Fish on Fridays, always available in Cuba St

We had fish for diner  last night which I bought at our local fish shop in Cuba St. This Catholic tradition  has been upheld by many European immigrant family’s.

Fishmongers have always had a presence in Cuba Street, this fish market  was on the waterfront  end of the street in the late 1800’s.

Fish market  late 1800's

Fish market late 1800’s

In 1891 one of the first Greek immigrants to the city, Peter Garbes, arrived from the island of Corfu and  opened a fish shop and Oyster saloon on the Oaks site at 63 Cuba St. Gallete Haralambos bought this shop in 1895 and sold  fresh fish caught around the Wellington region.  Crayfish, muttonbirds and rabbits were also sold intact with fur, feathers or carapace still attached.

Gallete used some truly memorable marketing techniques to promote his business.   Blocks of ice  were introduced to preserve food in the early 1900’s. Gallete used them in his window display attracting curious passer-by’s who had never seen ice used like this before.

Large whole fish were strung up in the shop window including a large, 20 foot shark with its huge, teeth encrusted jaw held wide open. One of his most popular attractions, especially for housewives with curious children in tow, was his tame penguin which he convinced to stay in the shops doorway by giving it regular feeds of spotties.

1940's . Huge bass caught in Cook strait

1940’s . Huge bass caught in Cook strait

In the 1930’s fishermen of Italian, Greek and Shetland Island origin,  most of whom lived and fished near Island Bay,  formed a co-operative . Their market was located around the corner in Dixon Street. This cooperative allowed the fishermen to wholesale and distribute their catches, mostly groper, bass, blue cod and lots of crayfish, to local restaurateurs and shops and to get a fair market price.

Tony Basile owner of Wellington Trawling and Sea Market

Tony Basile owner of Wellington Trawling and Sea Market

In 1947 the Meo family of Island Bay set up the fish factory in upper Cuba St. they distributed wholesale fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and smoked fish to local and international customers.  Bluff oysters would arrive in sacks and, in later years, would come shucked in 25 dozen tins. The factory had a large smoking area where fish was preserved.

Tony Basile was part of a group that bought this business in 1979 and soon took over the running of the whole opertion. Tony is a second generation Italian whose father Antonio and Uncle Mariano emigrated from Sorrento Italy in the 1920’s and worked as Island Bay fishermen.

Over the last 33 years the Wellington Trawling and Sea market has responded to changes in public taste and habits.  It’s smokehouse closed because its emissions became  unpopular in this built up area. The retail fish shop next to the fish factory in Cuba St  was opened in 2000. The fish prepared and sold by Wellington Trawling and Sea Market is caught by contract fishermen who sell their quota to Tony. Some have been supplying fish to this business for 10 to 20 years. This fish is still landed fresh at Wellington port.


Filed under The People

2 responses to “Fish on Fridays, always available in Cuba St

  1. Kristelle

    Hi Fiona

    I have been meaning to get in touch – my grandmother’s grandparents had a fruit and vege shop at the top of Cuba St from about 1920. The shop was the one next door to the jewellers that is currently on the corner of Karo Dr and Cuba. The family lived above the shop. My Nanna has some photos somewhere of the family in the back yard but sadly none of the street frontage. My Nanna remembers travelling in from the Hutt in the horse and buggy to see her grandma.

    Hope this helps the project grow

    Kristelle x

    Kristelle Plimmer

    105 Wallace St

    Mount Cook

    Wellington 6021

    Ph: 04 385 0909

    Cell: 027 418 3344

    • Kia ora Kristelle thanks for sharing your family story. Sorry I am only just replying as been away from NZ and had to deal with heaps on our return.
      I shall be in touch as I am keen to talk with someone like you as to where I might take this project next.

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