Stories abound of people's experience over time in the fishery. The brief excerpts that follow give a small taste of the abundance of fish in the past and the hard work involved in catching them.
"Lobsters... are despised by the older settlers. They should never be permitted to appear at dinner, and should not be eaten for breakfast or supper above once a week. After many years of observance of this rule, I left the Island with as powerful a relish for them as ever. They are in great plenty in the harbours, but are best caught at sea. When brought to the wharf at Charlotte Town, the boys who usually catch them sell them for a halfpenny or a penny apiece."
"You will laugh, and perhaps think I am romancing, when I tell you that boiled lobsters are brought to market in cart loads, and sold for a half-penny to two pence each."
"Shellfish is so abundant around Prince Edward Island that no description would adequately represent the real profusion."
"I started fishing, I think, in '22. I fished all my life. Smelts in the winter on the ice. I loved it. I miss it a fright. Getting up and going out in the boat. Expecting to get a fortune. Every day I was looking for a fortune. Never made it."
"There was this guy lobstering in a 15-foot dory. First thing he hauled up a lobster trap, and this great big lobster was hanging on it. Right when he hauled it up, the lobster come up and bit the dory right in two. Fella had to jump the stern and scull her ashore."
"When I started fishing, we used square traps out there. And then we got away from them. I asked a fella once, 'How come we quit making square traps out there?' 'That's easy,' he said, 'There's so many sea urchins out there, there'd be a bushel in the trap. You couldn't take them out of a square trap without pickin' 'em all out. And a round trap, you could just roll 'em out. Ya, that's easy, why we quit makin' square traps.'"
"I started fishing round traps, oh, in 1934 I guess. An old French fella from Shag Harbour made them. Nova Scotia. They use them altogether down there. There's the home of the four-headed trap. My uncle bought a whole string, and he liked them so well, I built ten. Fished so well, I never used anything else. I used them up here for a good many year. But they got too big for me. They were four feet long. They weighed a lot."
"Salt herring. That's all we had for bait... And they really smell them herrin'. There's no way except hauling your traps after you've baited them up, where you could get the smell off your hands. You had to wear it off hauling your traps. Real good bait, but oh wouldn't they stink! I was hardly allowed in the house, I'd stink it up. There's no way you can get the smell off your hands. We tried everything. Washing, soap, be damned. You'd go haul your traps, and it'd be gone."
"It was good money. It got to be good money. It was very poor at first. In 1960 I had over 7,000 dollars coming to me for two months. When I started, I took 39 dollars for a month."
"I'd start around five o'clock in the morning. We'd be in around noontime, and pack them in the afternoon--taking them out of the shell and putting them in cans, and closing the cans with solder. Then bath them at night. Four hours to cook them. ...Get home around nine or ten, probably. Take our lunch with us. Couple of lunches. It wasn't bad to go to bed when we were working."
"There's a story told on Prince Edward Island about a train load of salt fish and potatoes that was assembled and sent to aid prairie farmers during the Great Depression. The farmers were grateful for the potatoes, but didn't know what to do with the fish. (No one told them that salt fish had to be soaked in fresh water before boiling.) They tried frying, boiling, and baking, but couldn't make it edible. Not even their pigs were interested. They gave up trying to eat them, but they did find them useful. . . Salt fish, apparently, make fine roofing shingles."
- All quotations from the Basin Head Fisheries Museum Collection