Stationers started out in 1872 as the North Sydney Herald, a community newspaper. This paper was bought in 1935 by Charlie Miller, a graduate of Dalhousie Law School, and he moved it into the Vooght Building in 1947. Herald Stationers continued as a stationery store and print shop until the mid-1970s. Simpsons-Sears arrived in the 1960s, and the town’s liquor store had been located in the far right corner of the building since 1929.



Rannie Gillis – Author and Historian

Rannie Gillis is an author and avid Celtic historian whose column appears every week in the Cape Breton Post. He can by reached by email at


(Pictures courtesy of Dianne Peddle )

Happy Ending The best day of fishin’ ever!!! 
I’ve heard of salmon jumping into boats but. . . . . .
4 had to be the daily limit I’m sure

Four Young Bucks exhausted head for the Safety of The Boat

Four young Sitka  black-tailed bucks fell upon good luck Sunday
as they were pulled from the icy waters of Stephens Passage,
Alaska by a group of locals on Tom Satre’s 62-foot charter vessel. 
Four juvenile Sitka black-tailed deer swam directly toward the boat.


Aboard they Relaxed

Once the deer reached the boat, the four began to circle the boat,
looking directly at the humans on board.  Clearly, the bucks were distressed.  With help, the typically skittish and absolutely wild

animals came willingly onto the boat.  Once onboard, they collapsed with exhaustion, shivering.

Once Aboard they Collapsed

Here the rescued bucks rest on the back of Tom’s boat, the Alaska Quest.
All four deer were transported to Taku Harbour .  Once the group reached the dock, the first buck that had been pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back, then leapt into the harbour, swam to shore, and disappeared into the forest.   After a bit of prodding and assistance from the crew, two others followed suit, but one deer needed more help.

Here he is being transported by Tom.

This One Needed Assistance

Tom, Anna and Tim Satre help the last of the “button” bucks to its feet.
They did not know how long the deer had been in the icy waters or if there
had been others who did not survive.  The good Samaritans describe their
experience as “one of those defining moments in life.” 

A Reluctant Goodbye

I am sure it was for the deer, as well.

(This story reminded me as a youngster swordfishing with Uncle Willie, Russell and my fathere we were quite a distance off Ingonish when Daddy yelled down from aloft to look to starboard. When we looked here was a big buck heading for sea going across our bows. We got up to it and put a rope around him and got him tied down and aboard. Daddy wanted to cut his throat and dress him right on the spot. Uncle Willie went bananas and said the Mounties would be aboard and seize the boat and send us to jail. Daddy’s arguement (I still hear him) was that in another few weeks we would be walking our arses off looking for a buck and now we have one. Anyway the buck won and we landed him ashore in Ingonish and off he went into the woods. CAPER)


Domesticating our Codfish

Cod Farm in New Brunswick

Aquaculture may be the future of commercial fishing-or are we playing with fire, and about to get burned? Inside a sea cage at Kelly’s Cove off Deer Island, in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, swim the fish that some believe could save the Atlantic fishery. The cage belongs to Cooke Aquaculture, Atlantic Canada’s largest fish-farming company. Inside this cage are thousands of three-year-old Gadus morhua-Atlantic cod: codfish to you and me. The fish that helped settle North America.

In fact, schools of this one strain of fish made up the largest and most valuable cod stocks in the world-until it was harvested to near commercial extinction, and in 1992 subjected to a moratorium, bringing the economy of coastal Atlantic Canada to its knees. In 1981, 53,000 fishermen worked the Atlantic coast, sustaining the 1,339 communities that were dependent on the fishery for their survival. Now, the men of those communities have gone west to find work, often taking their families with them. If cod farming is the way forward, it has a long way to go. At first glance, it seems like a promising solution, but it’s far from a perfect solution. There are challenges.

Stocking sea cages with wild juvenile cod is a hit-and-miss game: one individual might adapt to a short life in a sea cage; others will not. Obviously, wild cod didn’t evolve to live in cages. They evolved-complete with antifreeze in their bloodstream-to survive the cold, open North Atlantic and all its dangers. Randomly selected wild juvenile cod, like those in Cooke’s sea cage, will never reliably satisfy the requirements of aquaculture.

Enter the science of genetics, and the optimism of Dr. Sharen Bowman and Dr. Jane Symonds, who have recently embarked on a project to establish selective breeding programs in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. They hope to map the cod genome, or genetic material, with the intention of domesticating the Atlantic cod.

Bowman and Symonds are the leading researchers on a new $18 million, four-year Atlantic Cod Genomics and Broodstock Development project. Symonds, director of aquaculture at the non-profit Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, NB, says she and her fellow researchers are out to “improve growth, fillet quality and yield for individual partners in our project.” Those partners include Genome Canada, Genome Atlantic, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), several universities and three private aquaculture companies, including Cooke.

Cod Fishing on The Banks is not an Easy Life

Cod is about as close to perfect fish as there is. At seven to 10 per cent fat, 18 per cent protein and 80 per cent water, it is ideal for drying and exporting. Its low fat content made it a good trading commodity, and helped settle this continent with the Europeans who fished it; then it drove an economy for five centuries. Cured codfish became such a ubiquitous food that many cultures didn’t even develop a name for fresh cod-the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese among them. Those who came to depend on cod as a primary source of protein used every scrap of the fish: the flesh, tongues, cheeks, roe, tripe and liver; the sound or air bladder, the britches or female gonads, the milt or sperm, the stomach, the skin and even bones softened in sour milk.

Domestication may seem a redundant exercise when it comes to the 120 million-year-old, near-perfect wild cod, but improvements over wild stocks are thought to be possible-especially when it comes to growth rates. Wild cod can double in size in a year; domesticated, farmed cod can quadruple.

Symonds and Bowman want to adapt the wild cod for aquaculture by December 2009. To do so, they will have to get to know cod at a genetic level. The cod genome is like a book: 900 million pairs long, as compared to three billion pairs in humans. The scientists are sequencing thousands of genes to identify the traits they’re looking for, such as fast growth, late sexual maturity and tolerance to sea cage stress factors, to create superior breeding stock. Hatcheries will follow. Cod farms will become the underwater equivalent of a dairy farm or poultry barn. Cod will be born, raised and slaughtered in captivity, just like chickens, cattle, hogs and, more recently, salmon.

Splitting Cod

Beyond regional economies, cod farming could very well play a role in feeding a hungry planet, adds Bowman. “We need protein and crops. Food production is a problem; domesticated production is part of the solution.” She says a shift has been going on for millennia-“a shift from hunter/gatherer to agriculture/aquaculture”-and this project is just the latest manifestation of that shift.

The idea of domesticating fish isn’t new. Five thousand years ago, the Chinese discovered they could collect carp stranded by floodwaters and raise them in ponds, fattening them on the by-products of silkworm farming. Egyptians and Romans tried their hand at aquaculture too.

Nor is the idea of farming cod new. Scientists, fishermen, politicians and others have tried and failed to farm cod. More than a century ago, the Newfoundland government hired a Norwegian, Adolph Nielsen, to establish a fish hatchery in the eastern part of the province. During a six-year period, Nielsen’s facility on Trinity Bay hatched 833 trillion cod eggs and released the young into local waters (in what is known as fish ranching, rather than farming). By 1895, Trinity Bay was abundant with cod while the numbers in neighbouring bays remained low. Just two years later after Nielsen was forced to return to Norway due to illness, the government shut down his cod hatcheries, along with 23 lobster hatcheries he’d also established.

Since then, others in Scandinavia and Scotland as well as Atlantic Canada have taken up cod farming on a small scale, but none of it compares to the hope and vision of scientists Bowman and Symonds. When Bowman looks into a future where cod farms line Atlantic Canada’s shores, she sees “cod as a sustainable, well-managed species in domestication,” meaning a greatly expanded aquaculture industry and more jobs in rural communities.

But it’s not a future that looks inherently attractive to all, especially Mark Butler, marine co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre-Nova Scotia’s oldest environmental organization. For a short time in the ’80s Butler worked at Huntsman Marine, where Symonds is now located. Later, he worked for six seasons on lobster and hook-and-line boats as a deckhand, then graduated from Dalhousie University with a master’s degree in environmental studies. For the past 20 years he has written about ocean conservation, including the impacts of aquaculture. His experience, research and activism have led him to some conclusions about aquaculture, which he does support, but only under certain conditions. Selecting his words carefully, he says, “If you want to grow fin-fish, do it in a closed system. And shellfish aquaculture-as long as the densities aren’t too great-should be part of the mix.”

By a closed system, Butler means a system in which domesticated fish-or their waste-could never escape to mix with wild stocks, contaminating them with disease, parasites or manipulated genes. “The worst-case scenario is a genetically modified fish. That would be totally unacceptable,” he says. For example, if a genetically modified cod lacked the trait to produce the antifreeze protein, then escaped, it could pass on this trait and endanger wild stocks. “Once they’re out there, you never get them back.”

Bowman, the geneticist, reassures: “Cod farmed as a result of this project will not be ‘genetically modified.'” She refers to the process of selecting cod based on genetic markers as “directed breeding using natural variation,” and says the cod used at each breeding site will come from nearby waters.

Labrador Girls ready to Salt Cod

In addition, she and Symonds believe the dangers of domesticated cod escaping are minimal. “Working with our industry partners, they’ll make sure they use the best practices for containment and to ensure minimal escape,” says Symonds. “Obviously, it’s important for their business to keep fish from escaping.”

Of disease and waste issues, Symonds-originally from New Zealand, where she created a Chinook salmon breeding program to improve the quality of the breeding stock there-puts her faith in the farmers and the scientists. “Issues of cod farming are really the same as salmon farming. The companies we’re working with have a long history, and they know the issues of sustainability, so I don’t see it as a problem.” Regarding the possibility of creating ideal conditions for disease or parasites, so far, they’ve had really good results, Symonds says. “Good health is really important to us. It’s something we’ll be monitoring closely. It’s a bit of an unknown right now.”

Butler has concerns about the unknown. “When you’re talking about 100,000 fish, say, in close quarters, put into situations they’ve never been in before, [with] all the waste and the feces in the water, I don’t know. You have bird flu and mad cow disease, etc. I don’t see how anyone can say disease won’t be a problem. A fish farm is equivalent to a small town discharging raw sewage. You wouldn’t pump your manure from a dairy farm directly into the bay, untreated. When you put fish in cages, you have disease and fish waste problems.”

Disease and waste aside, the areas of resource allocation and the setting of priorities by government are what Mark Butler finds the most troubling. In Canada, he says, “Aquaculture policy is about expansion and growth, and little about paying attention to the environmental impacts of that expansion.”

“DFO expectations are very clear about their hopes for continued growth of aquaculture in Atlantic Canada. They want to generate jobs and wealth, but they don’t understand the limits of growth.”

Early Cod Fishing Schooner

By a closed system, Butler means a system in which domesticated fish-or their waste-could never escape to mix with wild stocks, contaminating them with disease, parasites or manipulated genes. “The worst-case scenario is a genetically modified fish. That would be totally unacceptable,” he says. For example, if a genetically modified cod lacked the trait to produce the antifreeze protein, then escaped, it could pass on this trait and endanger wild stocks. “Once they’re out there, you never get them back.”

Bowman, the geneticist, reassures: “Cod farmed as a result of this project will not be ‘genetically modified.'” She refers to the process of selecting cod based on genetic markers as “directed breeding using natural variation,” and says the cod used at each breeding site will come from nearby waters.

In addition, she and Symonds believe the dangers of domesticated cod escaping are minimal. “Working with our industry partners, they’ll make sure they use the best practices for containment and to ensure minimal escape,” says Symonds. “Obviously, it’s important for their business to keep fish from escaping.”

Of disease and waste issues, Symonds-originally from New Zealand, where she created a Chinook salmon breeding program to improve the quality of the breeding stock there-puts her faith in the farmers and the scientists. “Issues of cod farming are really the same as salmon farming. The companies we’re working with have a long history, and they know the issues of sustainability, so I don’t see it as a problem.” Regarding the possibility of creating ideal conditions for disease or parasites, so far, they’ve had really good results, Symonds says. “Good health is really important to us. It’s something we’ll be monitoring closely. It’s a bit of an unknown right now.”

Butler has concerns about the unknown. “When you’re talking about 100,000 fish, say, in close quarters, put into situations they’ve never been in before, [with] all the waste and the feces in the water, I don’t know. You have bird flu and mad cow disease, etc. I don’t see how anyone can say disease won’t be a problem. A fish farm is equivalent to a small town discharging raw sewage. You wouldn’t pump your manure from a dairy farm directly into the bay, untreated. When you put fish in cages, you have disease and fish waste problems.”

Disease and waste aside, the areas of resource allocation and the setting of priorities by government are what Mark Butler finds the most troubling. In Canada, he says, “Aquaculture policy is about expansion and growth, and little about paying attention to the environmental impacts of that expansion.”

“DFO expectations are very clear about their hopes for continued growth of aquaculture in Atlantic Canada. They want to generate jobs and wealth, but they don’t understand the limits of growth.”

Not understanding the limits of growth in the wild fishery is, according to Butler, exactly why many have turned to aquaculture as the only solution. “We’re doing this because we have failed,” he says simply. To Butler, the failure is of immense proportions. “We had one of the biggest and most productive fish farms in the world right off our coast, and through mismanagement, we severely degraded the quality of that operation.” Butler continues to see signs of mismanagement, and little interest in changing things. The first sign is the failure to ban dragger gear, a type of fishing equipment that scrapes the ocean bottom, levelling everything in its path. “We’re destroying the habitat. We’re out there knocking it down. The habitat management branch [at DFO] used to have a motto on mugs and caps that said, ‘No habitat, no fish.'”

The second sign is the practice of dumping fish overboard-fish killed by pressure change or by crushing in nets-because they don’t match a boat’s quota. “You talk to the draggermen working the banks, and they’ll tell you fish are still being dumped. We’re pumping a lot of taxpayer money into fish farming while we have a wild fishing fleet that is dumping cod…” Butler’s voice trails off. “Why are we trying to do what nature has always done well? A hundred miles away from the fish farm, fishermen are putting 1,000 pounds of cod over the side.”

Three Masted Cod Fishing Schooner

“There’s still a lack of political will to deal with the fundamental collapse of the fishery and to deal with those causes.”

One potential cause that Canada has failed to consider is a theory known as Darwinian debt. Matthew Walsh, a researcher at Stony Brook University in New York State, tested the theory on fish. When applied to cod, it leads to some sobering conclusions.

During our 500-year fishing history, we have selected and removed the largest cod off Canada’s East Coast. As Walsh’s study demonstrated, when the largest individual fish are culled over generations, those that follow are smaller, produce fewer eggs and are less willing to forage for food. The theory might help explain the collapse of the cod fishery as well as its failure to rebound. Ultimately, it suggests the cod population has crossed an evolutionary line from which it might never return.

The theory of Darwinian debt points to the need to carefully consider human intervention in the breeding of wild fish. We become a force of evolution as soon as we decide to alter any species of animal at a genetic level, whether through selective fishing practices, genetic engineering or directed breeding programs.

“Let’s look after the ocean,” Butler says. “Let’s manage our fisheries wisely. Let’s see what the ocean can produce before we put our resources into growing the same fish the ocean can grow. You could spend a lot of money, take a lot of risk and take three years to raise a fish, or you could go out there on a nice sunny day, put your hook in the water and bring up a 10-year-old, 70 pound cod. Which would you rather?” 

But we may no longer have a choice between fishing cod or farming it. Just 500 years after John Cabot returned to Europe with news of the New World’s abundance, scientists are searching among the few cod that remain for the genes we need to keep Gadus morhua around at all-at least in domestication.

Notable dates in cod history

A staggering 8 million tonnes of northern cod is landed in 15 years, the same amount landed in the 250-year period starting in 1500.

Canada gives Russia a 266,000 tonne quota of offshore spawning caplin, the favourite food of the northern cod. Three years later, there aren’t enough caplin left to fish.

The Newfoundland Inshore Fisheries Association’s suit against the Canadian government for an injunction to stop bottom dragging fails; in 1991 fishermen are only able to catch two-thirds of the now tiny northern cod quota.

July 1992
Fisheries Minister John Crosbie announces a moratorium on northern cod; in December 1993 Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin extends the moratorium indefinitely, and to all Atlantic cod except a small stock off southwest Nova Scotia.

The quota for cod in the Barents Sea off Norway is set at an enormous 850,000 tonnes, the result of timely action by Norway in the 1980s to save the fishery.

(Written by Darcy Rhyno. This article was published in the January/February 2007 issue of Saltscapes.)



The Atlantic Cod

Cod has been an important economic commodity in an international market since the Viking period (around 800 AD). Norwegians used dried cod during their travels, and soon a dried cod market developed in southern Europe. This market has lasted for more than 1000 years, passing through periods of Black Death, wars and other crises and still is an important Norwegian fish trade. The Portuguese since the 15th century have been fishing cod in the North Atlantic, and clipfish is widely eaten and appreciated in Portugal. The Basques also played an important role in the cod trade and are claimed to have found the Canadian fishing banks before Columbus‘ discovery of America. The North American east coast developed in part due to the vast amount of cod, and many cities in the New England area spawned near cod fishing grounds.

Between the 1530s and 1626 Basque whalers frequented the waters of Newfoundland  and the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Strait of Belle Isle to the mouth of the Saguenay River. They constructed stone ovens ashore for fires to melt whale fat. However, as whales became scarce, the cod fishery off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland became hotly contested by the British and French, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The British used small boats close to shore, from which they caught the cod with hook and line. They practiced the “dry fishery” technique, which involved shore-based settlements for the drying of cod on flakes or racks placed in the open air for their subsequent transport back to Europe. The French on the other hand practiced the “green fishery”, which involved processing the catch with salt aboard ship. At the same time a fleet of schooners fishing for cod, halibut, haddock, and mackerel became prominent off the Atlantic coast. The use of the long line and purse seine net increased the size of the catch.

Cod Fishing Grounds

Apart from its long history, this particular trade also differs from most other fishing trades by the location of the fishing grounds, far from large populations and without any domestic market. The large cod fisheries along the coast of North Norway (and in particular close to the Lofoten islands) have been developed almost uniquely for export, depending on sea transport of stockfish over large distances. Since the introduction of salt, dried salt cod (‘klippfisk’ in Norwegian) has also been exported. The trade operations and the sea transport were by the end of the 14th century taken over by the Hanseatic League, Bergen being the most important port of trade.

William Pitt the Elder, criticizing the Treaty of Paris in Parliament, claimed that cod was “British gold”; and that it was folly to restore Newfoundland fishing rights to the French. In the 17th and 18th centuries in the New World, especially in Massachusetts and Newfoundland, cod became a major commodity, forming trade networks and cross-cultural exchanges. In 1733, Britain tried to gain control over trade between New England and the British Caribbean by imposing the Molasses Act, which they believed should have eliminated the trade by making it unprofitable. After Britain began to tax the American settlers, the cod trade grew instead of being eliminated, because the “French were eager to work with the New Englanders in a lucrative contraband arrangement” (p. 95). The American settlers traded cod with the French Caribbean for molasses to make rum at this time, and the increase in trade benefited the American market because of the contraband agreement. In addition to increasing trade, the New England settlers were organized into a “codfish aristocracy”. The American settlers rose up against British “tariff on an import, instigated by merchants, including John Hancock and John Rowe, in which the scions of the codfish aristocracy” disguised themselves, boarded their own ships, and disposed of their own goods into the harbor in protest to the tariff, more commonly known as the Boston Tea Party. In the 20th century, Iceland re-emerged as a fishing power and entered the Cod Wars to gain control over the north Atlantic seas. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, cod fishing off the coasts of Europe and America severely depleted cod stocks there, which has since become a major political issue, as the necessity of restricting catches to allow fish populations to recover has run up against opposition from the fishing industry and politicians reluctant to approve any measures that will result in job losses. The 2006 Northwest Atlantic cod quota is set at 23,000 tons, representing half the available stocks, while it is set to 473,000 tons for the Northeast Atlantic cod.

Discovering the New World

Fleets – Scandinavian shipbuilding technology failed to advance beyond that of the Viking days. The traditional Viking ships performed quite well in the relatively tranquil summer seas of the medieval warm period, but the stormier climates rendered these vessels particularly dangerous to the point of obsolescence. Viking technology spread earlier throughout Europe, and craftsmen along the Atlantic seaboard of western Europe began to develop ships capable of withstanding heavy seas and the gales that struck commonly even during mid-summer. Rarely did a medieval mariner without a death wish dare to venture beyond easy sight of port during the long winter season. 

The Hanseatic League promoted trade throughout the Baltic Sea aboard cogs and hulks that mariners propelled with square sails and oars. The pious European population—especially the monasteries, convents, and bishops–demanded enormous quantities of fish, and Dutch, English, other British, Breton and Basque mariners sought suitable fishing grounds. Earlier generations of Europeans frequently fished in Norwegian waters and in the North Sea; however, the cooling climate led to the decline of the former fisheries, and the reduced supply in the latter could not satiate the increasing demand for salted cod, herring, and other fish.

The Hard Life of Dory Fishing

In an era of very brief life expectancies and an imploding medieval demography, the clearly risky maritime culture provided an attractive means of subsistence. Death constantly haunted medieval Europeans, who took risks unconscionable to the modern mind; the overwhelming majority of the population lived in a state of desperate poverty comparable or perhaps even worse than most Third World countries today. Most medieval Europeans toiled long hours to produce or earn much less than the equivalent of $2 per person per day, from which they paid tithes, taxes, and rents. To make fishing a viable economic alternative to other means of subsistence, a significant majority of fleets leaving port had to reach the fisheries and return alive and intact.

The cooling climate and increasing storminess, however, led to a sharp increase in the proportion of traditional Norse-style boats that left port never to return. These casualties at sea led shipbuilders to develop a stronger boat that could ply the Dogger Bank and return full of fish with some reliability. Boat builders, especially prominent in Dutch ports and Basque seaside towns, however, prospered as they provided new vessels to budding mariners or to replace those wrecked or lost at sea. These new ships proved adequately seaworthy for the expectations of the era.

Declining fishing stocks and frequent tax evasion led the Hansa cabal to close the fisheries near Bergen off the Norwegian coast in 1410. English fishermen responded by taking their craft to the closed Icelandic colony and trading and fishing there in 1412. Besides several local fishing boats, very few if any ships had visited Iceland in several decades. English ships, however, began to set sail for Iceland early each spring through the frigid gales and freezing spray to trade and fish just as their Danish predecessors did centuries earlier. Each dogger that successfully returned to Britain in the autumn carried roughly 30 tons of fish. Although the Danish masters of Iceland convinced King Henry V of England to forbid the Icelandic cod trade, English fleets continued to visit the otherwise isolated island. The Hanseatic League copied the shipbuilding technologies of their English rivals and began to reassert Scandinavian sovereignty over Iceland. This struggle led to piracy and pillaging on the high seas and ultimately to the development of modern naval warfare. The settlement probably disappeared during the 15th century. The historical record, however, does reveal a competition between Basque, English, and other fishermen and pirates for the North Atlantic fisheries. Foreigners moved beyond peaceful trade with Iceland, and pirates plundered the utterly defenseless Scandinavian community severely and repeatedly during the late 15th century. Some English fleets began to reach the western North Atlantic Ocean by 1480 and found fish so plentiful that the British port of Bristol prospered immensely from the trade.

Handlining Cod on the Grand Banks

Newfoundland In the 19th century, banks dories were carried aboard larger fishing schooners, and used for handlining cod on the Grand Banks. Cod fishing in Newfoundland was carried out at a subsistence level for centuries, but large-scale fishing began shortly after the European discovery of the North American continent in 1492, with the waters being found to be preternaturally plentiful, and ended after intense overfishing with the collapse of the fisheries in the 1990s. 

Native Canadian fishingThe Beothuk (called Skraelings by the Vikings) were the native people of Newfoundland, and survived on a diet of fish. With British and French coastal settlements, the Beothuk were forced inland, and coupled with the European propensity of murdering them on sight, the lack of their normal food source gradually decreased the Beothuk. By the 19th century, the tribe no longer existed.

15th and 16th centuryAfter his voyage in 1497, John Cabot‘s crew reported that”the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets,” and around 1600 English fishing captains still reported cod shoals”so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.”

Flakes for Drying Fish

In the early sixteenth century, fishermen from England, France, Spain and Portugal discovered the best places to fish for cod in the waters off Newfoundland, and how best to preserve the fish for the journey home. The French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen tended to fish on the Grand Banks and other banks out to sea, where fish were always available. They salted their fish on board ship and it was not dried until brought to Europe. The English fishermen, however, concentrated on fishing inshore where the fish were only to be found at certain times of the year, during their migrations. These fishermen used small boats and returned to shore every day. They developed a system of light salting, washing and drying onshore which became very popular because the fish could remain edible for years. Many of their coastal sites gradually developed into settlements, notably St. John’s, now the provincial capital. In the late sixteenth century the Spanish and Portuguese fisheries were terminated, mainly as a result of the failure of the Spanish Armada, and thereafter the English and French shared the fishery every summer until 1904 when the French agreed to relinquish it to the Newfoundland residents.

Newfoundland Jack – Schooner

Modern fishing methods and the fishery collapseIn 1951 factory fishing began with new super-trawlers such as the ‘Fairtry’; 280 feet long and 2,600 gross tons.  The cod catch peaked in 1968 at 810,000 tons, approximately three times more than the maximum yearly catch achieved before the super-trawlers. Approximately 8 million tons of cod were caught between 1647 and 1750, a period encompassing 25 to 40 cod generations. The factory trawlers took the same amount in 15 years. The industry collapsed entirely in the early 1990s owing to overfishing and debatably, greed, lack of foresight and poor local administration. By 1993 six cod populations had collapsed, forcing a belated moratorium on fishing. Spawning biomass had decreased by at least 75% in all stocks, by 90% in three of the six stocks, and by 99% in the case of ‘northern’ cod, previously the largest cod fishery in the world. After a 10 year moratorium on fishing the cod had still not returned.  It is likely that the local ecosystem has changed, one example being that greater numbers of capelin, which used to provide food for the cod, now eat the juvenile cod. The waters now appear to be dominated by crab and shrimp rather than fish.

When Cod was King

Collapse of the Northern Cod fishery – In 1992 the Canadian government declared a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery that, for the past 500 years, had largely shaped the lives and communities of Canada’s eastern coast. The interplay between fishing societies and the resources on which they depend is palpable to even the most unacquainted observer: fisheries transform the ecosystem, which in turn pushes the fishery and society to adapt. In the summer of 1992, when the Northern Cod biomass fell to one percent of its earlier level, it became apparent to Canada’s federal government that this relationship had been pushed to the breaking point and a moratorium was declared, ending the region’s half-millennium run with the Northern Cod. The collapse of the Northern Cod fishery marked a profound change in the ecological, economic and socio-cultural structure of Atlantic Canada. The change was expressed most acutely in Newfoundland, whose continental shelf lay under the region most heavily fished, and whose communities represented the vast majority of those who lost employment as a result of the moratorium. Considering the importance of the cod fishery to the livelihood of Canada’s coastal communities, as well as the Northern Cod’s initial abundance in the region, the fact that the fishery was mismanaged to the extent of collapse – from which to this day it has not recovered – is nothing short of shocking. In an attempt to make sense of a blunder of such epic proportion, academics have highlighted the following three contributing factors in the eventual collapse of the cod fishery:

Dory Fishing along Newfoundland/Cape Breton Coast

A major factor that contributed to the depletion of the cod stocks off the shores of Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada was the introduction and proliferation of equipment and technology that increased the volume of landed fish. For centuries local fishermen used technology that limited the volume of their catch, the area they fished, and allowed them to target specific species and ages of fish. From the 1950s onwards, as was common in all industries at the time, new technology was introduced that allowed fishermen to trawl a larger area, fish to a deeper depth and for a longer time. By the 1960s, powerful trawlers equipped with radar, electronic navigation systems and sonar allowed crews to pursue fish with unparalleled success, and Canadian catches peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These new technologies adversely affected the Northern Cod population in two important ways: by increasing the area and depth that was fished, the cod were being depleted to the point that the surviving fish were incapable of replenishing the stock lost each year; and secondly, the trawlers caught enormous amounts of non-commercial fish, which although economically unimportant, held huge ecological significance: incidental catch undermines the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole, depleting stocks of important predator and prey species. In the case of the Northern Cod, significant amounts of capelin – an important prey species for the cod – were caught as by catch, further undermining the survival of the remaining cod stock.

(With newly introduced technology coupled with unbridled greed it wasn’t long before the cod stocks around Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada were so depleted that the Canadian Government had no choice but to place a ban on the cod fishery putting tens of thousands of people out of work – mostly Newfoundlanders. As the Newfoundlanders like to say, “The arse was out of er bye.” CAPER)

(Courtesy of Canadian Geographic and Internet – CAPER)



Street Dancing – Le Moine

Le Moine

Le Moine is part of the Acadian Region and includes Grand Etang, St. Joseph du Moine, and Cap Le Moine. These coastal communities are located on Route 19/Cabot Trail and share the same landforms as the Cheticamp area: coastline rising to a generally level or gently rolling landscape before rising into the highlands to about 300400 metres. The exception to this is at Grand Etang, at the area near the bridge connecting Grand Lac with Grand Etang Harbour. Here the land rises almost immediately into relatively steep hills from the harbour. Another

interesting land form typical of the lowlands in the Grand Etang area is the Asinkhole@ which is a dissolved bed of gypsum forming a steep sided depression. Some of these geological anomalies become small lakes or ponds, such as the one to be seen from the highway in Grand Etang.

Fishing Boats at Rest 

The attached buildings and the characteristic half hipped

roofs of Le Moine give evidence of the ferocity of the suête, the southeast

winds which comes down from the mountains at speeds of 150 km/hour or greater. At Le Moine, because of the more sparse settlement and the cleared land it is easy to visualize the historic importance of farming. The architecture, as well, is an indicator, with barns attached to houses in many cases, and the variety of other extant outbuildings.


Le Gabriel – Party Time

Le Moines’ mixed economy, proximity to Cheticamp, and the beauty of its coastline

geography account for its varied population. Some families obtain their livelihoods within the community, while others, especially professionals and those in the service industries, travel to Cheticamp to work. Le Moine has a significant number of retirees, many of whom live in apartments in the community. Summer residents make up a portion of the population. The present population is estimated at 700. It is difficult to make an accurate assessment based on census data.

Civic and Social/Cultural Amenities – The Cabot Trail is the main road through Le Moine. Paved and some unpaved roads lead

from the Cabot Trail both toward the mountains and toward the ocean. McGarry Road leads into Inverness County Community Profiles 2003 – the early settlements in the rear of Le Moine. The Bazile Road also leads to these former settlement areas of Le Moine.

Sydney is the nearest major urban area, reached by travelling through Middle River. But

most shopping outside Le Moine is done in Cheticamp. All health services for Le Moine are provided at Cheticamp, 10 minutes away, or possibly at Inverness Town which is about 45 minutes from Le Moine.


Le Moine Country Side

The Cape Breton Highlands Academy/Education Centre at Terre Noire  serves the community of Le Moine, all of the Margarees and north to Pleasant Bay. Students

from Le Moine may also receive their education in the French language in Cheticamp. Like the other communities in the Acadian region, students may go to any of the universities in the province or beyond. Those wishing to study in the French language usually go to Moncton.

Water and sewage are still individually and privately provided in Le Moine. However,

the community has been looking at some possibilities for clusteringfor both water and sewage. Garbage is collected once a week by the municipality; it is dumped into the landfill at Kenloch on Lake Ainslie. There is also blue bag recycling pickup.

Some materials for recycling is brought to the depot by the residents. Le Moine has a Volunteer Fire Department located in the old College de l’Acadie, with two trucks and approximately 12 volunteers. Police protection is provided by the RCMP; four officers at the Cheticamp detachment serve East Margaree to Pleasant Bay, including Le Moine

The municipal area tax rate is $1.09/$100 of assessment for residential and resource (land not used for commercial purposes); the commercial rate is $1.85/$100. In areas served by the St. Joseph du Moine Fire department, the rate for fire protection is $0.08/$100 for residential properties, $0.05/$100 for commercial properties.

Le Moine’s Post Office is located at Grand Etang Harbour. The Le Moine CAP Site is

located in Centre Le Moine, the old College de Acadie building, now owned by the Le Moine Development Association. Dialup internet access is available as is rare cell phone service. Satellite and Cable television are both available.

Centre Le Moine at St. Joseph du Moine has become the community centre and it,

together with the Parish Hall have presented various artistic programs and local music. The St. Joseph du Moine Scottish Concert, seemingly a cultural contradiction, is presented by the local Volunteer Fire Dept. each year in August. Interestingly, except for tourists and music afficionados from English speaking Cape Breton communities, the conversations in the audience and the back stage discussions are in the French language. The main ball field f or the community is located behind the Centre Le Moine.

There are several art galleries in Le Moine which are appreciated by both residents and

visitors. There is a library at Centre Le Moine, as well as a Micareme museum.

Predominantly Roman Catholic, Le Moine shares a priest with Cheticamp. St. Joseph

Church has had a shared pastor for some time, previously with East Margaree.

Industries and Commercial Services – Like Cheticamp, recent repopulation of Le Moine has resulted in the construction of homes back of the mountain where the farms were originally, in the lowlands or gently rolling land east of the first layer of hills. There are four farms still operating on a part time basis.

St Joseph’s – Le Moine

The Le Moine Development Association is considering the potential for reinstating some of the old apple species that are still growing on some of the previous farms in the back of the mountain. This might be part of the trails network planned for the McGarry Road. It is recognized that this area has a viable micro climate@ that may be very significant in revitalizing agriculture in the area. Although farming is still carried out at a subsistence or small marketing level, fishing is the most important primary industry, with its wharf being operated by the Grand Etang Harbour.

Authority. The wharf is three in one, and has the capacity to shelter about 25 fishing boats. Lobster, crab, herring and ground species are harvested in season. A number of people also work in forestry, sometime on their own wood lots.

The education profession is significant in the area, though not for employment. The

College de l’Acadie at St. Joseph du Moine teaches trades, arts, crafts and language. It serves as a distance education station for French language sources from across the province.

Le Moine has its own Credit Union, located beside its Coop Store at Grand Etang.,and there are a number of tourist accommodation facilities. Upwards of 10 people are employed at these establishments. A few people make their living as professional musicians or visual artists, accountants, or trades people.

Tourism has some importance. There are two B&Bs on the Bazile Road. The shoreline

presents good swimming and walking opportunities, and some trails development is in process. These are a lookoff and picnic area at Cap Le Moine.

The most important recent development in Le Moine was the construction of a wind

turbine by Nova Scotia Power at Grand Etang. The latest innovation of an ageold

power source, the wind turbine is 12 storeys high and has a triple blade rotor 48 metres in diameter. The blades turn relatively slowly, about 25 revolutions per minute. The turbine requires winds of at least requires 10 km/hour winds to operate. It will automatically shut down at winds of 90km/hour. This turbine has the capacity to produce enough electricity to supply 200 homes. There is discussion of developing interpretation centre explaining the turbine and the potential of wind


Joe’s Scare Crows – Le Moine

The community is also presently discussing plans for a fitness centre for a life style

Enhancement  which might include a place to work out, some walking trails, etc.

Given the proximity of Le Moine to Cheticamp, and its seeming dependence on

Cheticamp for many services, it is striking that Le Moine is a community with a proudly

independent spirit. In the arts, in economic planning, in acknowledging its history and culture, Le Moine seems to have a constantly renewing sense of itself as a place, and its ability to meet challenges. There is, in Le Moine, a decided impression of strong focus as the community moves forward into the future.

(Courtesy of Inverness County History)


Wooden Walls of Newfoundland

Seal hunting off Newfoundland in the 1880’s (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

(I am going a bit off topic here from Cape Breton News and concentrating on an industry that was and in some small measure specific to Newfoundland. Yet, it includes Cape Bretoners and always has. In fact it was not uncommon for Newfoundland Sealers to come right off our shores around the Island in the Spring of the year and recruit men and boys to go seal hunting. My grandfather, John R. Fraser, and his good friend, Peter MacKinnon, were recruited in this manner from Lowland Cove. They eventually got stuck in the ice ofF Flint Island miles off Glace Bay. After days of inactivity with no seals and no income and poor prospects they both gathered up their meager belongings and walked from their sealing ship to shore over the drift ice and from there made their way back to Cape North and to their homes at Lowland Cove a considerable trek to say the least. That was the end of their seal hunting on a sealing ship endeavour. – CAPER) 

Seal hunting, or sealing, is the personal or commercial hunting of seals. The hunt is currently practiced in five countries: Canada, where most of the world’s seal hunting takes place, as well as Namibia, the Danish region Greenland, Norway, and Russia. Canada’s largest market for seals is Norway.

Harp seal populations in the northwest Atlantic declined to approximately 2 million in the early 1970s, prompting stronger regulations. As a result the harp seal population in this area increased steadily until the mid 1990’s, and was estimated at 5.9 million (between 4.6 and 7.2 million) in 2004. Harp seals have never been considered endangered. The Marine Animal Response Society estimates the harp seal population in the world is approximately 8 million (between 6.5 and 9.5 million).

It is illegal in Canada to hunt newborn harp seals known as “whitecoats”. It is also illegal to hunt young, hooded seals (bluebacks). When the seal pups begin to molt their downy white fur at the age of 12–14 days, they are called “ragged-jacket” and can be commercially hunted. After molting, the seals are called “beaters”, named for the way they beat the water with their flippers. The hunt remains highly controversial, attracting significant media coverage and protests each year.[10] Images from past hunts have become iconic symbols for conservation, animal welfare, and animal rights advocates. In 2009, Russia banned the hunting of harp seals less than one year old.


Eskimo Family Bone Carving

Inuit seal hunting – Archeological evidence indicates that the Native Americans and First Nations People in Canada have been hunting seals for at least 4,000 years. Traditionally, when an Inuit boy killed his first seal or caribou, a feast was held. The meat was an important source of fat, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iron, and the pelts were prized for their warmth. The Inuit diet is rich in fish, whale, and seal.

The Inuit seal hunting accounts for three percent of the total hunt. The traditional Inuit seal hunting is excluded from The European Commission‘s call in 2006 for a ban on the import, export and sale of all harp and hooded seal products. The natsiq (ringed seal) have been the main staple for food, and have been used for clothing, boots, fuel for lamps, a delicacy, containers, igloo windows, and furnished harnesses for huskies. The natsiq is no longer used to this extent, but ringed seal is still an important food source for the people of Nunavut. Called nayiq by the Central Alaskan Yup’ik people, the ringed seal is also hunted and eaten in Alaska.

Eskimo Family in their Winter House

Large scale commercial seal hunting outside of Europe began with the Newfoundland seal hunt which became an annually recorded event starting in 1723. Growing out of the enormous international Grand Banks fishery, the Newfoundland hunt began with small schooner-based hunts. It was transformed in the 1870s by the arrival of large steam-powered sealing vessels such as the steam barquentines Bear and Terra Nova which could smash through ice packs to the heart of large seal herds. These large and expensive ships required major capital investments from British and Newfoundland firms and shifted the industry from merchants in small outports to companies based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. By the late 19th century, sealing had become the second most important industry in Newfoundland, second only to cod fishing. The seal hunt provided critical winter wages for fishermen but remained harsh and dangerous work, marked by major sealing disasters which claimed hundreds of lives such as the loss the 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster involving the SS Southern Cross, the SS Newfoundland and SS Stephano.[16] After World War II, the Newfoundland Hunt shifted to smaller motor fishing vessels, again based from outports around Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2007 the commercial seal hunt dividend contributed about $6 million to the Newfoundland GDP, a fraction of the industry’s former importance.

Today, commercial sealing is conducted by only five nations: Canada, Greenland, Namibia, Norway, and Russia. The United States, which had been heavily involved in the sealing industry, now maintains a complete ban on the commercial hunting of marine mammals, with the exception of indigenous peoples who are allowed to hunt a small number of seals each year.

Long Liner Present Day Seal Hunting

In regards to the Canadian commercial seal hunt, the majority of the hunters initiate the kill using a firearm. 90% of sealers on the ice floes of the Front (east of Newfoundland), where the majority of the hunt occurs, use firearms.


A hakapikAn older and more traditional method of killing seals is with a hakapik: a heavy wooden club with a hammer head and metal hook on the end. The hakapik is used because of its efficiency; the animal can be killed quickly and humanely without damage to its pelt. The hammer head is used to crush the seals thin skull, while the hook is used to move the carcass. Canadian sealing regulations describe the dimensions of the clubs and the hakapiks, and caliber of the rifles and minimum bullet velocity, that can be used. They state that: “Every person who strikes a seal with a club or hakapik shall strike the seal on the forehead until its skull has been crushed,” and that “No person shall commence to skin or bleed a seal until the seal is dead,” which occurs when it “has a glassy-eyed, staring appearance and exhibits no blinking reflex when its eye is touched while it is in a relaxed condition.” Reportedly, in one study, three out of eight times, the animal was not rendered either dead or unconscious by shooting, and the hunters will then kill the seal using a hakapik or other club of a type that is sanctioned by the governing authority.

Former Governor General – Eating Raw Seal Heart

Products made from seals –  Seal skins have been used by aboriginal people for millennia to make waterproof jackets and boots, and seal fur to make fur coats. Pelts account for over half the processed value of a seal, selling at over C$100 each as of 2006

Seal meat is an important source of food for residents of small coastal communities. Meat is sold to the Asian pet food market; in 2004, only Taiwan and South Korea purchased seal meat from Canada.  The seal blubber is used to make seal oil, which is marketed as a fish oil supplement. In 2001, two percent of Canada’s raw seal oil was processed and sold in Canadian health stores. There has been virtually no market for seal organs since 1998.

In 2005, three companies exported seal skin: Rieber in Norway, Atlantic Marine in Canada and Great Greenland in Greenland. Their clients were earlier French fashion houses and fur makers in Europe, but today the fur is mainly exported to Russia and China.

In Canada, the season for the commercial hunt of harp seal is from November 15 to May 15.[40] Most sealing occurs in late March in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and during the first or second week of April off Newfoundland, in an area known as “The Front.” This peak spring period is generally what is referred to as the “Canadian Seal Hunt”.

In 2003, the three-year harp seal quota granted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was increased to a maximum of 975,000 animals per three years, with a maximum of 350,000 animals in any two consecutive years.[40] In 2006, 325,000 harp seals, as well as 10,000 hooded seals and 10,400 grey seals were killed. An additional 10,000 animals were allocated for hunting by Aboriginal peoples. The current Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is estimated at 5.6 million animals. The seals are killed in two ways: they are either shot or struck on the head with a hakapik, which is a spiked club similar to an axe pick.

Captain Bartlett – Seal Hunting Captain

Although around 70 percent of Canadian seals killed are killed on “The Front,” private monitors focus on the St. Lawrence hunt, because of its more convenient location. The 2006 St. Lawrence leg of the hunt was officially closed on Apr. 3, 2006. Sealers had exceeded the quota by 1,000 animals by the time the hunt was closed. On March 26, 2007 the Newfoundland and Labrador government launched a seal hunt website.

Warm winters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have led to thinner and more unstable ice there. In 2007, Canada’s federal fisheries ministry reported that while the pups are born on the ice as usual, the ice floes have started to break up before the pups learn to swim, causing the pups to drown. Canada reduced the 2007 quota by 20%, because overflights showed large numbers of seal pups were lost to thin and melting ice. However in southern Labrador and off Newfoundland’s northeast coast, there was extra heavy ice in 2007, and the coast guard estimated that as many as 100 vessels were trapped in ice simultaneously.

Canadian Coast Guard Karlak – Former Sealer

The 2010 winter was unusually warm, with little ice forming in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in February and March, when harp seals give birth to their pups on ice floes. Around the Gulf, harp seals arrived in late winter to give birth on near-shore ice and even on beaches rather than on their usual whelping grounds: sturdy sea ice. Also, seal pups born elsewhere began floating to shore on small, shrinking pieces of ice. Many others stayed too far north, out of reach of all but the most determined hunters. Environment Canada, the weather forecasting agency, reported that the ice was at the lowest level on record.


Regulations – The Fisheries Act established “Seal Protection Regulations” in the mid-1960s. The regulations were combined with other Canadian marine mammals regulations in 1993, to form the “Marine Mammal Regulations“. In addition to describing the use of the rifle and hakapik , the regulations state that every person “who fishes for seals for personal or commercial use shall land the pelt or the carcass of the seal.” The commercial hunting of infant harp seals (whitecoats) and infant hooded seals (bluebacks) was banned in 1987 under pressure from animal rights groups. Now seals may only be killed once they have started molting (from 12 to 15 days of age) as this coincides with the time when they are abandoned by their mothers.


Canada’s biggest market for seal pelts is Norway. Carino Limited is one of Newfoundland’s largest seal pelt producers.. Canada sold pelts to eleven countries in 2004. The next largest were Germany, Greenland, and China/Hong Kong. Other importers were Finland, Denmark, France, Greece, South Korea, and Russia. Asia remains the principal market for seal meat exports. One of Canada’s market access priorities for 2002 was to “continue to press Korean authorities to obtain the necessary approvals for the sale of seal meat for human consumption in Korea.” Canadian and Korean officials agreed in 2003 on specific Korean import requirements for seal meat. For 2004, only Taiwan and South Korea purchased seal meat from Canada.

“Captain Bartlett at the Wheel – Seals Dead Ahead”

Canadian seal product exports reached $18 million (CAD) in 2006. Of this, $5.4 million went to the EU. In 2009 the European Union banned all seal imports, shrinking the market. Where pelts once sold for more than $100, they now fetch $8 to $15 each.

(Like the Newfoundlanders themselves say, “The arse is out of er bye”.)