A capstan is a large wooden winch, built close to the ocean's edge and used to pull boats or fishing gear ashore. A large capstan at Capstan Island served to haul nets set in the near-shore water to capture harp seals. Seals were numerous at times during their annual migration.
The commercial fishing of seals in the region began in the early 1700s. French trader and fishermen Pierre Constantine controlled the region, the Seigneurie du Grand St Modet. Amongst his endeavours he established trading posts that opened a commercial market for seal skins and seal oil. This industry continued in later times, under English control of the coast.
Falling markets led to the end of the seal fishery. Today, Capstan Island maintains its connection to sea via its small boat harbour and community stage. A central town hall provides space for community gatherings. Some residents are employed in the fishery while others work in neighbouring towns.