more than pilchards

Pilchards were the main catch but these are just a few of the many different fish caught off the Cornish coast.

Mackerel, herring and a variety of shellfish also contributed to the economy of St. Ives.

The types of fish caught through the year were split into distinct seasons.

The mackerel drift fishing normally began in February when the large luggers were brought over from Lelant where they were moored up during the winter months. Many headed for the deeper waters of the English Channel and some concentrated their efforts around the seas off the Isles of Scilly. Crews were often at sea for several days, taking with them provisions for the stay away from home. Catches were sent back to St. Ives in a nominated vessel while the others remained at sea continuing to catch fish. Mackerel catches normally continued until the middle of the summer.

Many of these vessels then headed headed towards the North Sea to concentrate on herring. It was a mammoth journey which took fishermen up the Irish Sea, around Scotland and down the east coast of England, basing themselves at ports such as Lowestoft, Whitby and Yarmouth. They then headed south and into the English Channel.

During the summer crabs, lobsters and crayfish were often in bountiful supply.

There was hardly a gap between the fishing seasons since the late summer and Autumn was set aside for pilchards. Catches were largely off St. Ives but there were often rich pickings to be had off the coast of Newlyn and Mousehole.

From October to Christmas fishermen were engaged in herring fishing. For many this meant one of the most treacherous times of the year as the herring were often only to be found in dangerous locations. There was also the added danger posed by the winter gales.

The success or failure of catches during the fishing year meant either make or break for the St. Ives economy. The extent of poverty during some years of the 20th Century was alarming with many fishermen left struggling to feed their families. After the First World War the pilchard season had all but vanished. The reason for the lack of fish remains a matter of conjecture even to this day and many local people have their own theories why this type of fishing came to and end.