Founding Fish: Maine’s 17th Century Cod Fishing Industry

Fishing has been a mainstay of the New England region’s economy since the arrival of Europeans in the early 17th century. Originally plying the waters of the Gulf of Maine on a seasonal basis, English fishing crews established permanent, year-round fishing stations from the Isle of Shoals to Monhegan by the mid 1620’s. Click here for a 64-minute video with Mike Dekker by Maine’s First Ship.

Exports of dried, salted cod to Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean was one of the primary economic engines of the New England economy throughout the colonial period.  The finest fish went to the ports of Catholic Europe where dried salted fish became the food of the masses.

Along the west coast of Africa fish was used as currency in the slave trade, while in Brazil and the sugar islands of the Caribbean, low grade fish unsuitable for markets elsewhere were purchased to feed the burgeoning populations of enslaved people.

The Atlantic fishery was of such economic importance it often figured heavily in considerations of war, peace and diplomacy. 

Despite the cod fishery’s seemingly endless bounty, today it stands on the brink of collapse due to a host of human and environmental factors. Mike Dekker presents educational programs for historical societies, museums, historic sites, schools and the public. Mike is the author of the book The French and Indian Wars In Maine.