Net profit for herring fishermen
Minehead fishermen Michael Martin and Paul Date were this weekend reliving an ancient tradition that used to see the Somerset harbour town exporting more than 4,000 barrels of herring a year to the Mediterranean.
The pair were not exactly improving the nation's balance of payments by earning foreign Euros – in fact, they were finding it difficult to sell their ludicrously cheap haul – but they had just landed a large quantity of the delicious fish which for a long time almost disappeared in the Bristol Channel.
"This is a really good year," said Mr Date, speaking about his small fishing boat after returning to harbour with what looked like an entire shoal of the silver darlings, as the fish used to be known.
"The herring are normally finished by now," he added. "You can get them right up up until Christmas time – but that's no good to us because everyone is too interested in eating turkeys."
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This weekend Mr Date and Mr Martin were selling the fish for the princely sum of 50 pence each – an out-and-out bargain because they were full of delicious roe.
A century ago local families would buy 100 herrings for six old pence (2.5pence) to salt down for the winter. But catches gradually declined and during the 1970s the herring all but disappeared, with the blame laid on over-fishing in the Atlantic and North Sea.
But the port was once famous for its herring – a diarist called Collinson, writing in 1791, noted that a few decades before he visited town some 4,000 barrels of herring were e shipped annually to the Mediterranean.
"But all this is now nearly at an end," said Collinson. "The trade is lost – the herrings have left the coast – and there are only five or six vessels belonging to the port."
Now the herring are back and a few people are travelling to Minehead specially for the delicacy, such as the chefs of The Swan located 20 miles away in Bampton, who told the WMN: "Lucky people like us get them and do our own soused herrings which we serve with our own dill pollen focaccia."