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The Herring Run

Peter Williams, an artist and historian from Amlwch, remembers his family taking part in the local Herring Run in the middle of the last century.

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Men working on the boat

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The family boat off Amlwch

The herring run

Peter Williams, an artist and historian from Amlwch, remembers his family taking part in the local Herring Run in the middle of the last century.

“We’re based here at the moment in Amlwch port. Outside the sail loft, which was originally built to make the sails for the ships that were built here. We were talking about the old herring fleet that was around here. Bull bay was very prominent, they had a herring fleet. Moelfre; they still call them Moelfre herrings there.

They had a small amount of fishermen around here (Amlwch). My father was one of them and my grandfather and a load of his friends and of course being fish, they shoal and they travel around and the herring use to come around this area around November. What they would do, just outside where we’re located here, there was a rock, a sunken rock, “Garrag Buoy”, they called it. They called it that cos they used to put a buoy on it and from that buoy they would string the herring nets out, right out in to the bay. And of course they’d leave them for a few hours and the next thing, the nets would be absolutely full of herring, cos they were shoaling up the coast here. There would be instances where there were so much fish, so much herring in the nets that the boats (you have to remember they were only 14-16 foot boats, they weren’t big) and they would fill them up to the gunnels and you had to watch literally where you stepped, because you could have capsized the boat because of the weight of the fish. Great big mountains of herring and they’d be jumping around, you know. It must have been fascinating times and of course they didn’t make a lot of money out of them, but I remember my grandmother saying that they used to get a halfpenny per herring, so it probably would have, if you’d got thousands of herrings, then it probably would have been good money.

All the locals were involved, the fishermen and the wives. The wives would, after they’d got, they would gut them, clean then and then they would cask them. And they’d have these great big blocks of salt, a knife, they would just chop the salt and scatter. Then you’d put a layer in a cask and then some more salt (cos salt is a preservative), and they would build up until the cask would be full and they would put a lid on it then and seal it so that no juices would run out, you know, and they would take them then to the local station where the train would eventually take them to places like London and they would be served up as bloaters ……………………………..

You have to remember every fish is seasonal like the mackerel, they’re here around July or August normally. The herring would be around November in the old days, but they would only be around for maybe three weeks, they’d be gone up the coast then. Your first signs would be, well the water would be, at least there’d be a lot of splashing round because they’d be after the whitebait, you know, that’s what they’d be eating and of course that was the sure sign to get the nets ready to string out…………………………….

Moelfre they had quite a big herring fleet there and also Bull bay. My grandfather he had three brothers and they were all fisherman and they all had nets. They used to string out in bull bay and they also caught the herring and did the same thing. The wives would be involved, which, it was dirty, you know, it wasn’t very nice work, because the trouble with herring, like mackerel, there’s a lot of scales come off and they’d probably have been covered in herring scales and probably quite a smelly job as well, but they had to be good with the knives, you know, to gut them and clean them.”

 

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