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7 February 2011
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Cod fish The abundance of herring, cod and haddock in the North Sea fuelled a great industry which experienced triumph and catastrophe in equal measures.

East Anglian fishing reaches back into the mists of time. Coastal settlements and communities are evidenced as far back as Stone Age man.

From those early beginnings a huge industry was spawned, reaching its economic peak in the first part of the 20th century.

Stone Age man survived on a diet of fish, wild mammals, birds, wild fruits and nuts. Their whole existence was focussed on food gathering.

For communities living on the east coast of Britain, the regular harvest of wild fish made a significant contribution to their 'hunter gathering'.

Hunter Gathererers

Fishing from open boats required strength, knowledge, wisdom and, above all, courage. Going to sea in a small boat was a risk to life and limb.

To the hunter gatherers, coastal fishing was a high risk, high reward food strategy.

As wild food reserves fell, communities adopted settled farming practices.

This change also happened on the east coast, but the fishing communities had access to the wide expanses of Northern waters which teemed with fish.

Farming and fishing communities throughout Britain progressed to the present day, where the fishermen of Britain's East coast remain, the last of the hunter gatherers.

This was their downfall because declining North Sea fish stocks, national protection of the Northern waters (Iceland and Greenland) and EEC intervention has all but closed down the East coast fishing industry.

Fish and Ships

The Fish market
The Fish market

Fish and chips are an integral part of British life, allegedly the national dish, yet few people consider the risks, the human endurance and the human cost in lives over the years to provide such a nourishing and universally popular meal.

After the virtual cessation fishing during World War II fish stocks were plentiful and the UK fishing industry entered a 'golden' period.

Entry to the Common Market in 1973, caused a reduction from 12 to 6 miles in the coastal exclusion zone for foreign trawlers.

At the same time Iceland established a 50 mile exclusion zone to protect it's own stocks and a vicious stand off with Britain led to the “Cod Wars”.

As a result British trawlers were forced to fish even closer to home where they were faced with dwindling stocks and increased competition for them from other EEC members.

There was little or no planning for the future by the UK government, the EU or fishermen themselves.

Fish stocks were treated as limitless and whilst scientists' warnings of diminished stocks were largely ignored their improved fishing techniques were eagerly grasped.

Many stocks have been too heavily exploited or have low quantities of mature fish or both.

The capacity of the EC fleets exceeds that compatible with the sustainable harvest of North Sea fish.

Graph showing the decline in North Sea cod landings
A steady decline in North Sea cod landings

The Super trawler

The Ranger Cadmus was a stern factory trawler, sister ship to the ill-fated Gaul.

The vessel had an overall length of 216ft, breadth 40ft with a loaded draft 16ft. Gross tonnage was 1106.

The main engine was a 16 cylinder, four stroke, diesel developing 2600 BHP. Fuel oil tanks had a capacity of 290 tons, fresh water tanks 38 tons and liver oil tanks 23 tons.

Frozen fillets

The vessel was able to catch, gut, fillet, skin, freeze and pack all the fish caught in addition to producing fish meal and fish liver oil.

There was accommodation for a crew of 50 comprising captain, ship's Officers, factory managers, two cooks and thirty seven seamen.

The catch was discharged from the cod end down a chute to the factory deck.

While awaiting processing, the fish was kept cool by a chilled seawater spray system.

The net is emptied
The net is emptied

After sorting, gutting and washing, fish were mechanically filleted and skinned.

After skinning, the fillets were arranged in 10lb blocks for freezing.

Each horizontal plate freezer could freeze 750 kg of fillets in less than two hours and the plant was designed for a throughput of 20 tons in 24 hours.

Total fish hold capacity was 21,000 cu.ft and the fishmeal hold had a capacity of 7,000 cu.ft.

Hi-tech fishing

The fish finding and navigational aids provided combined to make these super trawlers very efficient and successful.

To enable the most reliable information to be available to the skipper, the fish finding aids included;

Elac Superlodar Sonar

Lodarscope LAZ 44

Arcturus/Fishlupe steady picture -bottom lock fish finder and Elac Netsounder

Sperry Rand Mark 37 Mod C Gyro compass and Auto Pilot

Decca radar

Marconi Fishgraph-K multi stylus recorder

Redifon communications equipment

Life saving arrangements consisted of a class 'C' lifeboat and an inflatable boat.

see also

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