A visit to the Anstruther Fisheries Museum

The academic year isn’t even a week old, but the Marine Ecosystem Management Class of ’19 is already out on its first field trip! We might have only met each other just 24 hours before but everyone is getting along great, which is a good job because there’s only 4 of us representing the course!

Our first destination was the National Scottish Fisheries Museum, which is based in the nearby coastal town of Anstruther. This quaint coastal town may seem a strange choice for such a remarkable museum, especially given the much larger port towns dotted across Scotland, but it was once home to a mighty Herring industry.

Despite holding just 6.4% of the UK’s population, Scotland lands well in excess of half of it’s fish. Equally, fishing and it’s associated activities give a major contribution to the countries economy.

The Museum focuses primarily on the story of the Herring whose fishery through the late 19th and early 20th century created a unique travelling community which thrived from the highlands to Berwick. Many of the fishermen and their wives (who provided equal economic impetus) came from the Hebridean Islands following the Herring in their southward migration with the seasons.

Our day began with a Scottish summer cocktail of golden sunshine and biting winds, causing a great “to coat or not to coat” debate at the front door. Upon arrival to our meeting point we were greeted by course leader Dr Lars Boehme and students from our sister course: Marine Mammal Science. The coach journey was short on time but not in chatter.

The wind was no less chilling at our destination but we were ushered quickly into the comfortable surroundings of the museum’s education centre where we were given an introduction to the exhibits by the museum staff, who made us feel very welcome.


Rosie, Lars, Rachael, Jay and Charlie in front of the Fisheries Museum.

With the introduction given we wandered the museum for over an hour enjoying the exhibits, I thought it would be fun for everyone to give their favourite piece (plus it’s a lot easier than me describing the entire museum).

“The way that you could see how the boats evolved over time and you could see this not just in pictures and models but in fullscale boats” (Charlie Jones)

“The best bit was definitely the dressing up!!” (Rachael Hall)

“I enjoyed the thin piece of metal wire which fishermen would lower into the sea , which would reverberate if fish bumped into it. Kind of like a manual echosounder” (Jay Kirham)

Just because Museums are full of vast amounts of information, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun as well and this was exactly that.

Students enjoying the exhibition. (Photo by Lars Boehme)

The most important lessons to be learned from the museum is not just the changing hull designs (which went totally over my head anyway); nor is it the ways in which these hardy and skilled workers cut the cloth through tough times and tougher conditions. The greatest lesson here, and one which we hope to all be a part of is that we must draw together and use the power of science and communication to prevent the decimation of fish stocks ever happening as they did at the turn of the 19th century. Over 30 years’ from 1880 the production of herring rocketed from 50,000 a year to 1,000,000, this doubled again in the next decade. The question posed by the ever-theological Charlie rings true “Where did they think the fish was coming from?”. The idea that the sea is an endless bounty is an antiquated one and this mentality is exactly what we want to challenge, and we all hope (with assurances from Lars that it will) help us to tackle these issues and preserve the living museum that is our oceans.

We can’t wait to get our hands dirty and our feet wet with our first boat practical at the end of the month, but we certainly did enjoy our first time out of the class together.

written by Jay Kirkham