A Fisherman’s Gotta Fish

When it comes to fishing “…a fisherman’s gotta fish ” and whether you are out on the waves taking part in a tuna fishing adventure, or wading in one of our dozens of well-stocked rivers and estuaries, angling for rainbow trout,  you are enjoying a time-honoured tradition here on Prince Edward Island.

Free Family Fishing

Angling season for all freshwater fish species opens on April 15th. Each year, the May long weekend marks Free Family Fishing weekend on PEI. During this four-day period, angling licences are not required. Many communities and watershed groups also offer free family fishing events  during the spring. Public lands give access to public fishing spots  and, with an inexpensive fishing license for anyone 16 years or over, you can fish to your heart’s content.

History of Fishing

Many people who lived along the coastlines and rivers both fished and farmed. Since most of its farmland ran right down to the water’s edge, Prince Edward Island was well suited to this combination.  In the past, fishermen had a very hard go of it as they often got their equipment from a merchant on credit and had to sell their catch back to the merchant, who could set the price. Finally the fishermen banded together to create co-operatives. North Cape Coastal Drive’s community of is the home of the first fishermen’s union in Canada. Started in 1924, it is a producer-co-operative that is still going strong today.

Mi’kmaq Peoples

The early Mi’kmaq people had access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s rich fish stocks from the Island’s north shore. They enjoyed lobsters, clams, oysters, eels, salmon, smelts, herring, sturgeon, cod and mussels. They used basket nets, bone hooks and spears for fishing.

French Settlers

The French were the next to fish the waters around the Island in the 1600s. Cod was caught, taken ashore, gutted and spread on racks to cure using the sun and salt. Late in the season, the cod would be loaded unto the ships and taken back to Europe. The Government of France gave out grants to settle and develop the Island; these included rights to the fisheries.

When the British took over the Island, the Acadians who escaped the expulsion turned to the sea to survive and, to this day, Acadians make up a high percentage of Island fishers.  At first the British allowed the fishing fleets of the New England States to exploit the waters off Prince Edward Island. The best-known shipwreck incident is the Yankee Gale, a huge storm that caused the loss of many American vessels off the north shore in 1851.

The Lobster Fishery

Today, lobster fishing is a vital part of PEI’s culture and economy.  Prince Edward Island lobster has always been an essential part of the Island experience. There is something special about our lobsters, taken from the waters around the rocky reefs off Prince Edward Island. Our first lobster season runs from May until the end of June and the second from August until October. But of course, fresh lobster is available year-round.

Many lobsters live in shallow water and were once so abundant you could catch them by hand or with a pitchfork.

Many lobsters live in shallow water and were once so abundant you could catch them by hand or with a pitchfork. They can grow to enormous sizes in the deep ocean. In 1892, newspapers reported a trawler landing a lobster over five feet long. It would have weighed over 50 pounds. The age of lobsters this big can only be estimated – some speculate that in the deep ocean, there may be lobsters 50 and up to 100 years old!

Lobster Traps

North American lobster traps are based on the lobster pots used for centuries in northern Europe. Lobsters enter the trap through a wooden ring called a “head”. Once inside, the trap simply takes advantage of the lobster’s natural instincts. When feeling threatened, a lobster will spread its claws wide –- making it very difficult to walk out the way it came in. Lobsters tend to flee backwards by flexing their powerful tail. Either way, once in the trap, most lobsters have little chance of finding a way out.

Commercial Lobster Fishery

The PEI commercial lobster fishery dates to the 1870s. In the beginning, the lobster fishery followed the same model as older fisheries, such as cod and mackerel. The industry was run by large investors. By the 1890s, many fishers realized they didn’t need a huge investment to “get into” lobster. Lobsters lived close to shore, so lobster fishers didn’t need large, ocean-worthy schooners. A small shore boat, worth $10 or $15 at the most, would do nicely. Better still, these boats didn’t need wharves to tie up to; they could be hauled up on the beach at the end of the work day. A fortunate few were able to make a good living from the fishery, though most supplemented their income with what they could make off a small farm.

The Oyster Fishery

The Eastern oyster has a long history of production in Prince Edward Island. The Island is the largest oyster producer in Atlantic Canada. Oysters are harvested from many bays and estuaries around the Island; however, the western portion of the Island is home to the majority of oysters. The  industry is unique in that our oyster harvest comes from both our long standing and storied public fishery, as well as a new and developing cultured oyster industry. According to the PEI shellfish association, by 2012, about 800 active fishers landed about 7 million pounds of oysters.  Currently, there are 820 oyster culture sites accounting for 7,000 acres of oyster leases.


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