On Cran, Joulters and Luggers

Over the last few weeks I've looked back on the Herring Driftnet Fishery of Waterford Harbour and this week I wanted to bring the practical side of it to a close with a look at the selling of fish.

That first year of fishing herring, we had a market in Dunmore East.  A family (I think named Kervick) bought the herring from out of the boats on our return, and although I was not aware of it until later, they basically governed if we went to fish or not.  Essentially unless they had a market, it was pointless going to fish.  Each evening, depending on the weather of course, they would let us know what we could catch, and if I remember it right, we divided the catch amongst the boats.
Basically, they set a quota by which the boats could fish.  It they required 200 cran, this was divided between the boats going out to fish.  If some boats had a little over their own share, they might take home some, or pass it on to people on the quay.  At times a “joulter” might arrive, someone who wanted to buy fish and sell it on themselves.  These men tended to be from inland, and next day they would be selling door to door in Tipperarry or Kilkenn

Selling to a joulter was considered to be good business, you might make a few more pound per box, but was totally bad form if you had an unfilled quota, and skippers would be expected to turn them down, in order to fulfil the order from the usual buyer.  I remember one skipper from Cheekpoint, who didn’t seem to mind who he put out, once he got to sell his fish, for a few pound more.  I remember one altercation, where Robert Ferguson and Dick Mason scandalised him to his face, out of concern that the regular buyer would hear of his dealing with the joulter and pull the market from all the boats.  The gentleman wasn’t to be deterred however.

Removing the fish in Dunmore was done by filling fish boxes and then hauling them up out of the boat and stacking them onto the quayside.  once stacked up they were removed by forklift.  The hauling out was all by hand, and depending on the size of catch, and the state of tide, could be a back breaking activity,

I think it was the next season and we had a market from the luggers of Eastern Europe.  Some were Russian, but the more common were boats from Poland, who anchored off Passage East and who bought the herrings from directly out of boats, which tied up alongside.  The luggers were nothing more than fishing boats themselves, and because they were from the "eastern bloc" they carried a large crew.  It was a time when communism was still the political and economic system of the Europe from East Germany to Alaska and herring played a large role in sustaining the proletariat. Unemployment was supposed to be unknown, hence the large crew.

Typical type of Polish lugger accessed from
http://photos.shetland-museum.org.uk/index.php?a=Collections&WINID=1447749686403
Depending on timing or our catch, we would sometimes tie up at the lugger to continue shaking the nets, or in other cases head back to Cheekpoint and once the nets were cleared, come back down to offload.  It usually had a lot to do with what boats got there first, and how long you were likely to wait before you could off load.
Off loading at the luggers was a relatively easy job.  Overhead the derrick would swing out from the lugger and a basket would be lowered into the boat.  Once in, we used shovels to fill the basket, as quick as we could.  Once filled it was hoisted onto the deck of the lugger and then the deckhands worked to salt and barrel the fish.  Each basket was the measure of a cran, and the skipper usually busied himself by counting the baskets, which on deck, or from the wheelhouse, an opposite, kept a tally for the lugger.  For each basket, a herring was put to one side, to be tallied at the end.  Pen and paper was considered a less accurate, if not totally impractical measure!

The filling was a hard, hot and relentless job, but at least once you started to see the deck, you could see yourself making progress.  Coming near the end, you had to get into the nooks and crannies of the boat, ensuring that you made every last one of the herrings count.  Each basket had to be filled right to the top.  When you thought you could get no more, you generally topped it up with another scoop, careful, mind you, to smoothen it off.  On deck you were being carefully watched, and at times there was a cat and mouse game played.  Shouts down, urging more fish per basket, reprimands from the wheelhouse, strange words being bandided about.  You had to be mindful, each basket was more money, but a dissatisfied Pole, might mean hard bargaining at the end.

Hauling a cran of herring ashore.  Accessed from
http://fishingnews.co.uk/2015/09/fishmarkets-of-yesteryear-herring/
As each basket was hoisted, it was carefully guided out of the boat by us crew.  Ever mindful that if it struck the ship it might topple, and with it some of our profit.  Up it went over the gunwale of the ship, and it was only then that we could relax, knowing it was their problem from then. 

It wasn’t often I got to go aboard and take the docket.  It tended to be the skippers job.  My first occasion was when fishing with Robert Ferguson and he asked me to hop aboard to lugger as he had to move the “Boy Alan” away and allow another boat alongside. I'll return to the event closer to Christmas.

Once emptied the return journey was one of cleaning down the decks, washing scales off every conceivable part of the boat and ourselves and more tall tales and banter.  It was never more satisfying than when you had landed a large catch and all the work had been worthwhile,  Of course there were many trips when I'm not sure if we even covered the cost of the diesel oil,  But even then, for me there was always the river to enjoy, the every changing, always alluring river.  The fishing you see, may have been an economic necessity, the work may have been tough, but it was all nothing compared to the sights, sounds, smells and ever changing character of the river and the people who worked it. 

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

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