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Herring spawning and catching patterns off the coast of Scotland

Historically, the pattern of the herring fishery around the Britain's coasts could be summarised as follows. In early summer herring were caught off the Scottish West Coast. For the main part of the summer they were plentiful off Shetland and the North East of Scotland. In early autumn they were caught off the Yorkshire Coast and then in East Anglia the latter part of the year. If you want to know more about this pattern, read on!

Where herring spawn and where they were caught

In the early part of the year herring were caught in West and Northwest Scotland (including the Shetland Isles, waters west of the Hebrides and the Minch). Here, herring stocks spawn from February to April so herring caught at this time had already spawned. In the Firth of Forth fish were caught in the lead up to spawning.

Crew of Fife registered boat in Great Yarmouth, c1883

April was a lean month, with fishing increased in May in the Minch and in Lerwick, Peterhead and Fraserburgh. The great summer fishery in the northern North Sea took place between June and August. Here, good quality fish were caught in the lead up to spawning. The main ports were Lerwick, Stronsay, Wick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead and boats from Yarmouth and Lowestoft also joined the Scottish fleet. The largest spawning group, the summer spawners (including the Buchan and Shetland herring) were caught at this time. They winter on the edges of the Norwegian deep, but in spring move westward towards the Scottish coasts, feeding as they go. By April, they are in the central part of the north North Sea where they spawn from July to early September. After spawning they head back towards their winter grounds. Herring fishing on the West Coast also took place at this time and in August the Yorkshire fishery centred on Whitby began.

From September to December, the main fishery in Scotland was over. However, many Scottish fishermen went to join the Yorkshire Coast fishery at Whitby, Scarborough and Grimsby, which was in full swing during September and October. The Banks stocks spawn around Dogger Bank and off Northeast England at this time. During October and November there was fishing in the East Anglian grounds at Yarmouth and Lowestoft. In the mid twentieth century trawlers also began working in the Channel. The Downs stock, which spawn off East Anglia and into the East English Channel in late autumn were caught at this time.

This pattern continued until the middle of the twentieth century. Since then, there have been many changes and overfishing has greatly reduced fish numbers.

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