Recently I read Cod, by Mark Kurlansky, a poorly written yet amazingly informative book on the history of cod fishing.

Among other fascinating things in that book, the Basques are mentioned as pioneers in cod fishing (and drying) in the Atlantic.

John Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland is also mentioned, for this purpose:

It appears (according to the author) that John Cabot, an Italian navigator and explorer sponsored by Henry VII of England, left an account of what he found containing a detailed description of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in which he mentioned the appearance of the flora, fauna, weather conditions, as well as about 1000 Basque ships.

The author of the book theorizes that the Basques landed in North America long before Columbus' first voyage but kept the information secret in order to maintain their near-monopoly on the cod market in Europe.

Does this claim have any validity?

1 Answer 1


Yes, it is well known here in New England where I live that Portuguese and Basque fishermen fished seasonally in the Gulf of Maine, a large cod fishery, long before Columbus went to the Caribbean. In fact, Columbus is believed to have consulted with these men and the Portuguese navigators he hired to pilot his ships were experienced with the North Atlantic fishing routes. Note that Columbus did not want to go to the North Atlantic, but directly west, which was a new idea.

In New England there is a long estuarial spit called "Plum Island". This is where the cod fisherman used to dry their catch. They would fish for the season, dry the catch, then return home. Even today in Massachusetts and Maine there are old Portuguese families that descend from these fishermen and some are still cod fisherman today.

  • Fantastic! Do you know some good book on this subject, very much please?
    – Gangnus
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 22:21
  • May I point at the film/documentary together - elkarrekin, which talks about the search for basque fishermen trails in North America. They even talk about the possibility of basques building small settlements and mixing with native population. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 10:38
  • Out of interest, do you know if Columbes thought to ask the question "If the Basques have made it to the Indies on the western route, how come those powerful states which exist there haven't troubled them?". It's really a separate question, but slightly related...
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 6:29

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