Crafting for Connection

September 21, 2023

Shorefast programming provides people with a place to connect with their neighbours and learn more about the culture and nature of Fogo Island. 

Joyce Coffin (fourth from right) with the beginner rug-hooking group.

When Joyce Coffin led her first rug hooking workshop at the Punt Premises in the Summer of 2022, she wasn’t sure how many people would actually show up. “Shorefast first approached me to host the event after seeing some of the pieces I was selling at local stores around the island.” At the time, Joyce was one of only a few rug hooking practitioners on Fogo Island, with very few actively teaching.  

At the first class, over 20 people filled up the main room eager to learn— their ages ranging from 20 to 80. “We had to split the group into two batches, and I returned after dinner that same day to teach the rest of them,” Joyce recalls. Since then, the group has continued to meet weekly, gradually advancing their skills. While newcomers continue to join the group, the standing date has settled into a comforting routine: “We come together, work alongside each other, and chat.”  

Opened to the public in 2019 after a major restoration that was generously funded by past Fogo Island Inn guests, Don & Sheila Bayne, as well as grants from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and Newfoundland & Labrador’s Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation department, the Punt Premises exists to preserve and promote our island’s fishing heritage. Over the past few years, it has evolved into a much needed hub for social convening and Shorefast programming—especially critical after the prolonged isolation of the pandemic.

“Having a place to connect and learn alongside your neighbour is an important part of community economic development,” Amy Rowsell, Shorefast’s Director of Community Engagement and Programming, notes. “It builds social capital and a sense of optimism for the future.”  

For Joyce, the Punt Premises has become a second home. “There’s a lot of stuff going on that wasn’t before. It’s a busy spot.”

Art & Climate Change 

September 1, 2023

Fogo Island Arts’ partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, the World Weather Network, and contemporary artist Liam Gillick, is shaping a global conversation around art, climate, and the importance of place. 

People gathered at the Weather Station during Arts Weekend on Fogo Island. Photo by Joshua Jensen.

When Fogo Island Arts first approached artist Liam Gillick to create a ‘weather station’ on Fogo Island in response to the global climate crisis, it was immediately clear to Gillick that this would be a tremendous opportunity to ground important global conversations within the context of a local community.  

“Art and science have always been linked historically,” Gillick explains. “Through this artwork I want to create a site for new thinking and a space designated to climate consciousness rooted in the basic requirements to gather and share data, while also being a place for education, reflection, discussion, and just getting together.” 

Launched in October 2022, along Waterman Brook’s trail near the community of Fogo, “A Variability Quantifier, 2022,” (more commonly known as the Fogo Island Red Weather Station), is a fully functioning weather station tracking weather data and a place for community gathering. Through the World Weather Network platform, it joins a constellation of art-inspired weather stations around the globe that are shaping conversations about the climate crisis through the perspective of artists, with many calling attention to the more dire situation in remote, ecologically sensitive areas of the world. 

The Fogo Island Red Weather Station construction team. Photograph by Joshua Jensen

“Artists help us see things and Fogo Island Arts has always been interested in approaching issues of economic, cultural, historical, and environmental concern through a different lens,” says Iris Stunzi, Fogo Island Arts’ Program Manager.  

“Fogo Islanders’ have a front row seat to changes in ‘Iceberg Alley,’ Gillick adds. “There is a lot of collective awareness and wisdom on this island. The artwork is about recognizing the daily consciousness of an island life; it is for and about the people of Fogo Island.”  

As a nod to the traditional and primary industry on Fogo Island, the weather station was designed with Fogo Island’s historic fishing stages in mind, a reminder of our powerful connections to the sea. For visitors to Fogo Island, witnessing the strong relationship between geography and people can often be a catalyst for involvement. This was the case with Steven and Lynda Latner, Inn guests who were inspired by their time on the island and wanted to lend support to our work. Their donation is helping to animate the Weather Station through programming.

Long reliant on triangulated weather updates from Twillingate, Fogo Islanders now have access to accurate, realtime weather data through an easily accessible website linked to the Weather Station that also acts as a repository for global weather-tracking.

Track the Weather: Fogo Island Weather Station

An acquisition of the National Gallery of Canada, The Fogo Island Red Weather Station is part of its National Outreach Initiative in which artworks from the collection are sited and maintained at localities across the country. 

Understanding our Geographic Context: The Importance of the Labrador Current 

July 12, 2023

As an organization grounded in a place-based approach to economic development, we always start with what is in front of us.   

View of Greene’s Point. Photo by Paddy Barry.

On Fogo Island our geographic context is strongly informed by the Labrador Current.  

Positioned in the pathway of this current, our island has developed a culture and way of life (from the foods we eat to the livelihoods we’ve sustained to the traditions we love) that is deeply rooted in our relationship to the waters around us.

As with any relationship there are both challenges and benefits. The strong winds and colder temperatures that move across our landscape result in a shorter outdoor growing season; this can be contrasted with the abundance of marine life that the current supports – the primary reason people have settled here for centuries.   

The Influence of the Current  

Whether you live in the direct pathway of the Labrador Current or not, its influence is significant to our global health.  

Considered a distinct ecosystem, the Labrador Current helps keep the world’s oceans alive. Cold winter temperatures in the Labrador Sea are responsible for pushing oxygen-rich surface waters to depths far below the ocean’s top layer where they are dispersed by deep boundary currents. These oxygenated waters work in similar ways to our bloodstream – feeding oxygen-rich waters to the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans – giving context to the Labrador Current’s moniker as “a lung of the ocean.”  

Crucially, this oxygen stream supports marine life around the world, that in turn supports human life. On Fogo Island, it enables our traditional and primary livelihood: the fishery.   

Collecting Data for Academic Research  

As more revelations are made about the importance of this cold current and its influence on other oceans globally, our waters have become a significant area of research. Scientists are especially keen to understand how climate change is altering the current both through an increase in temperature and wind change. At the local level – community members and fishers are keen to know what warming waters will mean for the fishery as more species begin to migrate.  

One pillar of our Environmental Stewardship work on Fogo Island has us partnering with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Marine Institute at Memorial University to support academic research geared around tracking changes in our local waters. A key initiative to support this goal is Community Science – a collaborative community-based approach to building up scientific knowledge by employing trained community members who can bring their background lived experience (cultural, industrial, environmental) to each project. In rural and remote locations, where it is not always easy to bring in scientists for study, community members are bridging the gap.   

Recent projects on Fogo Island in partnership with community members and academic partners include ice tracking and species monitoring; both of which contribute to our understanding of changes in our local waters year-over-year.  

View of Brimstone Head. Photo by Alex Fradkin.

“We thought we were one of the four corners of the world; turns out we are at the centre.” 

Each year, during the onset of summer, Fogo Islanders bear witness to a changing climate through an experience of “Iceberg Alley.” The parade of icebergs that make their way down from glaciers situated along the coast of Greenland – via the Labrador Current – are a seasonal event; in recent years, however, it is clear to residents that there are significant fluctuations afoot. These fluctuations include increased glacial melt and a prolonged or sometimes negligible iceberg season.

This year for example, the season stretched from February (very early) to July (starting to get late). An increase in glacial flow has an impact on everything from the duration of our fishing season to rising water levels along our coast.  

While Fogo Island’s location at the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean has often earned it a reputation as remote, faraway – and a tongue in cheek title as ‘one of the four corners of the world’ – it is increasingly clear that coastal communities like Fogo Island are at the centre of the climate crisis, rather than off to the side.  

It will be coastal communities like Fogo Island that continue to experience an outsized impact and be extremely vulnerable to the changes in climate that we are all observing globally. To raise awareness both locally and internationally, Shorefast launched an artwork by artist Liam Gillick in October 2022, known colloquially as The Fogo Island Red Weather Station. The station is both a scientific tool to collect data and an artwork that seeks to communicate the value of life and knowledge in this place.

Growing our Environmental Stewardship Work 

The climate crisis can’t be confronted or resolved by any one community; it will take all of us working at different scales to begin to develop a unified way forward.  

On Fogo Island we have been building the case for an Environmental Stewardship program that is multi-pronged in approach, reaches across disciplines, supports the culture of people whose lives and livelihoods are linked to the sea, and can be scaled to create connection and collaboration across many sectors, with a focus on replicability across Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada.  

The Labrador Current is part of our life on Fogo Island; it’s significant to yours as well. 

Read more about our Environmental Stewardship work. 

Community Science on Fogo Island

June 2, 2023

Engaging community members in ocean research means they bring their historical, cultural, industrial, and lived experience to each project.

Walter Penton (second from left) applying new research skills on Fogo Island

Like most Fogo Islanders, Walter Penton has a deep appreciation and understanding of our surrounding waters. “At the edge of the northeast coast of the Atlantic Ocean it often feels like our waters are limitless,” Penton says, “but there’s a lot more going on below the surface – considering our geographic location, our tides, our cold currents.” 

A recently retired transportation worker, Penton is now utilizing his experience and curiosity about the natural environment on Fogo Island to participate in critical monitoring projects on our island that are helping bridge gaps in research. Commonly referred to as Community Science, it’s a growing area of focus for Shorefast that is supported through our partnerships with The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and The Marine Institute at Memorial University. 

“Community members with lived experiences in nature can assist in data collection and provide researchers with the information they need. It’s a powerful way to scale up efforts in conservation and coastal adaptation,” Amanda Lim, Shorefast’s Program Manger, Environmental Initiatives, says. 

Owing to our geographic location within the Labrador Current (often referred to as a “lung of the ocean”) Fogo Island’s waters are one of the few places where oxygen from the air is transferred to the deepest parts of the ocean with the help of this extremely cold current. This process is critical to keeping marine life alive and influences other oceans around the globe. As such, Fogo Island is a significant bellwether for the changes we are seeing in our climate. 

Fogo Island and Change Islands community members partaking in a training initiative in Terra Nova National Park

Last spring, Penton joined a group of Fogo Island and Change Islands community members in Terra Nova, the easternmost national park in Canada, where Shorefast and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were offering a training initiative that would support further research projects on Fogo Island. Back home, Penton and others were able to share what they learned and initiate a new monitoring project around juvenile species in eel grass habitats—an important indicator of our ocean’s current health. 

“The training this past year was great,” Penton says. “It opened my eyes to our interactions with marine life, and I am eager to learn more.” Initiatives like these have the potential to establish Fogo Island as a key player in marine research, opening the door for supplementary income and career opportunities that weren’t previously available. 

“From what I have seen so far, the future for Fogo Island is very bright. With the insight of Shorefast and its partners, we can be a role model for the province.” 

Chatting with Community Host Rosemarie Burke

May 25, 2023

Hospitality is central to everything we do at Shorefast. We believe that every business that serves humans should be built around hospitality: the practice of relationship building and relationship making.

Guest Experience Director, Sandra Cull & Community Host, Rosemarie Burke (left to right) at the Inn. Photo credit: Valerie Howes.

Fogo Island Inn was built to showcase the culture and nature of Fogo Island and add another leg to the economy by complementing the primary and traditional fishing industry. Since opening its doors in 2013, the Inn has become a world leader in the practice of regenerative, community-based travel, and is inspiring other industry leaders to adopt practices that benefit both people and place.  

Initiated through Fogo Island Inn, the Community Host program pairs visitors to the island with community members who are incredibly knowledgeable about the island’s history, culture, and geography. Through informal island orientations, community members bring Fogo Island to life though their own lived experience and offer visitors a nuanced perspective of daily life.

Recently, we chatted with Rosemarie Burke, a Community Host who hails from the community of Tilting on Fogo Island, about her experience as a host and her reflections on Fogo Island Inn’s first decade of community business. The conversation has been edited to reflect highlights of our conversation.  

Becoming a Community Host 

When Rosemarie first heard that the Inn was being built, she was 56. “I’ve got to be a part of that,” she recalls thinking. After three years as the Head of Housekeeping she moved into the Community Host Coordinator role, one that she loved, but ultimately led her to see that a role as a Community Host would suit her best.  

“The thing I didn’t realize about the community host role until I started was that I’ve been doing community hosting my whole life,” Rosemarie adds. “I’m an avid outdoors person, always walking and hiking, and whenever I see someone coming toward me that I don’t know, I introduce myself and ask them where they are from; I’ll point out certain landmarks, such as the best spot to look out on the Atlantic ocean, or where to find Eider ducks nesting, and a conversation is started.” 

“I always want to welcome people; to let them know that they’d be offered help if they needed it; to invite them back for a cup of tea.” 

Managing Director of Fogo Island Inn, Amanda Decker-Penton & Rosemarie during the construction of Fogo Island Inn. Photo credit: Paddy Barry.

Creating the opportunity for exchange & connection  

Now, before I go to work in the morning, I’m wondering and excited about who I am going to meet today and where they will be from. Will they welcome me as I welcome them?” 

When people first learned about the creation of the Inn there was some worry, Rosemarie explains. “We have had very little change since the first settlers arrived. We didn’t know what this was going to mean. When the Inn opened Zita wrote a personal invite to everyone on the island to ask them to stay at the Inn for a night and experience what was being offered to guests. It made a difference.”  

“This Inn has brought new life to this place,” Rosemarie adds. “The community feels represented through this program. Guests come here knowing some things about the island but after a trip with a community host, they feel at home. They feel that they understand where they are.”  

That sense of understanding goes both ways. For Rosemarie, working with visitors has revealed her own island to her in a new way.  

“Now I have a greater appreciation for some of the things I ignored before I met guests. I just see the beauty of it all. Guests come into the Inn and see the Atlantic Ocean and say “wow.” That’s their first word. And you know, now I do too. I think to myself, How lucky am I to be living in a place like this. Now, I take more moments to stop and recognize the beauty around me.” 

In 2022 – Fogo Island Inn’s Community Hosts spent a combined 9,232 hours providing in-person, community-based island orientations and experiences for visitors to our island. Read more about our community-centric approach to economic development in our latest Impact Report.

Small-scale exchanges can have a big impact 

“The Inn is changing the perception people have of small and rural communities,” Rosemarie says. “Not many people knew about Fogo Island before the Inn. Now there are more artists coming here. They are seeing the beauty and painting the beauty. Everything we look at daily – the architecture, the fishing stages, the flakes – artists are painting them, and people are coming to see them.”  

While Fogo Island has always had a strong local artisan culture, increasing the opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas, art, and experiences between people with different backgrounds is a vital way to strengthen our social fabric at a local level and at a national level. It brings renewed attention to the value of places big and small across our country and reminds us of our common humanity.  

“People who live in cities are coming now to enjoy the quiet and freedom of Fogo Island. We have a close proximity to nature. You can feel the ocean. I am sure that lots of little communities across Canada have the same beauty as Fogo Island. Small communities have so much to offer.”  

Hiking Fogo Island’s shoreline. Photo Credit: Amy Rowsell.

A cultural asset: Newfoundlander’s sense of hospitality 

“We live on an island. We know just about everybody here. And when people come to the island you are going to welcome them. Historically, this was a tough place to eke out a living – coming together is important.” 

“Fogo Islanders love a stranger. And when a stranger gets to know us, they love us too.” 

In 2015, Fogo Island Inn was awarded the Community Engagement award by PURE, a leading experiential travel show. In this 2-minute clip Zita Cobb, Shorefast’s Founder & CEO, reminds us why community connection is so important to our understanding of travel.  

Zita’s Story

Zita Cobb was born on Fogo Island in 1958, part of the eighth generation in her family to call the island home. Forced to leave after the collapse of the inshore cod fishery, she and her family ended up in Ontario, Canada where she studied business in Ottawa. Following a subsequent successful career in high-tech, Zita returned to Fogo Island and established Shorefast in 2004 with two of her siblings, Alan and Anthony Cobb.

The story of her early life inspired the National Film Board of Canada’s immersive, interactive film in 2021 called Far Away from Far Away.

You can experience it here or Far Away From Far Away (

Listen to Far Away from Far Away here

Far Away From Far Away marks the next phase in the National Film Board of Canada’s continuing relationship with the people of Fogo Island.

More than 50 years ago, a film crew led by Colin Low headed to the island to shoot a series of short videos
and films as part of a larger project known as Challenge for Change.

Learn More Here

Don’t miss these stories about Zita and Fogo Island

View More

Cauliflower Thinking

Fogo island is a small floret with big stories. Here, we share these stories to present varying views on life, work, and art on this island of the North Atlantic. But first, why a cauliflower?

Why a cauliflower? Shorefast Founder Zita Cobb first encountered a cauliflower after moving away from Fogo Island and it was just about the most exotic food she’d ever seen. Its structure fascinated her and it eventually became a symbol for Shorefast’s community economies theory.

The noble cauliflower is a fractal and its differently-sized florets make up a repeating pattern of beautiful clusters: some big, some small. The stem of the cauliflower directs nutrients to the individual florets. 

At Shorefast, we think about the planet and its individual places as a cauliflower. Communities are the florets, with small places like Fogo Island comprising the little florets, and big places like New York City comprising the larger ones. The stem of the cauliflower is representative of our economic systems, which, when they work as they should, hold us all together and channel nourishment to the florets to keep them thriving. When that stem becomes too self-serving, or prioritizes bigger florets over the little ones, the florets begin to suffer. 

Small places have been disappearing – in other words, small florets have been withering. When we practice business in a way that serves community and place, we ensure that the stem services the whole of the cauliflower. 

The stories told here remind us to think and act holistically and to consider the diverse lifestyles, viewpoints and experiences as making up the whole of our human experience.

Zita Cobb joins thought leaders to discuss paradigm shifts in how we think about capital and the economy 

March 21, 2023

In late February, Zita Cobb, Shorefast’s CEO & Founder, delivered the keynote address at the 2023 Sorenson Impact Summit. 

A platform for transformative change, the Summit encouraged speakers to consider how the impact investing community can supercharge innovative solutions for the world’s most pressing problems. Over the course of 4 days, top changemakers discussed how we can transform our economy to create a more just, equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future for all.  

Zita was able to share her unique point of view, and elaborate on Shorefast’s proof of concept developed on Fogo Island, as a way to prompt people to rethink how our economic systems can be rebuilt to be in service of place. 

“Asset-based community development is essential to every place. Humans often have a very shallow understanding of what economic development is and what our assets are. That has given rise to a world where people make investments, but they are not development. Development is about uplifting the inherent assets of a place.”

-Zita Cobb

Prior to speaking at the Summit, Zita answered questions on why “Place” is our most important economic gift. 

Read the Interview with Zita Cobb

Exploring Seaweed Cultivation on Fogo Island

December 7, 2022

Over the summer, Shorefast held a community and information consultation at the Lion’s Club in the community of Fogo to present on the progress of our Seaweed Pilot. The meeting, one of several held over the course of the Pilot, marked a year of exploration into the commercial viability of seaweed farming on Fogo Island. 

The Pilot, led by Shorefast and in partnership with Fogo Island Cooperative Society Ltd and local fishers, along with the support of our funding partners Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation and the Marine Institute at Memorial University, involves understanding whether seaweed can grow reliably in different areas around Fogo Island with the ability to produce enough harvest to make it practical to pursue as a new market diversification product. Nascent business exploration has indicated that small-scale production of seaweed products would fit well with the high-value and niche market that seaweed draws. If seaweed cultivation is successful, the Pilot has the potential to be a scalable diversification opportunity for many parts of Atlantic Canada.

Shorefast’s environmental stewardship coordinator is featured on CBC’s The Broadcast talking about the potential for seaweed cultivation on Fogo Island

Listen Here

An important part of Shorefast’s work under the banner of Environmental Stewardship is to find new ways to create economic opportunity for our community while relying on the inherent knowledge and geographic assets already in place. Crucially, seaweed is a sustainable, plant-based nutritional food that has economic and environmental benefits: growing seaweed is environmentally regenerative and adds to the health of the marine ecosystem, while also capturing carbon. Most published literature suggests that aquaculture – including seaweed – enhances lobster stocks in the vicinity, a relationship that dovetails well with our community’s strong fishing economy.

At the meeting in August our environmental stewardship coordinator and other community engagement facilitators fielded questions and feedback about the next steps of the project with many community members showing interest in getting involved with the initiative. The group, as well as Shorefast and its partners, is enthused by the notion of Fogo Island becoming a pioneer in seaweed cultivation along the North Atlantic coast.

In the current phase of the project, seaweed test plots have been mapped around the island and we are preparing to deploy test lines that will be regularly monitored. Recent results look promising and if all goes well, we anticipate being able to harvest the seaweed in the summer of 2023; at this point we will have a greater understanding of the opportunity going forward.

As part of our efforts to build a market, Fogo Island Inn’s kitchen has been experimenting with potential food products that could result from a seaweed harvest. Two recent small-batch products, which can be found on display at the Orange Lodge on Fogo Island, include Black Kelp Mustard and Sea Buckthorn Sauce. Tim Charles, Executive Chef of the Fogo Island Inn, says the condiments can be paired with anything, but, of course, he highly recommends them with cod!

In the Punt with PJ Decker

June 7, 2022

An initiative of Shorefast, the Punt Premises is part of the charity’s work to safeguard Fogo Island’s boatbuilding heritage and associated knowledge for renewed and repurposed use in building a modern outport community. The restoration of the Punt Premises was made possible by the generous support of past Inn guests. Read more about the history of the Punt Premises.

PJ Decker grew up on Fogo Island and has worked at Shorefast in various capacities over the years

“Every day is an opportunity to learn something new,” PJ Decker observes as we sit down to our first cup of tea at the kitchen table of the restored Punt Premises. Of the four traditional outport structures that comprise the Premises, the kitchen is the only room with some modern appliances—an appreciated touch when hosting youth and adult programming on site. Outside the sun is obscured by cloud cover and it’s what would be considered a “mauzy” day in Newfoundland parlance. For the past few weeks Decker has been preparing every detail of the Premises from the mounting of cultural artifacts on the wall to re-corking the fleet of punts that will soon bob within the harbour of Joe Batt’s Arm anchored by a technique affectionately referred to as ‘Punts on a collar.’ The 2022 Punt Premises season kicked off on June 1st and PJ is our new Punt Master. (While the role is new, PJ is no stranger to Shorefast; he has worked in various capacities over the years including maintenance and as an outdoor adventure guide.)

“Spudgel, for example,” PJ continues, “is a term I learned just yesterday from my dad.” His dad, Pete Decker, is a former fisher and trusted advisor to Shorefast’s work around the punts; he stops by the Premises regularly. Born in 1949—the year Newfoundland joined Canada—Pete is of the last generation that grew up when many of the traditional fishing tools and boatbuilding techniques of the inshore fishery were still in practice. With memory to draw on, Pete is quick to provide illuminating anecdotes to this former way of life and it is clear that his first-hand knowledge and the contextual history of the fishery has been an integral part of PJ’s own upbringing.

“My dad loved to be in the company of his father and uncles, all of whom were fishers, and to learn everything he could about fish, stories, and the sea. And I’m the same way. For me, the Punt Premises is where I belong. Punts and stages and coves—that’s what I’ve done all my life. Walking, wading, and exploring the shoreline.”

Punts on a collar in Joe Batt’s Arm harbour

PJ’s new role as Punt Master is both an extension of the informal education that weaves its way from generation to generation, and a concerted effort to bridge relevant aspects of Fogo Island’s history into the future.

The spudgel, as it turns out, is a wooden dipper connected to a long handle. It was a tool used to scoop cod liver oil from the barrel it was housed in (the two main by-products of harvested cod at the time were salt-cod and cold liver oil). In each of the structures that comprise the Premises—a traditional fishing stage, two fishing stores, and a saltbox-style house—various curiosities related to outport culture are mounted with labels identifying their purpose.

Walking through each interior reveals the particulars of every-day-life where some of the most impressive tools are simple design hacks: on a rack meant to carry dried cod the handles have been deliberately carved to arc upwards so that your knuckles don’t get crushed when you place the rack on the ground. At every juncture there is a thoughtful and deliberate attempt to make processes smoother, more efficient. It calls to mind a quote attributed to the author John Durham Peters, “Gathered in a single clock, knife, or shoe are many lifetimes of practical knowledge.” Continuing through the Premises serves as a fascinating reminder that beyond all the inventive tools and process to aid life and work, fishers also had to employ numerous intangible skills including the capacity to navigate by landmark, to read ocean currents, to predict the weather and understand the proclivities of fish. Both hand-crafted instruments and experience born of repetition and intuition were essential for surviving and thriving.

Equally fascinating is the fact that none of this would exist were it not for the proliferation of cod and marine life in this distinct region of the Atlantic Ocean (Fogo Island is in the pathway of the Labrador current colloquially known as “the lungs of the planet”). It was the mighty cod alone that begot an entire industry that encouraged people to settle in a place that required incredible perseverance.
Today, whether you continue to make your livelihood on the water or not, the sea is inextricably linked to the experience of living on Fogo Island.

“The sound of my childhood,” PJ notes, “was the constant thudding of my dad corking the seams of his boat.” It’s a happy memory of course—this constant background music, a comforting thrum that belies a childhood near water and the rhythms of methodical, predictable days. Working with the punts at the premises, PJ reflects on the effort it takes to prepare them for the ocean: He’s been patiently filling each punt with water for a few days, allowing the wood to swell and naturally eliminate any open seams. The traditional process of corking a punt boat – creating a seal between the wood planks—could involve any number of tools but most often came down to the caulking iron (viewable at the Premises) and a hemp-like material called oakem that was malleable enough to fit in between the wood and effectively repel water.

“It’s quite likely that the sound my dad would associate with his own childhood would be entirely similar to the constant thudding I associate with mine.” It is hard to imagine this not being true; Pete’s father and uncles would have spent considerable time repairing their wooden punts. The sheer force of the Atlantic Ocean hasn’t altered with time, and boats, no matter if they are wood or fibreglass, will always require maintenance.

A tally board from 1939
Premises stage and shed
PJ near the splitting table in the fishing stage
Apparatus merchants used to weigh salt cod

While the fishing industry continues to be the most important business on the Island (centered around the Fogo Island Co-operative Society Ltd.)—notably as Fogo Island’s first locally-owned asset and the driver behind the Island’s resurgence after industrial trawlers depleted the cod stocks—creating a bright future depends on developing complimentary economic engines alongside that crucial pillar. Shorefast’s work is about enabling that diversity, so that people, especially young people who are often the first to migrate, have the option to stay and build the life they want. “At the time of my graduation in 2001 there was very little you could do on the island unless you were involved in the fishing industry. Now, all my siblings and I have been able to return home to jobs that previously didn’t exist.”

Before Shorefast commissioned boat-builders to craft new Punts, there were very few of the vessels left and knowledge of the traditional way of life—the harvesting techniques, the boats, the various tools and ways in which merchants and fishers would interact—was little known for community members PJ’s age and younger.

“When speaking with my friends I’m often surprised that they don’t know all of these details,” PJ offers as a way to explain the relevance of the Premises to the Fogo Island community today. This information is new to a lot of people and it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate the ingenuity of Fogo Islanders as they eked out a life in a remote location that by all measures resists easy living. Anyone that lives on Fogo Island or spends time on Fogo Island will instantly recognize the immense impact weather plays on daily life; precarity and adaption have been essential tools for survival on the edge of the northeastern Atlantic.

“How we continue to be shaped by that experience even as we evolve to be a modern outport is valuable and worth holding onto.”

The Punt Premises celebrates all facets of life that surrounded the inshore fishery, including the artisan craft traditions that supplied household textiles and cooking practices, much of which can be explored through interactive programming hosted on site. In this way the Premises has never been a static space purely for reflection; it is also a facility for community engagement and the 2022 season marks a dedicated expansion of its programming.

“With few community hubs on the island, we see the Premises as an opportunity to provide the kind of hands-on programming that kids and their parents are hungry for.” The Punt Premises will gear activation events around environmental stewardship and conservation efforts for kids and adults, as well as cultural programming focused on knowledge preservation.

With easy access to the shoreline there is lots of potential for learning, especially for kids. Simply observing the shallow waters below the fishing stage alone is an exercise in seaweed and fish species identification (hint: look for the eel grass). Tying simple and informative training modules into interactive kid-friendly programming will be an important part of Fogo Island’s adaptive future as coastal communities continue to face the brunt of the climate crisis. Building a modern outport community depends on nurturing leadership and knowledge that is based on the specificity of this place.

PJ attributes a large part of this understanding to the exchange between visitors from away and those who live on Fogo Island. Fogo Island Inn’s emphasis on regenerative tourism means that decisions about how the hospitality sector grows on Fogo Island are rooted in sustainable approaches to the environment and set to a scale that allows people to engage meaningfully with one another. “To see how many people are interested in what we have to offer is a big shift in the way we think of our past, especially as we imagine the future we want to create.”

Thinking back to his own childhood in the 80s, PJ recalls what is likely universal for any kid growing up near an ocean that continues to be both temperamental and life-giving: “When our fathers would return to the harbour after a day at sea, all us kids would run over to the rocks and watch in awe as they unloaded their fish onto the stage.”

The prolific marine life that encouraged people to settle on Fogo Island and develop an inshore fishery that sustained generations is an integral part of what informs culture to this day, and crucially will inform approaches to ocean sustainability well into the future. The continuum of an outport life that is modern, adaptable, and diverse relies on it.

“For things to remain the same, things will have to change,” the adage dictates. 

PJ’s work at the Punt Premises embodies this notion. What we carry with us is important.

PJ and his son investigating the shoreline

Punt Premises hours and activation events can be found on Shorefast’s Facebook page or Instagram @shorefastfogoisland