This article is taken word for word from Thomas Hinderwell's "History of Scarborough" printed 200 years ago.
The Fisheries would be a profitable branch of trade at Scarborough, if they were under judicious management, and properly extended.
There is an abundant variety of excellent fish upon the coast, but not sufficient industry and enterprise in the fishermen to avail themselves of such an advantage. Some efforts were made, a few years ago, to increase the Five-Men Boat [note 1] fishery. Several gentlemen of the town ventured shares in the boats; but the want of unanimity and perseverance in the fishermen defeated the attempt.
It is a general complaint with our fishermen, that the Five-Men Boat-fishery is not productive; yet those of Filey and Robin Hood's Bay persevere, and are successful. There was an instance, in the year 1796, of two boats belonging to the latter place, producing to each man nearly fifty pounds, in the space of five months between April and September. One of the Filey boats was still more successful, as the share of each man amounted to nearly sixty pounds for the summer-fishery, beside the benefit of the Yarmouth fishery in the autumn.
Whatever truth there may be in the popular observation, that the fish are not so plentiful upon the coast as formerly, there is indisputably a sufficient quantity to encourage a more considerable degree of enterprise.
The following communication, by the late Mr. John Travis Surgeon to Mr. Pennant in 1769, contains an account of the Fishing-ground, and a summary of the present mode of fishing:
"Scarborough is situated at the bottom of a bay, formed by Whitby rock on the north, and Flamborough-Head on the South. The town is seated directly opposite to the centre of the west end of the Dogger-Bank, which end according to Hammond's Chart of the North Sea) lies South by west and North by east; but by a line drawn from Tynemouth-castle, would lead about North-West and South-East. Though the Dogger-Bank be therefore but twelve leagues from Flamborough-Head, yet it is sixteen and a half from Scarborough, twenty-three from Whitby, and thirty-six from Tynemouth-castle. The north side of the bank stretches East-North-East between thirty and forty leagues, until it nearly join the Long-Bank and Jutt's- Riff.
"It is to be remarked, that the fishermen seldom find any cod, ling, or other mud-fish upon the Dogger-Bank itself, but on the sloping edges and hollows contiguous to it, the top of the bank being covered with a barren shifting-sand, which affords them no subsistence; and the water on it, from it's shallowness, being continually so agitated and broken, as to allow them no time to rest. The flat fish do not suffer the same inconvenience there; for when disturbed by the motion of the sea, they shelter themselves in the sand, and find variety of suitable food. It is true, the Dutch fish upon the Dogger-Bank; but it is also true they take little, except soles, skates, thornbacks, plaise, etc. It is in the hollows between the Dogger and Well-Bank, that the cod is taken which supplies the London market.
"The shore (except at the entrance of Scarborough-Pier, and some few other places) is composed of covered rocks, which abound with lobsters and crabs, and many other kinds of shell-fish [note 2]: Beyond these rocks, there is a space covered with clean sand, extending in different places from one to three or four miles. The bottom from hence all the way to the edge of the Dogger-Bank is a scarr[note 3], in some places very rugged and cavernous; in others smooth, and overgrown with variety of marine plants, corallines; some parts, again, spread with sand and shells; others, for many leagues in length, with soft mud and ooze, furnished by the discharge of the Tees and Humber.
"Upon an attentive review of the whole it may be clearly inferred, that the shore along the coast on the one hand, with the edges of the Dogger-Bank on the other,like the sides of a decoy, give a direction toward, our fishing grounds to the mighty shoals of cod and other fish, which are well known to come annually from the Northern ocean into our seas and, secondly, that the great variety of fishing-grounds near Scarborough, extending upward of sixteen leagues from the shore, afford secure retreats and plenty of food for all the various kinds of fish, and also suitable places where each may deposit their spawn.
"The fishery at Scarborough only employs 105 men, and produces about 5,250l, per annum[note 4], a trifle to what it would produce, were there a Canal thence to Leeds and Manchester; as it is probable, it would then amount to ten times that sum, employ some thousands of men, give a comfortable and cheap subsistence to our manufacturers, keep the markets moderately reasonable, enable our merchants to undersell our rivals, and prevent the hands, as is too often the case, raising insurrections, in every year of scarcity, natural or artificial."
"When the fishermen go out to fish in the Cobles, each person is provided with three lines. Each man's lines are fairly coiled upon a flat oblong piece of wicker-work, the hooks being baited, and placed very regularly in the centre of the coil. Every line is furnished with 280 hooks, at the distance of six feet two inches from each other. The hooks are fastened to the lines upon sneads of twisted horse hair, 27 inches in length.
"When fishing, there are always three men in each coble, and consequently nine of these lines are fastened together and used as one line, extending in length nearly three miles, and furnished with 2,520 hooks. An anchor and a buoy fixed at the first end of the line, and the same at the end of each man's lines; in all, four anchors, which are commonly perforated stones, and four buoys made of leather or cork. The line is always stretched across the current. The tides of flood and ebb continue an equal time upon our coast, and when undisturbed by winds, run each way about six hours. They are so rapid, that the fishermen can only shoot and haul their lines at the turn of the tide; therefore the lines always remain upon the ground about six hours. As the same rapidity of tide prevents their using hand-lines, two of the people commonly wrap themselves in the sail and sleep, while 'the other keeps a vigilant watch for fear of being run down by ships, and to observe the weather; for storms often rise so suddenly, that it is with extreme difficulty they escape to the shore, often leaving their nets behind.
"The Five-Men Boats take two Cobles on board, and when they come upon the fishing ground, anchor the boat, throw out the cobles, and fish in the above manner, with this difference only; that here each man is provided with the double quantity of lines; thus hauling one set, and shooting another every turn of tide."
These boats generally take great quantities of cod and ling, which in the months of July and August are salted for exportation. Many of them are under contract with a merchant in London, who agrees for the whole of their Summer's produce. The other boats, not under contract, sell their cod and ling to the fishmongers here, at the average price of twelve shillings and sixpence per score. The holibuts, turbots, skates, etc. are sold by wholesale to the Fish-women, who retail them to the inhabitants, or to the Fish-carriers to be conveyed into the country. The Five-Men Boats, during the winter, do not go to sea; but, at the beginning of Lent, they fit out for the fishery on the edge of the Dogger. In the month of September they go to Yarmouth, where they are employed, until the latter end of November, in the Herring-Fishery.
The Cobles[note 5] do not go so far to sea [note 6] as the large boats, nevertheless they take great quantities of the different kinds of fish; and, between the month of December and the beginning of February, frequently meet with abundance of haddocks [note 7]. On the tenth of December 1766, and about the same time the year following, an immense shoal of haddocks came upon our coast, and continued in roe (that is, in full perfection) until the middle of February. This shoal extended from, the shore about three miles in breadth, and in length from Flamborough-Head, to Tynemouth- Castle, or perhaps much farther northward. The fishermen loaded their cobles with them twice a-day, "within the distance of a mile from the harbour of Scarborough, bringing each time nearly a ton of fish. The number of cobles thus employed brought in such quantities, that the market was quite glutted. The poor people bought the smaller sort at a penny, and sometimes a halfpenny per score, and the quantity was too great to be vended, which obliged the fishermen to lay up their cobles for some time. At the distance of three miles from the shore, they met with nothing but Dog-fish in immense quantities, which had followed the shoal of haddocks. At this period, the distresses of the poor were so great in the internal part of the kingdom, from the scarcity and dearness of provisions, that dangerous insurrections were excited, and many families were perishing for want of food.
The Fish-market at Scarborough is upon the sands, near the harbour. In a plentiful season there is a great variety, viz. cod, ling, holibut, turbot, skate, codlings, haddocks, whitings, herrings, dabs, plaise, soles, gurnards, coal-fish, lobsters, and crabs.
Beside these, the coast is frequented by the following species:the fishing-frog, the sea-wolf, the two kinds of dragonet, the pollack, the doree, and the wrasse or old wife-fish. Of the last, a variety peculiar to this coast is noticed by Mr. Pennant, in his Zoology, under the name of Ballan. The Opah or King-fish, is very rare.
A large and beautiful Opah was found dead upon the sea-shore to the northward of Whitby in the year 1807, and exhibited as a curiosity at Scarborough and in the vicinity. Another was also taken at the entrance of Bridlington-harbour, 5th September 1809. The length three feet two inches, the circumference three feet nine inches, and the weight fifty-six pounds.
A Sword-fish was, likewise, caught at Filey in September 1808; the length eleven feet, and the weight upward of twenty-three stone. The fishermen had a strong contest with this fish, and it pierced the bottom of the boat with it's beak, before it was killed.
1. The Five-Men Boats (the larger kind of fishing-boats) are forty-six feet long, sixteen feet eight inches broad, six feet three inches deep, clincher built, and sharp in the bottom, have one deck with a large hatchway in the middle, measure about fifty-eight-tons, and are swift sailers.
2. There are no cockles or oysters.
3. The scarr or rock, which the fishermen call the Stream, where the fish abundantly resort, is three or four miles from Scarborough, but not above one or two from Robin Hood's Bay and Filey. The rock fish are firmer than those caught upon a sandy bottom.
4. The number of fishermen has so much decreased, as, not to amount at present to sixty, and the product is proportionally diminished.
5. The Coble Is twenty-six feet long and five broad, the floor is wide, and the bottom nearly flat, with a stem remarkably sharp. The burthen is about one ton, and it carries three men, who row with each a pair of short oars: a mast is occasionally 'stepped,' with a lug-sail.
6. In the summer they go to the inner edge of the scarr, to the distance of three or four miles.
7. The migration of haddocks is frequent, and the return at this season of late years not so regular.