In early times
From earliest times fish were an important part of the Highlander's diet. The remains of fish traps (caraidh) can still be seen around our shores. Some towns like Inverness developed a trade in fish early on. Salmon were taken in large numbers from the Ness, put in barrels and exported.
On the West Coast fishing provided cod and herring for local people. Ships would come from Holland to fish for herring. After 1599 attempts were made to improve the herring fisheries and Stornoway was built as a port.
19th century changes
The British Fisheries Society was set up in the late 18th century to help the industry. More sea-worthy types of boats were built, e.g. the Fifie and the Zulu. Improvements were made to nets, tackle and fishing techniques. Tobermory and Ullapool were established as model fishing ports.
The relocation of whole communities to the West Coast, because of the Clearances, turned many crofters to the sea for a living. Along the East Coast new harbours were built such as Portknockie, Nairn and Helmsdale. Fishertowns became very close-knit communities with whole families involved in the industry. Younger women followed the boats and herring around the coast to work on the gutting and curing, while older women travelled inland to sell their fish.
Fish on the menu
For those on the coast fresh fish was always available; but for those inland most fish had to be salted, dried or smoked. Salt herring and potatoes became the staple diet for many crofters. Dried salt cod was exported south to England. Other fish, like salmon and trout were also used.
Fishing in crisis
Today, the fishing industry is in crisis. Larger boats, more efficient fishing techniques and the opening of waters to foreign vessels have led to over-fishing. Many fishing communities feel under threat. Even fish-farming is struggling to cope against cheaper imports of Norwegian salmon. Yet seafood has seldom been more popular with scallops, prawns, sea bass, langoustines and smoked salmon on the menu.
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