Welcome to the Yorkshire Coast Sealife, Fisheries & Maritime Archive

Founded in 1969 as a product of local research into the marine environment of the Yorkshire coast and central North Sea area, the Archive is a reference resource to preserve and establish reference and educational collections of artefacts and bygones, photographs, ephemera and biological material, devoted to the maritime history and marine biodiversity of this rugged and beautiful coastline. Our research is ongoing and the data and collections are added to constantly. The Archive is self-supporting and is not in receipt of grant funding.

This grotesque and mysterious deep-sea angler-fish, caught by a Hull trawler in the North Atlantic in the early 1970's, captivates this little girl who tells mum and grandma all about it at one of our displays at Scarborough Seafest, some years ago

Based in Scarborough and maintained by a small unconstituted group with the long term goal of opening its museum collection to the public, it is the first and only long-term project on this coast to research and collect such material relating to Scarborough's maritime heritage, and that of adjacent harbours and hamlets along the Yorkshire coast, together with the history and biology of the adjacent fishing grounds of the central North Sea, including that famous submarine plateau known as the Dogger Bank, where so many of Yorkshire’s fishermen and mariners have lost their lives in the pursuit of their calling.

So, if you have an affection for Yorkshire’s coastal topography, maritime history, fisherfolk and fisheries, or the rich and varied marine life and natural history to be found along this extensive and varied coastline, we hope you will find something of interest in the related research material, photographic records, and fascinating objects drawn from the material preserved in the Archive, that will slowly appear on our site.


Historical biological records of past workers of Yorkshire's marine life are being extended by ongoing observations and photographic records, and video recording is also increasingly being used to further record recent captures and living sea-creatures, in situ, along the coast. Preserved material in the Archive is varied, extending from study material of otoliths and scales of local fishes, to rare captures from the Scarborough fishing fleet, and the skeletons of local whales and dolphins, including a cast and skeleton of a Sowerby’s Beaked Whale from Filey Bay, the skull of a Humpback Whale from Runswick Bay, and the complete skeleton of a fin whale from Spurn Point. During the period of recording, intense fishing activity and climate change have brought about marked changes to the Yorkshire fauna. Important new recent occurrences on the coast include the southern isopod, Zenobiana prismatica, and the Japweed, Sargassum muticum.

As this site develops we hope to give a review and checklist of the marine life to be found along this extensive and varied coastline, including photographs of all the species that are to be found, and which will also act as an identification guide. Topics will include:-

  • Marine life between the tides, including the rock pools and sandy beaches of the coast
  • Rare and unusual fishes occurring on the coast
  • Yorkshire Nudibranchs (seaslugs) and other molluscs
  • Other marine invertebrates of the inshore and offshore fishing grounds
  • Natural History of the cliffs and coastal fringe
  • Marine life of Filey Brigg and the Spittals, a unique, ecologically rich and important feature of the coast
  • Occurrence and history of the Blue-fin Tuna, or Tunny, in the North Sea
  • Whales and Dolphins of the central North Sea


  • Fishing Grounds of the Coast
  • Fishing Methods, Past and Present, on the Yorkshire Coast
  • Bygone Fishing Craft of the Days of Sail
  • Fishing Hamlets and Fishing Ways of the coast; from the Tees to the Humber
  • Fishing the Herring; a bygone fishery
  • Early Trawling History, the Paddle-Trawlers & early Steam Trawlers
  • The First World War & the North Sea, the U-boat, wrecks, and the legacy to the fisheries
  • North Sea Fisheries, 1918-1960
  • Boom and Bust; the fisheries from 1960-2010


Towns and villages of the coast owe their foundation and establishment to the products of the sea and exploitation by early fishing communities, and which further developed through boat construction and related crafts, and coastal trade by sea. Although a fishing community has probably existed in the lea of the massive headland at Scarborough for three or four thousand years, and a pier was more than likely built here by the Romans, a turbulent period during the dark ages appears to have seen the decline or perhaps total abandonment of the site for a brief period.

By the 10th century, herring were well known and an important catch along the coast, but the town was not at that time in a state to capitalise on the vast shoals of herring and cod on its door-step, and Yarmouth took an early lead as the premier herring port of the country. By the thirteenth century Scarborough had re-established and expanded to become the second most important herring station of the country, and in the next century had become even more important for its collective fisheries when its mariners extended their operations to distant water fishing in Icelandic waters.

Despite this long and important history however, the illustrative topography of the port is little known until the engravings of the 18th century, which invariably are of a panoramic view, with the harbour and waterfront detail being poor and with no indication of the port facilities available, and it is only in the decades following the Napoleonic wars, that a detailed view of the port appears. The Archive preserves many items that portray what the port topography looked like from the early 1800’s, and the changes that were made, before photography arrived, including the harbour commissioners model of the harbour, dating from about 1815/20, showing both the early island piers, the mooring dolphins, and the shipyards. The photographic collection contrasts the busy scenes of the colossal investment and returns of the Victorian and Edwardian Fishing industry and its workers with the other face of Scarborough, when crinolines and parasols were part of the seaside scene.

  • History, growth and development of the Old Town & Harbour
  • Bygone trades, crafts and tools of the harbour workshops
  • The harbour and its waterfront, portrayed in art and old models
  • The Town, harbour and shipping in early photographs
  • Victorians and Edwardians at Scarborough; seaside holidays & the beach

Over the years, numerous temporary educational displays, drawn from the collections, have been put on show to the public, in addition to long-term exhibitions extending nearly twenty-five years, including the Sea-life & Fisheries Museum at Scarborough Lighthouse, open for fifteen years.