It is not known when the first European fishermen visited what is now the eastern Avalon Peninsula. Vague but unproven traditions suggest that mariners from Bristol may have been visiting the offshore fishing grounds, and perhaps coming ashore for wood, food and water, before John Cabot's voyage in 1497.
Whether or not there is a grain of truth to these traditions, it is clear from even the scant historical record that follows Cabot's voyage that western European fishermen were quick to exploit the resources reported by Cabot. Within a decade or so of his voyage, vessels from Portugal, Spain, the Basque country, France and West Country England were exploiting the vast cod stocks reported to exist off the coast of the "New-founde-land."
Ferryland, with its location as one of the easternmost points in North America, its conspicuous headland and excellent harbour, easy access to the inshore fishing grounds and extensive cobble beaches upon which fish could be dried, may have been one of the earliest ports visited by migratory fishermen.
English participation was limited until the mid-16th century, but beginning about 1560 English participation in the migratory fishery increased rapidly, and they soon became the dominant fishing presence on what was to become the "English Shore."
The Fishing Admiral
Traditionally, the master of the first English ship to arrive at a particular port became the fishing admiral, a sort of unofficial governor of that port for the coming fishing season. Thus William Sayre was admiral of Ferryland during the summer of 1597. Reminders of the days of the fishing admirals exist in the many place names - Admiral's Cove, Admiral's Point and so forth - that can be traced to the pre-settlement period.
At Ferryland, the fishing admiral period may have ceased with the first permanent settlement in 1621, but migratory fishermen continued to visit the harbour throughout the 17th century.