Herring Fishing in the North Sea
During the 19th century, commercial fishing grew quickly to take advantage of the vast shoals of herring in the North Sea. The introduction of steam power eventually led to overfishing and the disappearance of the herring shoals.
Most fishermen were self-employed. Amongst the many vessel owners were fish merchants who cured their own catches. Other boats were part-owned by small investors and sold their catches by auction. Early sailing drifters carried a crew of 12 who were normally hired for the season and included ‘joskins’, agricultural labourers who signed on after the autumn grain harvest. From 1900 sailing drifters were being replaced by powerful steam drifters that could operate regardless of wind direction. The increase in efficiency eventually caused a catastrophic decline in herring numbers. The size of the fishery had been phenomenal. In 1913 around 800 million herring were landed at
Great Yarmouth alone.
However, by 1962 the drifters had mostly disappeared and fishermen were using trawlers for the more dangerous deep sea fishing around Iceland, Norway and Northern Russia. The fish caught were landed at Lowestoft Fish Dock, packed in ice and sent by rail to the wholesale market in Billingsgate, London.
The story of the Herring Fishery is told at the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth and you can visit the
preserved fishing vessels: the diesel trawler Mincarlo and steam drifter Lydia Eva at Lowestoft.