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Great Yarmouth's Herring Curing Industry

Introduction

For hundreds of years, Yarmouth was an important port that played host to a great fishing industry. East Anglian herring fishing can be traced back to the Domesday book, when various herring rents were noted. The process of landing the fish, curing and then packing them created great prosperity for the town – and many jobs for people.

The industry has fluctuated over time, and now we find it has all but gone. This online exhibition tells the story of the curing industry and how is affected Yarmouth.

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Great Yarmouth's Herring Curing Industry

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Decline

Several factors contributed to the decline in the herring curing industry.

At the outbreak of the First World War, fishing vessels were called into service as minesweepers and other defence duties.

Catches were getting progressively smaller in the interim war years, and only a few new boats were built after the First World War. Some of the sailing drifters converted to power, while others were sold to Norwegians. Post WW2 (boats were again called up during the Second World War) the shoals had not recovered. Over fishing had played its part in this, as the more effective steam drifters had been able to pull in larger hauls more frequently, and were not dependant on the weather to obtain a good catch.

Tastes were changing, too. The newly arrived Birds Eye Company, with its factory in Yarmouth, developed the Fish Finger in 1955 and found popularity with an audience of people who liked the white fish in crumb. Herring were losing their popularity with the English.

By 1965 no pickle curing was taking place at all in East Anglia.

In 1913 there had been 264 English boats and 742 Scottish boats, with a catch of 824,000 crans. The sheer numbers of fish caught were so large that it was not unknown for ships to have to cut their nets free as the weight of the herring was threatening the stability of the boat.

In 1970 there were 0 English boats and 5 Scottish boats, with a catch of just 60 crans.

Some herring curing firms still exist, their distinctive smoke houses can be seen on the South Denes. However, the herrings hey day is long past, and these companies now rely on exporting the fish as far afield as Canada.

 

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