Tracing our way back to the sea

by Sadie Beaton

You wouldn’t know it looking at the sea-captain magnets and sou’wester hats in our giftshops. Despite our sea-ready reputation, most Nova Scotians have no idea who caught the fish in their dinners. We’ve lost touch.

Leave it to Halifax’s Fid Resto to help pioneer a tracing system that helps bring us closer to our fishermen again.  Chef-owner Dennis Johnston prides himself on investing in the local economy and showcasing the story behind our food. As Johnston describes, “For us, food is all about relationships, and at Fid, we’ve been interested in how and where our seafood was harvested since well before there were sustainable seafood programs.”

These days, people want to know more about the food they’re eating. But with fish, this is often difficult. The seafood supply chain tends to be more complex- it may change hands six or more times before landing on a dinner plate. This is where Thisfish comes in.

Developed by fishermen with Ecotrust Canada, Thisfish is an innovative new tool that helps empower consumers to trace their seafood’s journey back to the moment it left the sea. As participating fishermen Beau Gillis explains, “Thisfish helps a shopper decide if the three dollar haddock they find at Sobeys is worth it- they can find out on the spot whether it was dragged up in a net, caught by a hook, or trapped in a gillnet. I like that Thisfish doesn’t judge for you, it just gives you the facts.”


Off the Hook CSF’s Dave Adler and Fid Resto’s Dennis Johnston fly the Thisfish flag at the 2012 Canadian Chef Congress.

Fid Resto has been serving traceable bottom longline caught Atlantic halibut from Off the Hook CSF since the summer. As soon as Johnston gets hold of the fish, he tweets the news to his followers. And when someone orders it, the server brings the tag along with the meal. “They get really jazzed, you know?” Johnston says. “Everyone has an iPhone these days and when they can see on their screen who caught it, where and how, that gets back to that direct connection that people are looking for.”

Diners may notice that the photo of Captain Gillis popping up on their smartphones does not match the gift shop stereotype. Gillis presents a younger image of Nova Scotia’s small-scale fisheries- a fisherman changing with the times. As he explains, “I expect to be paid a fair price for my fishing effort and ThisFish and Off the Hook help me do that. A person has to be versatile to make a living in any industry, and fishing is no exception – if you can’t keep up with change you’ll fail.”

Our connection to the ocean has changed a lot since the days where many of us could access fresh, local fish from a friend, family member or neighbour. But for those of us who care about our oceans and fishing communities, who fishes still matters- what, where, and how. And it may be that a bit of “screen-time” is just the thing to help bring us back in touch with this essential relationship.


Off the Hook CSF’s Captain Beau Gillis with a beautiful, traceable bottom longlined halibut.


One thought on “Tracing our way back to the sea

  1. Pingback: Making Fishing Fair | Small Scales

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