This summer’s official Nova Scotia tourism slogan was a bit bewildering: “Take yourself there”. Might it have been a sub-conscious riff on the cancelled Yarmouth-Maine ferry? Or was it a subtle reference to the fact that travelers who want to go beyond gift-shop sou’westers and postcards of salty old fishermen really do have to ‘take themselves’ on a journey to find real Nova Scotia culture?
Tourists have long travelled to Nova Scotia for the province’s fisheries-infused, seafaring culture. And unique and fascinating small-scale fisheries have long been the backbone of Nova Scotia’s coastal communities, fueling our local traditions and economies. But none of this is particularly easy for tourists to discover.
In the 1950s, Wedgeport’s International Tuna Cup was the province’s largest tourist promotion, but these days the working fishing wharves, or the opportunities to spend a day clamming or tossing mackerel are not quite so obvious.
What this province really needs – and it’s a pretty simple approach – is a fisheries trail. Imagine a map of Nova Scotia that highlights our rich fisheries history, working wharves, and opportunities to enjoy delicious fresh local seafood.
In the early 1980s, Nova Scotia Tourism published a sort of fish trail – a booklet sharing recipes for “Nova Scotia’s Favourite Fish Dishes” along each of the province’s scenic coastal routes.
Unfortunately, instead of getting input from coastal communities, the department partnered directly with High Liner Seafoods Ltd. That meant Marine Drive’s signature dish was deemed to be “Captain Burgers” made from a processed fish patty, while the Cabot Trail hometown darling was reported as “Captain High Liner’s Shrimp Creole” made from… you guessed it, High Liner’s frozen tropical crustaceans.
Nova Scotia can do better. Way better.
Consider the Downeast Fisheries Trail just over the border in Maine. It’s a perfect example to follow because, just as in Nova Scotia, “Marine resources sustain the culture and economy of Downeast Maine. The Downeast Fisheries Trail builds on these local resources to strengthen community life and the experience of visitors.”
Makes sense, right? The easy-to-read map showcases everything from working harbours, clamflats, aquaculture facilities and processing plants, to museums, community organizations and coastal parks. Created as a partnership between government, academia, and non-profits, the map was based on the outcomes of outreach meetings conducted in local communities.
Is this province embarrassed about celebrating local small-scale fisheries? The majority of seafood caught in towns and villages in Nova Scotia is exported directly from the wharf into convoluted global supply chains. This has meant Nova Scotia’s fishermen and fish plant workers are insulated from those who love and appreciate good seafood, and miss out on the much-deserved credit for their hard work. This disconnect further erodes pride in our fishing communities as well as respect for their important work stewarding our shared aquatic resources.
The time for change is right now – and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. A Nova Scotian fisheries trail could follow Maine’s model, celebrating our maritime heritage and culture in a way that helps strengthen community life and gets more tourists moving (and spending), too. Instead of boosting the profile and profits of one large fishing corporation, the map could highlight and support thousands of small businesses that depend on a healthy fishery in all coastal communities.
Nova Scotia has amazing maritime museums, fish plants that do direct sales, and dulse-picking adventures. It’s got seaside picnic parks, lobster roll stands, and dozens of community fisheries festivals running throughout the summer. Sure, feature recipes, but how about something real – just like Grandma used to make! Add a seasonality chart for our local seafood and you’ve created a genuine, go-to resource that people are more likely to keep and share.
Let’s help take our visitors there. Finding new ways to celebrate our maritime heritage and culture won’t just bring more tourists to our shores, it will help ensure vibrant, small-scale fishing communities will prosper into the future.
We’d love to hear about the attractions you’d like to see included along a Nova Scotia fisheries trail. Send a note at SmallScales@ecologyaction.ca
Sadie Beaton has worked on marine and coastal issues with the Ecology Action Centre for the past 10 years. In that time she’s done everything from designing conservation-themed underwear to co-founding Atlantic Canada’s first community supported fishery. She currently curates the Ecology Action Centre’s Small Scales blog, where a version of this story also appears.