To celebrate the Year of Homecoming and the Commonwealth Games the Scottish Fisheries Museum explores the links between Scotland’s fishing communities and the rest of the world.
Scottish fishing communities traditionally have a reputation for being close-knit, separate, or even insular. Their inland neighbours regarded fisherfolk almost as “a race apart”, inhabiting the same region but a very different people. However, this is to ignore the role of the sea in acting as a means of communication as well as a barrier.
Widespread links were established between seafarers from all nations. Scottish fishermen and women were well aware of their cousins across the North Sea and were ready to share and borrow customs, techniques and ideas and incorporate them into their own activities. An early example of this cultural and technical exchange is the adoption of Scandinavian boat-building techniques in the areas of the Scottish Islands and coastline colonised by the Vikings.
Many of the terms used to describe features of vessels and equipment to this day derive from Norse. Likewise, many reminders of the Dutch dominance of the North Sea fisheries can be found in the culture and appearance of Scottish fishing villages.
The traffic was not all one way. As the industry developed and Scotland came to lead the world, others came to see and to learn from the Scottish model. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, buyers from Europe and further afield competed for Scottish herring. Scots were invited around the world to share their expertise in fish catching and curing. Even in the later 20th century, Scotland was central in supporting fishing operations in Africa and local boat-builders made boats for the former British colonies. Fishing became a truly international industry with nations co-operating (and occasionally coming into conflict) over issues such as regulation and stock management.
Curator Linda Fitzpatrick said: “In the exhibition we highlight some of the individuals whose personal stories contributed to the international aspects of the industry. One character is William Innes, born in Anstruther in 1831, who emigrated to New Zealand and founded Innesville in the 1860s, which a renowned centre for fishing and the production of cod liver oil. He went on to serve his new community as Mayor.”
International links were made on commercial, professional and personal levels. This exhibition explores some of the roles that fishing and fishermen have played on a global stage, and highlights some of the ties that bind Scottish fishing communities to those on “distant shores”.