Image via WikipediaIn the seventies so much herring was being caught thanks to new methods of fishing (mainly pair trawling and purse seine netting) with modern instruments in the wheelhouses that showed the skippers where the spots of herring were, how deep they were and gave images of their nets capturing the spot leaving no escape route for the fish.
This was a boom time in all methods of fishing with great prices being paid by foreign buyers coming from Europe and Russia, with Russian factory ships lying off the west coast for weeks salting and curing herring until they were full, then head back to Russia while another would take it's place.
Mackerel too were heavily fished in this way but never reached the same high prices as the herring.
So much fish was being caught that the powers that be decided to close the North sea to herring fishing for five years and the west coast for three.
This meant that even the seine netters like the "Wanderer" (the boat I worked on at the time) would have to dump any of that species if we happened to catch them.
Sometimes it was hard to escape spots of herring when fishing for white fish especially as the herring were not being fished for by the herring fleet, allowing them to multiply rapidly, which was the reason for closing the fishing in the first place, although there was no immediate signs of any scarcity of them.
During the time when the herring came into the Firth of Clyde to spawn all the fishing fleet from prawn trawlers to seine netters like us, could catch anything from ten to fifty boxes a day and were supposed to dump them back into the sea where, once being towed inside our nets for hours had no chance of survival, so instead of throwing them back to feed the seagulls and gannets we would land them on the quiet out of sight of the fishery officers who prowled the harbours during landing times.
One day we hauled our net to find it full of good sized herring, about eighty boxes in all, a good haul at the best of times, but the thought of throwing all that fish away at the cost of around a thousand pounds was too much to even consider so we kept it aboard and I boxes it in the forward part of the hold to try and conceal it.
We steamed away from them for an hour and shot our gear again hoping to catch white fish this time, but once again it came up with a good haul of Herring, so once again I boxed them forward in the hold and hid them behind empty boxes and some full boxes of white fish that had been caught earlier on in the trip.
We had a good catch of white fish aboard before the herring started interfering with our trip so with the hold almost full, albeit mostly with illegal fish we steamed for the harbour to land.
Sure enough the fishery officer was on the prowl, and much to our dismay jumped aboard our boat as soon as we were tied to the quay and asked to see what was in the hold.
Confident enough that the herring were concealed we opened the hatches and as I looked down onto the floor of the hold from the deck, all I could see running down, thick and white the length of the hold was milk (sperm) that was seeping from the male herring, a dead giveaway.
The fishery officer never mentioned it and climbed down the ladder behind me when I entered the hold in preparation to land.
As he looked aft where the bulk of the white fish were stacked, his back to the hidden herring, he remarked on the good catch we had and was pleased that no herring were among them, chatted for a short while then climbed back out again, and went ashore quite happy.
I scratched my head in amazement wondering how he never spotted the milk on the hold floor, or even asked to see the fish in the forward hold, and I still wonder to this day why we were not nabbed.
We landed the herring at night, straight on to a lorry when all was quiet, or supposed to be quiet anyway as ten to twelve boats were all waiting to do the same thing.
The buyers would purchase our fish and send lorries down at night when the fishery officers were off duty, load them up and whisk them away to their factories where they were prepared for their outlets the next day.
The herring were sold at a cheaper price than would have been had they been sold in the markets and bid for, but the rewards were greater for us, as all the money from our contraband was split evenly among the crew, tax free.
"Stoker" we called it, which was managed in some way every week but never in such abundance.
The fishery officers eventually became wise to our game and would patrol the harbour at night, making it more difficult for us, but we always found a way around it by landing at harbours that had no markets but enough room for a lorry to come alongside the quay where we lay and load our catches that way.
In recent years, boats who tried to flaunt the quota laws have been caught and given heavy fines, lucky to walk away with their fishing licences intact, licences that never existed in the seventies but now every boat has to have one, and log every fish that is caught.
All the fun has gone out of the job, and the Klondike days are gone, the fish are getting scarcer, and who knows if it was the illegal fish landed or not, all I know is that I had fun when I was at sea regardless of all the rules.
The adventure is still there, the storms still have to be contended with, and the fish will recover, as the fleet has been cut drastically, I only hope that there will still be a Scottish fleet to enjoy the bonanza when they return, and the European Union has not damaged it enough that only foreign boats are left and allowed to plunder our waters, and clean them up the way they ruined their own.