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Ink fish swarm decimates herring catch off the coast of Great Yarmouth

PUBLISHED: 11:15 30 December 2017

1930 cup winner Skipper J W Condon (Ocean Vim).

1930 cup winner Skipper J W Condon (Ocean Vim).

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Ugh! The squeamish will feel sick just thinking about it.

1930 runner-up Skipper B Haylett (Ocean Treasure). 1930 runner-up Skipper B Haylett (Ocean Treasure).

Our long-gone driftermen would certainly have been deeply troubled by an unexpected threat to their livelihood which could have consigned that delicious taste of fried fresh herring prematurely to history, several decades before the actual and unforeseen demise of that entire fishery.

The villain of the piece was the ink fish, a tentacled predatory mollusc, a thoroughly nasty piece of work new to me.

Recently I wrote about four fishing boats with the same Great Yarmouth port registration (YH370) last century, one succeeding the other when the number became available again for one reason or another. One was Bloomfield’s D’Arcy Cooper, named after the chairman of parent company Lever Brothers and sunk on war service in 1941.

I chanced upon a programme for Bloomfield’s third annual dinner and presentations of the D’Arcy Cooper challenge cups at Hill’s Restaurant (later Matthes) in King Street, Yarmouth, in December 1930. Company chairman Neil Mackay, reporting that the 1930 season had not been as good as previous years, explained immature herring caught off Scotland fetched very small prices, and there was a 300,000 barrel shortage.

1930 cup winner Skipper L George (Ocean Retriever II). 1930 cup winner Skipper L George (Ocean Retriever II).

Fishermen and scientists could not explain the short-fall, he said, but continued: “One thing was certain. The sea from the north of Shetland to Aberdeen was full of ink fish. As soon as the ink fish came on the scene, the herring disappeared. They hit herrings very badly.

“Someone sent me an ink fish which was caught off Yarmouth and, having examined it, I can quite understand why the herrings disappeared when the ink fish came up because it had a really poisonous smell!”

Caught off here, eh! Sounds ominous. Paddlers beware!

My late father was a drifter mate and skipper, often sailing with Bloomfield’s. Because our family (who ate many a fresh herring he brought home), Bloomfield’s and the herring fishery all survived, presumably the ink fish threat was somehow averted or eradicated because the industry continued hereabouts into post-war decades when it petered out.

The Ocean Lifebuoy heads back into the harbour, deep in the water because of a big catch in 1954. The Ocean Lifebuoy heads back into the harbour, deep in the water because of a big catch in 1954.

Presentations were made to Skipper J W Condon (Ocean Vim) who won the cup for total catches by steel-built vessels for the third year running, and to Skipper L George (Ocean Retriever II) for wooden drifters, ahead of Skipper B Haylett (Ocean Treasure).

Mr Mackay expressed admiration for Skipper Condon’s “great feat”, for his 1930 achievement involved coming from fourth place finally to overtake his nearest rival, skippered by Billy Nunn.

He told the gathering that Bloomfield’s gave its skippers complete control of their vessels for the season but stressed that although the company ensured that their vessels were in sound condition and were supplied with nets, “it is for the skippers to find the herrings!”

A 1930 highlight was the October visit to Yarmouth of the Prince of Wales to open the new Haven Bridge, followed by an inspection of the fishing industry, boarding the drifter East Holme (YH22) and calling at the premises of Bloomfield’s and its associated company, Bremner and Low.

Busy Fishwharf in the 1950s. In the centre, behind the horse, is Bloomfield's Ocean Lifebuoy (YH29), while to her left is Ronnie Balls' Fortitude (YH225). Busy Fishwharf in the 1950s. In the centre, behind the horse, is Bloomfield's Ocean Lifebuoy (YH29), while to her left is Ronnie Balls' Fortitude (YH225).

The Prince came in his capacity as Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets and later reigned briefly in 1936 as King Edward VIII. According to Mr Mackay, he was very interested in everything he saw here and asked many highly technical questions.

“It was unfortunate the skippers were at sea, or busily discharging herrings, when the Prince arrived, or he would have been very pleased to have met them all,” he added.

D’Arcy Cooper told the gathering that in Yarmouth and Aberdeen, Bloomfield’s employed 1500 people. He was anxious to stay in the front of progress, and if it was shown that oil-driven drifters still under examination might prove better than steam counterparts, Bloomfield’s would start building them.

Sometimes the public thought they were charged a high price for fish, he added, but the gross profit from fish was always about two per cent of turnover.

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