Newfoundland: a hard place to get fresh fish

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Newfoundland: a hard place to get fresh fish

 

Imagine not being able to get a good cigar in Cuba. Or that you couldn’t get a nice glass of wine in France. Or a decent pint Guinness in Ireland. Or lovely cup of tea in London. And just imagine if you couldn’t enjoy a meal of fresh caught fish in Newfoundland.

Sadly, that last one is closer to being true than most of us realize.

It is the most peculiar of things for locals and visitors the difficulty that can be had in getting a good meal of local caught seafood here. It turns out you’re far more likely to get a steak dinner than to be able to have real, fresh seafood meal.

Oh sure there are oodles of deep fried fish and chips joints pumping out their gravy and dressing covered delicacies (although you have to pick the right days to get fresh instead of frozen fish in many cases) but if you had to sit there and come up with the places you KNOW that serve all kinds of fresh, local, Newfoundland seafood, how long would your list be?

And how would that list compare to all the steakhouses and the chicken and burger shacks? There are a few restaurants around doing some things with fresh local seafood, but you have to look hard for them.

And what about buying local product to cook at home?

I often hear tourists lamenting that there are so few places they can buy or get the Real McCoy when it comes to Newfoundland seafood unless they go to the major supermarket and ask the right questions.

You can’t walk on a wharf here anywhere and buy fish filets or crab legs or shrimp because the inspection and processing rules don’t allow for it, and even if they did, there’s probably not much good could come of it on a widespread basis. It’s a romantic, old timey mentality that probably wouldn’t be commercially feasible in the confines of the industry’s current mass export form.

Sure, there are a few seafood buyers and sellers out there (the Fish Shop, Taylors, Dandy Dan’s and the like come to mind) and you can walk into the scattered plant (the ones still operating, anyway) and buy some of their stuff, but it’s not exactly a heavily marketed item.

Many people have trouble figuring it out, and I guess I can understand why — after all, if you were coming to Newfoundland for the first time, wouldn’t you expect to see plenty of seafood? When I’m asked why the place isn’t festooned with seafood of all shapes and sizes, it takes me a while to explain that almost all of the seafood caught commercially in this province is exported to places like the US, Japan, China and Europe.

I have to also explain to them that just aren’t enough of us here to make up a significant market for our own products, and of course it all makes sense.

But it got me wondering. Why don’t we do a better job of promoting our OWN seafood to ourselves and to visitors? You can’t turn on the television without seeing a steak sizzling on the grill. Burgers and crackling bacon are everywhere you turn. Sandwiches are assembled lovingly in front of your eyes.

So why not seafood? Why don’t we see more properly branded and marketed Newfoundland and Labradotr seafood in ads and television spots? Why don’t we see delicately baked or pan fried Newfoundland cod, sizzling lobster tails, rich shrimp salad, thick juicy turbot fillets, or bright red delectable snow crab legs?

A person I hold in high regard recently posed a question to me related to the topic. He wondered aloud if it might be an idea for the province to spend some time looking at identifying a profitable, fresh, local almost “cottage” seafood industry, and then properly promoting it to both visitors and ourselves.

Good question, I thought.

It’s true that Newfoundlanders don’t seem to eat a lot of fish, and that fact is becoming more obvious as generations pass.

But is that because they don’t like fish?

Or is it because we’ve never pushed our fish on them, told them how good it is, given them unhindered access to the best local stuff right out of the water, and promoted its many health benefits?

Is this a case of a bad egg, or did the chicken just fall down on the job?

 

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com

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