Fish Was Once Currency in Newfoundland

Shaunacy Ferro

Image Credit: Jcmurphy via Wikipedia // Public Domain

Bartering has been around far longer than paper money or coins. For hundreds of years in Newfoundland, Canada, economic activity relied on a very specific kind of bartering: the cod trade. Cod was so important to Newfoundland’s culture and economy that the fish was called “Newfoundland currency.”

Cash on the island was virtually nonexistent during the first decades of English settlement in the mid-1600s. Instead, people would trade dried cod for goods. Merchants would sell fishermen supplies on credit during the spring, and in return, the fishermen would pay them back with their catch of cod in the fall (after a delicate and labor-intensive process of preparing and drying the fish).

In the 1800s, Newfoundland began trading more internationally, and British and Spanish coins became more common on the island, supplanting fish as the currency of choice. The Newfoundland Savings Bank was established in 1834, and the government authorized the Treasury to print currency for the first time. No longer would fishermen need to trade salted fish for their food and supplies.

And that’s probably for the better. In more modern times, cod populations have suffered from extreme overfishing [PDF], especially during the 1980s and ‘90s, and are still recovering

[h/t: Hakai]