'Q' is for Quintal

Written by Karen Pottle-Fewer, former Program Coordinator, Labrador Institute

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines a quintal as “a hundred weight (112 lbs), esp in measuring fish,” usually dried and salted, market-ready cod (Story et al., 1982). According to online dictionaries, fishermen have measured cod fish landings in “quintals” since 1425-75 (“Quintal,” 2019), though the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador records that a quintal was traditionally a matter of visual judgement (Lounsbury & Talbot, 1993). The spelling was a matter of judgement, too, as other early Newfoundland and Labrador alternatives were “cantal,” “kental,” and “kintal.” (Story et al, 1982).

The Newfoundland and Labrador fishery for cod goes back as early as the fifteenth century with Portuguese, French and Spanish fishermen. At around the middle of the sixteenth century the English became involved in a migratory fishery, leaving England in the spring and returning in the fall after the fishing season. The English fished along the eastern and Avalon peninsula portion of the island of Newfoundland but eventually expanded into the South Coast of Labrador (“Cod”, 1993).

The Labrador fishery began as a result of the seal hunt commencing in the 1700s off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. A new branch of the cod fishery was developed when the French evacuated the North Shore region because of hostilities that arose when Newfoundland fishermen, while carrying out a seal hunt, would go there to fish. When the French returned in 1818, these fishermen expanded farther northward into the South Coast of Labrador region, which was the beginning of the Labrador cod fishery. The Labrador cod fishery served two purposes: it provided a use for sealing vessels in the off season and allowed fishers from Newfoundland bays where the cod stocks were depleted to still earn a living (Higgins, 2007).

The Labrador cod fishery was made up of two branches, the floater and stationer fisheries:

The floater fishery involved schooners that moved along the coast following cod. The crews lived on and fished from vessels. The stationers were men who occupied fishing rooms on the Labrador coast and fished from small boats on shore. The fishery extended as far north as Cape Harrison and Cape Chidley [the northernmost tip of Labrador] (“Cod”, 1993).

Both methods had their drawbacks. Labrador's damp weather often resulted in a poorer cure for stationers, but floaters risked damaging their catch during the long voyage home (Higgins, 2007).

Although the Labrador fishery was the main economic activity in Labrador for much of the 1800s, very few Labrador residents took part in it; it was mostly carried out by fishers from Conception Bay as a migratory fishery. At this time, the population of Labrador was small and mostly coastal, with the Innu practising a migratory lifestyle between the coast and interior (“Labrador,” n.d.).

By the mid-1860s, the cod fishery on Labrador's southern coast was producing only small amounts of fish. To compensate, some fishers began using more efficient gear, particularly cod traps, while others traveled further north to find new fishing grounds. The northward expansion, coupled with the use of new gear, for a time resulted in larger catches and allowed the colony to maintain or increase its exports (Higgins, 2007).

The large-scale commercial Labrador cod fishery fell into serious decline in the 1920s and eventually disappeared altogether (Higgins, 2007).  Today we have Indigenous fisheries, a stewardship fishery, and a recreational fishery.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Recreational Groundfish Fishery, for example, is open for 39 days in the summer and fall, with a limit of 5 fish per person per day.  How many quintals is that?

Click here to see a photo of  "Clemmie E. Dalton" (Schooner) and a small boat departing Cottels Island bound for the Labrador fishery.


Cod. (1993). In Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador (Vol. 1, p. 469). St. John’s: Harry Cuff Publications.

Higgins, J. (2007) 19th Century Cod Fisheries. In Heritage Newfoundland & Labrador.
Retrieved from:

Labrador. NL Studies 2204, (Chapter 4, Topic 8, p. 340). Retrieved from: https://www.heritage.nf.ca/nl-studies-2205/chapter-4-topic-8.pdf

Lounsbury, R.G., & Talbot, T. (1993). Quintal. In Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador (Vol. 4, p. 500). St. John’s: Harry Cuff Publications.

Quintal. (2019). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/quintal

Story, G.M., Kirwin, W. J. & Widdowson, J.D.A. (Eds.) (1982). Quintal. In Dictionary of Newfoundland English. University of Toronto Press: Toronto.

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