I first met John Bil when we worked together at the Stanley Bridge Country Resort in the early 90s. He was also working at Carr’s Lobster Pound, and at that point in his fish career I was already sure he was some kind of fish genius (jedi/guru/master).

John is the reason I love oysters and quahogs today and I imagine a lot of people could say the same thing. I had never enjoyed a raw oyster until meeting John and listened one night as he sang praises to them, showed me how to shuck, and how to eat them. He said that he had placed maps of Malpeque Bay on the ceiling of his bedroom. The maps showed where various oyster leases were. He memorized all that stuff.

So it’s to our gain that he was able to put this book together before he died of cancer in January of last year.
Anyone interested in sustainable seafood, cooking, or ethical dining out should have Ship-to-Shore (also the name of a restaurant he opened in Prince Edward Island in 2008) on their bookshelf. While this isn’t a complete compendium of everything edible under the waves, it is a pretty thorough account of what you might find at your favourite restaurant or the seafood counter at the local supermarket.

The book is infused throughout with John’s philosophy of fish.

John Bil, author //photo courtesy House of Anasai Press

“I’m more than happy to spend twenty minutes teaching someone how to open an oyster just to get them to buy six,” he writes in the introduction. “To me, all the items in the fish case are as normal as a T-bone steak, and my goal is to make our customers feel that way about them, too.”

Ship-to-Shore introduces the reader to everything from whelks to bluefin tuna and tells the life story of each one along with its market availability and stock status.

“I’ve … attempted to convey which species may be in trouble and which are healthy.”

You may not be ready to prepare conch just yet but you may end up feeling more comfortable ordering it at a restaurant after reading the book.

All manner of seafood is touched on in the book, including octopus //photo courtesy House of Anasai Press

“I want to pull back the curtain on the business of fish, to help you understand why fish costs what it does, and to make your life easier and less stressful when you’re staring at the seemingly endless options at the fish counter.”
Ship-to-Shore is also littered with anecdotes and advice on fish and the fish business. So if you are ever tempted to host a clambake, John has advice for you: “a feast for kings and queens. Sounds amazing, right? Wrong. Don’t ever try this.”

And if you’ve ever wanted to “noodle” a catfish or shuck a scallop John will tell you how.

John passed on his love of the sea to everyone he met. He’s gone now, so Ship-to-Shore and his restaurant, Honest Weight in Toronto, have to do the heavy lifting.

This book is proof that your love, your passion can survive even death.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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