The Fishery

If you were wondering why fishing didn’t get its own subsection when we tackled the lives of the early settlers, it’s simply because there’s not very much to say about it! Although Murray Harbour, Beach Point and Murray River are now known as fishing villages, the first half of the 1800’s was full of failures when it came to commercial fishing on PEI. Early settlers were discouraged from fishing on the theory that it would distract from the important task of improving the land.24. In lot 64, Cambridge had been engaged in the fishery, but didn’t seem to meet great success; Lord Selkirk even commented on the matter in his Diary in 1803:

Some attempts have been made to establish a regular fishery (especially Cambridge at Murray Harbour) but the people deserted the business- and none of the E. (English) Settlers follow it…25. 

By the 1820’s, the government had shifted their position, and tried to encourage fishing by offering a bounty based on the amount of fish caught, but people were unmoved.26. The bounty simply didn’t make up for the investment required for a schooner and equipment, the seasonal nature of the work, and the high level of risk involved.

While the commercial fishery was dismal, some historians have speculated that fishing was always more important in lot 64 than on most of the island,1. and there is some evidence to support this idea. For one thing, smaller farms suggest that farming wasn’t the only way locals supported themselves; also, the early placement of a fish processing plant (built by Daniel Davies in the 1840’s) may indicate an existing labour force in the area; and finally, the Guernsey settlers may have brought the strong fishing tradition of Guernsey with them, making the people of lot 64 less inclined to look down on fishing as an inferior pursuit. But while fishing may always have been an important pursuit for locals, the fact remains that there is still no record of a successful commercial fishery in the area until the latter part of the 1800’s.

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