Just listening to a very interesting interview with a Cornish fisherman Eddy Lakeman talking about Pilchard fishing in the early 1900’s. It’s not the best recording quality but listen to it here.
The pilchard was in the early 1900s the main income for the Cornish fisherman and provided thousands of jobs with 80 pilchard boats going out from one harbour alone! By the end of the 19th Century Newlyn was handing several thousand tonnes of pilchards a year.
The Cornish pilchard industry’s most productive period was 1871, when 16,000 tons were exported from the quays of the Cornish harbours. “Pilchard Palaces” as they were called could be found in most of the main ports around the coast with women sorting through the fish, salting and crating them ready for export. This popularity lasted until the 1930’s. By the 1950’s people’s tastes had changed and suddenly the poor old pilchard was no longer popular, sat in people’s cupboards under tins of imported salmon and tuna. Fast forward to the early 1990s, a mere six tons were being landed a year in Cornwall.
Here is an interesting article found in the Independent about how the humble Pilchard became the trendy Sardine!
‘Nick Howell, manager of the Pilchard Works factory and museum at Newlyn, the decline of the once-proud fish into obscurity presented a unique challenge: how to make Britons think pilchard again.
“I changed the name and perception,” says Howell. “I was looking for a fresh market for pilchards.” He managed to convince wholesale buyers that Cornwall was abundant in sardines – the only thing was, they happened to be called pilchards.
“When we started to sell grilled pilchards, there wasn’t much response,” Mr Howell said, “but when we started selling them as grilled sardines, sales took off.” Now, fresh Cornish sardines – aka pilchards – are back in force in Britain’s shops. Waitrose began selling them three years ago, but this month Marks & Spencer started to stock fresh pilchards as well.
“There are no quotas for pilchards,” says Mr Howell. “And you don’t find them in Devon or Wales. Cornwall’s it! Also, the fish is wonderful for your heart.”
With the new bulk orders, pilchard fishing is coming back to life. Fishing incomes have risen dramatically. In 1997, pilchards fetched a mere 1.5 pence per kilo, but fishermen can currently expect to get around £1 a kilo. A few years back there were often no pilchard boats working from Cornish ports but now Newlyn and Mevagissey can boast a combined fleet of around a dozen, half of them working regularly.
Andrew Lakeman, whose wholesale company, Ocean Fish, supplies Waitrose with fresh pilchards, says: “My family goes back to the 1700s in Mevagissey. All of them were involved in fish, until about 1962. Then, my father said to me ‘fishing is dead’, and I became an engineer.”
Mr Lakeman returned to the industry in the early 1990s to start Ocean Fish, and pilchards have brought him back to his family roots. “It’s quite difficult, you know! The quality has to be there, and they’re caught at dusk, landed in the middle of the night, and are at the factory at six in the morning. They have to be fresh.”
But when is a pilchard a sardine? “A pilchard is bigger than a sardine,” explained a food industry source last week. “Anything under six inches is a sardine, and anything over six inches is a pilchard – but could also be called a sardine.” Perfectly straightforward then. INDEPENDENT 17th August 2003
Support the Cornish Fisherman by trying some Sardines today. You can either by them from a fishmongers in Cornwall or for those not lucky enough to be in Cornwall Waitrose stock the whole range of fish by The Pilchard Works