The Fishery Board
Since historians have, till now, not paid sufficient attention to the herring trade with the Continent, it has been necessary to rely on primary sources. Unfortunately there are no records from Scottish fishcurers in the business archives, and while it would be interesting to do so, it would be a significant task to search continental archives, especially as many of the German trading ports – Stettin, Danzig, Memel and Königsberg were badly damaged during the Second World War and have ceased to be German cities. Fortunately,there are two useful sources of information which have helped to overcome some of these difficulties. The first and most important source of information is the British state, both at the parliamentary level, and through its agent, the Fishery Board. The Fishery Board’s title changed at various times during the 19th Century, but although some of its responsibilities changed an increasing level of professionalism can be observed with the passage of time. It also maintained a high level of continuity until 1914, despite determined efforts by some fishcurers to reduce its influence.
Newspapers provide the other main source of information. Shipping movements give some measure of the trade, and letters to newspaper editors by fishcurers give us an insight into their concerns. While newspapers were the only means of mass-communication, it should not be assumed that they were as readily available as they are in the 20th Century. In 1856 the John O’Groat Journal, which was one of the two regional newspapers serving Wick in the 19th Century had an average weekly circulation of 1134 1 . Its present-day circulation is 6775 2 . Despite having a lower circulation in the past, it arguably had a greater influence as it served an isolated community, and in the present context it is certainly significant that it reported very regularly and in detail on the continental herring trade. For the town of Wick, and the other Scottish fishing ports, these markets were more important and became more ‘local’ than the fish markets in England as they provided a basis for the establishment of a pan-European trade in herring. A newspaper article written in 1889 about the trade in Königsberg gives a useful insight: “It must not be supposed that these herring are consumed in the town or even in the neighbourhood. A great proportion is sent on at once to the interior of Russia, and the Scotch curer is, as a rule, as ignorant of his customers as they are of the Scottish Highlands.” 3