LESCARBOT’S DESCRIPTION OF THE COD FISHERY AT NEWFOUNDLAND.
EXTRACTS FROM LESCARBOT’S HISTORY OF NEW FRANCE (CHAMPLAIN SOCIETY’S REPRINT AND TRANSLATION, VOL. III.), pages 238-239.
And seeing we are in the codfish country, I shall not stop until I have said a word or two about it ; for so many people and in such great number go every year in quest of them from all parts of Europe, that I know not whence such a swarm can come. The cod brought into these parts are either dry or green. The fishing of the green cod is on the Bank in the open sea, some sixty leagues on this side of Newfoundland, as may be seen by looking at my map. Fifteen or twenty sailors, more or less, have each a line, i.e. a cord of forty or fifty fathoms long, at the end of which is a large baited hook, with a lead three pounds in weight to take it to the bottom. With this implement they fish the cod, which are so greedy, that the moment it is let down, it is snapped up, where the fishing is good. The cod being drawn on board, there are planks in the form of narrow tables along the ship where the fish are dressed. One man cuts off their heads, and usually throws them into the sea ; another cuts open their bellies and disembowels them, and sends them back to his mate, who cuts away the biggest part of the backbone. That done, they are put into the salting-tub for four-and-twenty hours, and then packed away. And in this sort they work continually, without respecting the Sabbath (which is an impiety, for it is the Lord’s Day), for the space of almost three months, their sails down, until their load is complete. Sometimes they set sail to go farther on in search of better fishing. And the saying that it is cold in Canada has originated because the poor mariners suffer from the cold among the fogs, especially the most hasty, who set out in February.
As for the dry cod, one must go ashore to dry it. There are in Newfoundland and in Bacalaos, many ports where ships lie at anchor for three months. At break of day the sailors go one, two, or three leagues out on the watery plain to catch their load. By one or two o’clock in the afternoon they have each filled his boat, and return to port, where there is a great platform built on the sea-shore, on which the fish are cast, as one casts sheaves of corn through a barn-window. There is a great table on which the fish when cast are dressed as described above. After having been in the salting-tub, they are carried out to dry on the rocks exposed to the wind, or on the galets, i.e. piles of stone
heaped up by the sea. After six hours they are turned, and so on at intervals. Then all are gathered, and piled up together, and again at the end of eight days exposed to the air. In the end when dried they are packed away. But there must be no fogs when they are drying, for then they will rot ; nor too much heat, for then they will rust, but temperate and windy weather.*
* This description of the cod-fishery, both for green and dry cod, agrees perfectly, so far as it goes, with the elaborate treatise of Denys, who has illumined the subject with a degree of detail and a vividness of expression that leave hardly anything more to be said ; cf. Denys, Description, ii. 27-252 (Champlain Society’s edition, 257–348). (W. F. G.)