Theakston's guide to the Scarborough fisheries 1866

THE FISHERIES.

"To weary toil while others sleep,
The sturdy fisher wends his way,
To reap the harvest of the deep,
He labours on till break of day."

Varieties of Fish - Particulars Respecting Fish-Descriptions of fishing boats

FISH, in Scarborough, is generally abundant, and of the best quality. The following list exhibits a good variety:-Cod, ling, hailbut, turbot, skate, codling, haddock, whiting, mackerel, soles, dabs, plaice, herrings, gurnard, coalfish, lobsters, shrimps and crabs. The prices vary considerably, depending entirely upon the supply, which is greatly affected by the weather.

PARTICULARS RESPECTING FISH

The best time for cod-fish, from a mistaken idea entertained by many, has been supposed to be confined to the winter months; but as a convincing proof to the contrary, many of them are daily sold at this market in June, July, and August, in the highest perfection. Besides, during these months, both on the coasts and on the banks of Newfoundland, immense quantities are taken in very fine condition, and salted for winter consumption. The perfection, or as it is ordinarily termed, "the being in season," of cod-fish, is known by its great thickness towards its head and sholders. In May and June, many of the large-sized fish of this kind, as well as ling, deposit their spawn; but by the end of June, most of them, except ling, are again fit for the table.

Such as fishermen take near the shore, and on sandy banks, are of a loose texture, and poor in condition, in every season of the year. The healthy fine fish are caught on a rocky bottom. This coast, indeed, chiefly consists of rocks, in places intermixed with sands, which shelter the various kinds of shell-fish, as crabs, lobsters, and produce such food as the larger fish delight in. The vast extent of scar, or ledge of rocks, as far as and upon the Dogger Bank, interspersed with sandy spots, affords suitable places in which to deposit the spawn, as well as to feed in. Accordingly, fishermen remark that when they lay their lines in deep water, on a rocky bottom, they constantly take fish: but when, either by chance or through inexperience, upon sand, they seldom succeed in any material degree, and what they do catch is neither large nor good of its kind. They likewise observe that the cod-fish do not migrate hence, but are to be found on this coast throughout the year.

Ling, as well as cod-fish, is, in the months of July and August, bought by the score, for salting. Ling measures not less than twenty-six inches, from the gills to the fork of the tail, and cod twenty inches; ling not unfrequently weighing four stones weight each. A cod-fish was taken near Scarborough, in 1775, which measured five feet eight inches, girth five feet, 'weighing seventy- eight pounds, and was sold for one shilling! The spawn of a cod-fish, taken in the month of December, some years ago, contained about 3,686,860 eggs. A gentleman of this neighbourhood, in the month of April, 1786, obtained the roe or spawn of a ling at Scarborough, which weighed five pounds and a half avoirdupois, each grain of which contained not less than 500 eggs; consequently the whole amounted to the almost incredible number of 19,248,625.

Fishermen inform us, that sea-fish must be six years old, in general, before it is fit to be served up to table. Mackerel, one year old, is not any longcr than one's finger; that of two years, twice as big; at three or four, it becomes that small kind of mackerel which has neither milts nor roes; at between five and six, such as is commonly brought to market, - and flat-fish in like proportion. The turbot, one year old, is no bigger than a crown-piece; at two, as broad as one's hand; but must be five or six years old before it comes to perfection.

DESCRIPTION OF FISHING-BOATS.

There are three sorts of boats used by the fishermen of this port, each differing very materially in size, viz, the five-man boat, the yawl, and the coble; The largest cobles are only used in the herring fishery; a smaller boat being found more convenient for ordinary use. This is managed by three men, each man being provided with three lines, neatly coiled upon an oblong wicker tray or basket constructed for the purpose. The hooks, fastened to strong horse-hair lines, twenty-seven inches in length, and attached to the main line, are baited and placed very regularly in the centre of the coil. Every line is furnished with one hundred and eighty hooks, at six feet six inches from each other. Nine lines are fastened together and used as one, which extends about three miles, and is furnished with about 1,600 hooks. Anchors and buoys are affixed at intervals to the line, which is laid across the current. The tides of flood and ebb continue an equal time on this coast, and when undisturbed by winds, run each way about 6 hours 10 minutes; they are so rapid that the fishermen can only haul and shoot their lines at the turn of the tide.

THE HERRING FISHERY

The following extract, from the Scarborough Gazette on the Herring Fishery, which is extensively carried on in Scarborough in the summer season, presents in concise detail a history and description of that branch of the fisherman's avocation:-

"The fisheries of a country always form a prominent feature in its commerce. Nearly every nation of the earth draws a large amount of sustenance from the boundlese storehouse of the deep; and so important a matter has the organization of the labour of the fishing-trade of the various countries of Europe been, from time to time, considered, that for a very long period it has been the subject of legislation, and frequently of international arrangement.

"The following brief and somewhat imperfect outline of the History of the Herring Fishery, with a descriptive sketch of the business in operation, is given in the hope that at this time, the commencement of the fishery on this part of the coast, our readers may be interested in its perusal.

"From data collected, and published by the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of the Irish Fisheries in the Report which that body laid before Parliament in 1836, we are enabled to give a cursory History of the Herring Fishery from the earliest times. It appears that in Scotland, the herring fishery was extensively pursued so early as the ninth century; a great number of boats and men being employed on the coast. But the exportation of the fish causing the home supply to be insufficient and dear, the Royal Convention of Burghs prohibited the exportation before the resident population was supplied at a certain price. The consequence of this was a speedy decline of the fishery, and the settling of many of the fishermen in Holland; since when the herring fishery has been an important branch of the maritime industry of the Dutch, whose vessels, at this season, may be seen in almost any of our ports. In the reigns of James III, IV, V, VI, of Scotland, several enactments were framed, and three towns built, for the restoration and promotion of the fisheries, but these measures were nearly wholly unsuccessful in their results. A company was formed in 1663, under Charles I, called "An Association of the Three Kingdoms for General Fishery within the hail Seas and Coasts of His Majesty's said Kingdom." This royal company was governed by a standing committee; and for the encouragement of the scheme, the importation of foreign-caught fish was prohibited - a supply was ordered for the navy - and it was enjoined that the season of Lent should be strictly observed; but the adventure fell to the ground in the troublous times which immediately followed. After this, as an encouragement to the fisheries,

Cromwell's parliament remitted the salt, duties, and the duties of the Excise and Customs were also removed from such articles as were necessary in the occupation. In 1677, soon after the restoration, Charles II. appointed a Council of Royal Fishery, in order to the better organization of the trade: in its behalf a collection was made in the churches; and all victuallers and coffee-house keepers were compelled to take a barrel of herrings yearly, at 30s. per barrel!-the object of which was the maintenance of the fishery until an eligible foreign market could be established; -and promises of further measures of encouragement were made, but the association failed in its object. It was renewed in 1690, with a capital of £11,580, but this sum was consumed in the outfit of a few of the smaller kinds of vessels (busses) built in Holland, which were taken by the French in the outbreak of the war. Several subsequent efforts were made in the years 1713, 1726, 1730, and 1749. The last, which was entitled " The Society of the Free British Fishery," was the most famous; but notwithstanding its capital of £500,000, the subscribers to which were guaranteed 3 per cent.,) and the encouragement it offered by way of bounty, which was considerable, it soon proved a complete failure; for it was found that the grants of money, being awarded according to tonnage, were a sufficient inducement for the outfitting of vessels, as they were received by the owners whether the actual takes were large or small; and, considering the bounty as the price paid for the fish, it was computed that in one year, (1759,) the cost of each barrel of herrings was upwards of £150. In the year 1786, "The British Society for extending the Fisheries and improving the Sea-coasts of the Kingdom" was established; and now the tonnage bounty was reduced, and a bounty of 4s. per barrel was given on fish. Several alterations in the bounty were afterwards made; and from 1836, when it was 4s. per barrel, it was reduced at the rate of Is. each following year, till it ceased in 1839, since when the trade has been in a much more prosperous condition than before.

"The herring of our commerce is known to naturalists as the Clupea Harengus; its name, Herring, by which other species of this genus are known, is supposed to be derived from the Teutonic here, herr, a quantity or multitude. The herring is so familiarly known as to need no description of it in this place. Respecting its migratory habits, various opinions have been, and still are, held; and it has been commonly thought that, at the end of the spawning season, the herring retires to the calm depths of the polar seas; its instinct prompting it to visit the shores of a more southern latitude, during that season, only for the depositing of its spawn. This opinion, strongly asserted in Pennant's 'British Zoology," has been popular until lately, and is quoted in so recent a work as Gilbert's' Imperial Dictionary.' But the observations of Mr. Yarrel, and other writers of note, prove that the herring resorts in the winter only to the deeper sea not far from the coasts it visits in the summer. It is a fact, too, that herrings are not found in shoals in the highest latitudes, a few only being taken on the southern coasts of Greenland, which Crantz, in his 'History of Greenland,' suggests to be wanderers: but a smaller species, called Capelins, are so numerous in May and June as to afford to the Greenlanders their most common food. These fish, in a dried state, are sold in the London markets.

"The vessels commonly used in the herring fishery are the 'five-man boat,' or lugger, the 'yawl,' and the 'coble,' The two former are decked boats, except the small yawls of the south, which, like the cobles, are open. The five-man boat is the largest, and carries three masts. This form of construction is not, however, so commonly in use as the yawl, (the second in our enumeration) - a vessel whose advantages have caused it to supersede, in a very great degree, the larger boat. The yawl generally differs in construction from the former, having but two masts, and is sometimes built with both ends nearly alike. This is considered an admirable sea-boat; and the qualities of the yawl in this respect, certainly experienced a severe test during the storm of the 25th September, 1851. Many were the anxious fears of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood for the safety of the poor fisherman in his frail and storm-tossed vessel, and the suspense was painful which had to be endured till tidings were heard, or their dear ones at homes were blessed with the sight, of, the returning husband, the father, the brother, the son. On the Sunday afternoon, a week or more afterwards, one of the last of the missing boats arrived; we remember well, how, when the little vessel rounded the pier, and was safely entering the harbour, the hearts of all who witnessed its arrival seemed to swell with delightful emotion, which would fain have found utterance in a hearty huzza of welcome to the restored; but the bells of the venerated Saint Mary's reminded all, just at the time, of the fitting opportunity presented, to ascribe their gratitude for His mercies to Him who is indeed worthy to receive more than we can render. Providentially no loss of life occurred on this occasion; but the destruction and damage of nets and gear were very considerable,- estimated at about £400.

"Resuming, from this apostrophe of the storm, our sketch of the appliances of the fisherman, the coble is the next to be noticed. The length of the large coble is about 27 feet. She is generally constructed to carry two masts, each having a lug sail. Four men usually form the complement of the coble's crew. This boat is used advantageously when the herrings lie near the shore; for, being an open boat, and much smaller than the other descriptions, the inconvenience and risk of a long voyage are not suited to its capacities. The value of a five-man boat when fully equipped, with the exception of nets, is about £500; of the yawl, upwards of £300; and of the coble, from £50 to £70. The nets employed in the herring fishery are termed drift nets, from their drifting, or being suspended from the surface of the water, so that the fish impetuously running against them, become entangled by the gills in the meshes of the net. From this it will be seen that they differ as much as possible from the trawl net, which in the form of an extended bag, sweeps the bottom of the sea. The herring net is generally about four yards in depth, and twenty-five yards in length, and as many as one hundred of these nets are sometimes carried in one boat. The surface exposed, therefore, when several nets are used, must present a very considerable opposition to the progress of the shoals of fish, across whose track the fishermen spread the snare; and it may be thought that when once in the vicinity of the herring's resort, the capture of any quantity at any time may be surely depended upon; but it is a singular fact to the contrary, that sometimes when one boat is taking and stowing the fish with the greatest dispatch, its neighbour, perhaps not half a mile distant, with equal endeavours, may not take a single fish. According to an Act of Parliament for the regulation of the fishery, the meshes of the net are obliged to be not less than one inch square from knot to knot along the line.

"The discomforts attendant upon a voyage during the night in so small a vessel as any of those employed in the fishery, have not deterred some of our visitors from occasionally accompanying the fishermen; and when the weather has been favourable, and the fishing good, they have been repaid, with the novelty of the scene around them, for their sacrifice of Morpheus to Neptune. The sparkling millions of herrings, on which the vessel seems to stand, give to the sea a lustrous appearance which cannot be described; and the occasional sight of one of those 'monsters of the deep,' the Thresher, and the Bottle-nose, some frequently the size of the boat, threatening danger if too nearly approached - must excite their admiration.

"It will be observed that the boats belonging to other places, frequenting Scarborough during the season, are nearly as many as those belonging to this port; and for some weeks Scarborough is the station for numbers of vessels from Clay, Cromer, Yarmouth, and the southern ports of the kingdom, and even from the Land's End. Towards the latter part of the year, the shoals lie nearer these places, and they in turn have generally been the resort of the fishermen from Whitby, Scarborough, Filey, and the northern ports. The herring trade at Yarmouth was, a few years ago, more considerable than it now is; indeed, it has fallen off to a very large extent; and of late (owing to a well-known though unaccountable preference, occasionally entertained by the herring, for a locality which may be favoured for years,- or may be passed by in dislike the next season,) the fish have remained off this part of the coast so long as to prevent the necessity for our boats removing southward at all.

"The hostility which exists between the herring fishers and the trawlers is much to be regretted. Could not more vigorous measures be taken for the prevention of such depredatory acts as have been committed during the last few seasons, or for the conviction of the offenders? While the herring fishery is confined to nearly one locality (the place frequented at the time by the shoal,) the trawlers have an almost unlimited field for their labours; yet, and notwithstanding the provisions and penalties of the Act 6 and 7 Vic, c. Ixxix, which forbids the use of trawl nets within three miles of the place where the herring fishery is being carried on, the aggressions of the trawlers are very frequent; and in their (prohibited) passage across the herring ground, if they come into contact with a drift or herring net, which is suspended from the surface of the water, and might impede their progress, no scruple is made to cut it in twain and cast it adrift, the loss to the poor herring fisher being sometimes very considerable.

"The statute above referred to, which is the most recent, contains many important and interesting clauses for the guidance and government of those engaged in the fishery. It enacts that all French and English fishing-boats, with their buoys, barrels, floats, and other implements, shall he numbered;-a most useful provision, but one that is often evaded by the trawlers, after the fashion of pirates and smugglers, a piece of canvass being placed over the characters on the side of the vessel, which is an illegal practice by Art. 15 of the above Act. Art. 25 ordains that trawl boats shall maintain a distance of at least three miles from all boats fishing for herrings. Art. 27 declares herring fishing to be open all the year round. It is forbidden to herring drift-net fishing boats to shoot their nets any earlier in the day than half an hour before sunset, except in places where it is customary to carry on the fishing by daylight. And herring fishermen, being within the fishery limits, three miles of either country (England or France), shall comply with the regulations of the said country respecting the prohibition of fishing on Sundays. (Art. 88.)

"The fines for offences committed against the Act range from 8s. to £5, or imprisonment from five to fifteen days: and specifically regarding the measures concerning - The letters, numbers, and names to be placed on the boats, which are to be displayed in the following manner: British trawl boats, red; French ditto, blue; British drift boats, white and red; French ditto, white and blue; and the white of the drift boats' vanes is to be next the mast - The distances to be observed between the boats, the trawlers not to come within three miles of the herring fishers, and the latter to shoot their nets at specified distances from each other - The clearing of entangled nets, which are not to be cut except in extreme cases, or by mutual consent of the owners - The placing of buoys upon nets, and the lights to be shewn, viz, two lights, three feet apart, on one of the masts of each herring fishing vessel. In case of repetition of any offence, the fine or imprisonment may be doubled.

"When the smaller sized herring boats, or cobles, come to Scarborough to sell their fish, they generally lie on the western sands: and the appearance they sometimes present, reminds one of a large gipsy encampment, with the smoke curling up from behind the large outspread sail or net; and as many of them belong to the neighbouring smaller ports, the little boat becomes the home for the time of the sturdy fisherman; its hard planks are his bed, yet here, like to the sailor boy 'upon the high and giddy mast,' his repose comes to him with but little of invitation; and notwithstanding the inconvenience of his house-hold arrangements, and the rudeness of his culinary performances, his fire burns as brightly, his kettle sings as cheerily, and his pan hisses away as merrily, as they would do in yonder hotel; and he is withal as satisfied with his frugal meal, for which the labours of the early morning have given him so true an appetite, as he who, lazily rising at noon, breakfasts from the dainties of a dozen dishes."


Share this article

Request our email newsletter for all our latest news and information
Contact us

01723 369361
scarboroughmaritime@yahoo.com
45 Eastborough, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1NH, England

We are here

Opening times

Monday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
Closed
Tuesday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
Closed
Wednesday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
11am - 4pm
Thursday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
11am - 4pm
Friday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
11am - 4pm
Saturday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
11am - 4pm
Sunday
.......................
........................................................
.......................
11am - 4pm
© SCARBOROUGH MARITIME HERITAGE CENTRE LIMITED
Registered charity No 1144532. Company No 06755717.