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Dory Fishing in Newfoundland

Dory Fishing in Newfoundland

Fishing has been a way life in Newfoundland and Labrador for five centuries. When John Cabot reached our shores in 1497 he discovered that the waters round the New Land were teaming with fish. He reported that they were so plentiful that his men could lower a basket into the water and pull it up filled with fish.

Our ancestors who later lived in the outports made their living by catching and salting this fish. In the beginning they fished near the shore in their dories and punts using oars or sails powered by the wind. With the invention of the engine, trap fishing began. When larger boats were built fisherpersons engaged in the deep sea fishery on the Grand Banks.

These larger boats, called Banking Schooners carried a number of dories on their decks and two men fished from each dory. The dories returned to the schooner with their catch and emptied their load. They would go back fishing again and finally get back aboard the boat for the night at sunset, tired and hungry. But after supper, trawls had to baited for the next morning.

Credit for the invention of the dory goes to Simeon Lowell who came from England to Massachusetts. He turned out his first dory in 1793, The name Dory probably came from a redfish found in Nova Scotia waters called the `John Dory Fish`. The cost of a dory then was $ 12.00. The same dory today costs $1000.00. It is often called the Little Lady of the North Atlantic. As years went by fishermen from Newfoundland and Labrador did an excellent job of building their own dories.

A doryman`s day usually started around 4 `oclock in the morning with a hearty breakfast of fish and brewis. As soon as they finished their meal they, chopped bait to fill their bait jacks. Then they boarded their dories and rowed about 3 kilometers from the schooner to bait up and set their lines.

If fish were plentiful and the weather fair it was easy to fill their dory. They would now head back to their schooner and unload their catch on her deck. Then they would grab a quick mug up, tea, buns and hall back their trawls again. this could happen 3 or 4 times a day. After the last trip of the day the fish had to be dressed and salted in the hold of the schooner. If this work wasn’t finished before super it continued until late at night. When the skipper decided the boat was filled he cheeked his weather glass and returned to port. There the fish had to be washed and died and sold to the merchants who after downgraded it for their own profit. fishermen were nor paid in cash as the merchants ordered them to get trade goods from his store at the end of the fishing season.

A small dory on the fishing banks was always in danger. Sometimes when gales of wind blewup, the doryman had to learn their work and row tirelessly back to the schooner. Often they wanted to be "high liner" and overloaded their dory which often capsized losing their lines. Many times the fog caused them to lose their way and row their dory in an opposite direction.

Dorymen sometimes spent days in an open dory before being picked up by passing freighters. In 1898 this happened to two dorymen Richard Noseworthy from Fortune and Esau Parsons from Grand Bank. Their dory strayed away from the schooner "Mary Rose" owned by Samuel Harris from Grand Bank. After two days a drift they were picked up by a passing German freighter. They sold their dory in Germany and came back home two months later. They had been mourned for dead.

By 1950 salt fish banking declined when the long liner and draggers took the place of the fishing schooner and men no longer fished in dories. They fished on the decks of these modern boats . Instead of salting the fish, it was frozen or heavy iced while at sea . So much fish were caught and destroyed this way that the Federal Government ordered a moratorium on the cod. It is doubtful that the cod will ever be as plentiful as it once was. What would John Cabot think?

Maybe dory fishing will return on a smaller scale . This would preserve the cod that is hopefully left in our waters. Young fish will not be destroyed again by drag nets dragged over the sea bottom. Dories will still be strapped to the decks of freighters and long liners to be used in case of emergency.

By doing this project, I have learned that my ancestors the dorymen, were hard working, brave ,courageous and God fearing people. I am the 7th generation of that family tree that took root in Devonshire, England in 1771 and grew in Beau Bois, Newfoundland and Labrador. My father who has two degrees in education from Memorial University is now a long-liner fisherman. I am in the Marystown Elementary preparing for my future. I hope I have inherited the fine qualities of my forefathers to help me, when I choose a profession in life.

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©All Rights Reserved. Story submitted by Ryan Murphy

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