From the earliest hunter gatherers who settled here in around 7,000 BC, to the modern day, the sea and the fish that live in it have provided a rich resource to the people of Scotland. The country is almost totally surrounded by the sea and has a coastline which provides many sheltered inlets and natural harbours to protect boats and around these fishing towns and villages grew up. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow up past the west coast too mixing with the cold waters of the Atlantic, creating a bonanza of diversity of fish species which able to make our coast their home.
By medieval times
fishing in Scotland was a major industry with herring being
exported to the continent and from this base the industry grew and
grew, becoming specialised and employing thousands as fishermen or
in supporting roles in preparation, transport and retail not to
building. The industry saw hard times too with many fishermen
being transferred into the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and
severe competition from Dutch and Scandinavian fishing fleets.
Despite these setbacks by the 19th century the industry was one of
the largest and most successful throughout Great
The reason for this success was the herring, a fatty fish, which was massively abundant off the coast of Scotland which could be easily cured and transported across Europe (Scottish herring was particularly in demand in Germany and Russia). By the end of the 19th century, thanks to the herring, the Scottish fishing industry was the largest in Europe with thousands of boats and with beaches, harbours and quaysides lined with girls gutting and cleaning the catch. The demand for experienced sailors during the two world wars combined with new fishing methods and more efficient vessels saw the number of boats and men working in the sector decline and by 1945 the industry was a shadow of what it had been.
In modern times the Scottish fishing industry has been increasingly hammered by poor support from Government, European regulations and international legislation. All this combined with falling fish stocks have devastated the industry, with the entire fleet almost gone completely from the south west of Scotland as it consolidates itself around the large north eastern ports such as Aberdeen and Peterhead. In Ayrshire towns such as Irvine and Ayr, once important hubs in the region for the local fishing industry, harbours are empty of working boats and even the once important fish market at Ayr has closed leaving only the one at Troon, where a few boats still hold on by catching prawns and whitefish. A depressing state for an industry which once went unrivalled anywhere in Europe in size of both fleet and catch.