The British Herring Industry
The Steam Drifter Years 1900-1960
- Christopher Unsworth
15th February 2013
At different times of the year, herring were found in commercial numbers in the North Sea, the Moray Firth, the Minches, the Firth of Clyde, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. Because the herring grounds were close to land, British fishermen were generally able to land their catches of herrings within hours of catching them. Their French rivals, who had to fish further away from their home ports, used larger drifters with a crew of up to thirty men (compared to the British drifter with a crew of ten) and they remained at sea for several weeks. As they hauled and emptied their nets they started the salting and barrelling process on board the vessel. On arrival at their home port, the herrings were repacked and then marketed. The fact that the British herring were caught, gutted, properly salted and packed in barrels within twenty-four hours was the reason that Russian and German buyers preferred them. Christopher Unsworth tells the story of this once huge industry, and the advent and decline of the steam drifter.