A Story by Charlie Dennis

This is in reference to my story in the last issue of Martin about the Oysters and my old friend Gabriel. If some of you took a guess (or were stumped!), the important tool was Cod Liver Oil. You are probably wondering “What the?!” Why would a person use oil to fish for oysters? For those of you that are familiar with different techniques used in harvesting oysters, oil is very, very essential, especially when you are picking oysters by drifting along with your boat and looking for a clear vision to the bottom where oysters play “hide and go seek” with you. Sometimes you can’t see, or most of the times see only certain features of the oysters, like the bright white shells on the bottom. In most cases oysters tend to hide in fine sand or silt, slightly cover themselves and you can only see the other edge where they feed. If you take a close look at this, you might think it’s only a blade of eel grass lying on the bottom. Mind you, there are two different kinds of oyster fishermen, ones that pick by cruising along the shore such as I described and the ones that use oyster rakes similar to a garden rake but quite large. This type of fishing is similar to the large drag on the fishing vessels, but not as large and usually done manually. This process is called raking for oysters and the other is just plain picking. So there’s some education on oyster fishing, and getting back to the oil business.

The older fishermen or Elders would save Cod Liver after they had been fishing Cod and usually after cooking these livers they would save the oil on top of the pot and skim it off and collect it. This practice went on in the older days, and then I guess modern technology kicked in and this oil was developed on a commercial scale and you could go and get it anywhere. You must remember when growing up, your parents would give you this awful medicine when you pretended you were sick and you couldn’t go to school. “It is good for you, it will make you feel better”, but you probably agreed to go to school before you took the medicine! A few years later they stopped making cod liver oil and switched to capsular pills. I often wondered if this had something to do with the collapse of the ground fish, or was it the new technology on capsular pills.

Back to our original story…If the weather was not favorable to the oyster pickers and the shoreline looked a little wavy, they couldn’t see the bottom. They would sprinkle the water with small drops of oil and this in turn would create a nice clear vision on the surface of the water and keep the wavy action away from the boat. It’s amazing what this process would do, and it would create clear vision for about a fifty-foot radius, in whatever direction the wind was blowing. Of course, you wouldn’t go against the wind. You can travel quite a ways with these drops of oil and collect many oysters.

Well, anyway, all things must come to an end, they discontinued making the oil, (or the old nursing station closed – but again, that’s another story). Back in the 1970s, fishermen started asking me if there was another product that would be acceptable to the environment and create the same effects as Cod Liver Oil. Well, I took off to the old market, visiting old stores, modern grocery stores, outlets, etc. I came up with about six different brands of oil. Field studies were done, with curious onlookers, fishermen, old veterans.”Not clear enough…Too much oil residue…Drifting away too fast….” and so forth, so it was back to the drawing board. I finally ended up in Port Hawkesbury, and looking at other products and speaking to clerks and managers, they commented that a new product had just hit the market – corn oil – or Mazola Corn Oil, to be exact. Environmentally friendly, and answered key questions the fishermen commented when we tried it–a success!

Congratulations to those that guessed and to those who didn’t have a clue what I was talking about oil. Many, many thanks to the company that produces Mazola corn oil!

From UINR Marten – Vol.1. Issue.2 – Winter 2005