The Yorkshire Marine Fish Survey 1967-[2010]

D. E. Whittaker

(edited version of full MS)

Introduction – Early days of the Survey

The small-boat and trawl fishermen of Scarborough have for some decades been playing an important part in the investigation of the marine life found off the Yorkshire coast.

In 1967, following a preliminary meeting with a local leading fisherman, the late Ben Colling, the author met all skippers and crews operating from the port, and asked them to bring back, on a daily basis, anything out of the cod-end ‘rubbish’ – from sea-cucumbers to crabs, shells, old timber, whale bones and skulls, that could be of interest, and in particular, any fishes that they perhaps knew, but only saw occasionally or which were distinctly uncommon or unknown to them. Most, but not all, skippers became involved, but the survey relied on personal contact, and each evening the fleet was met on arrival and discharge of the catch, with the result that there was an immediate flow of specimens from the inshore and off-shore grounds being brought ashore and collected for measuring, dissection and recording. Additional monitoring of the fish market ensured very little of interest was missed.

Head of the oarfish, Regalecus glesne, stranded on the beach at Sandsend near Whitby in 1981.

Head of the oarfish, Regalecus glesne, stranded on the beach at Sandsend near Whitby in 1981.

The recording programme was further enhanced by the examination of fish stomach contents, by shore collections and an examination of any unusual fishes reported washed up on the shore by contacts or members of the public. One particular fish was only likely to be found by this means; the oarfish Regalecus glesne has,  historically,  an especial association with the stretch of coast from the  Firth of Forth to Flamborough Head, and because scant biological knowledge has been extracted from those British fish that have occurred during the last two hundred and fifty years, every effort has been made to act quickly when learning of Regalecus findings on the shore and to endeavour to secure for examination the few specimens that have occurred during the survey period.

Although not realised at the time, the survey began at an opportune moment, as the Yorkshire fleets were at this time being slowly restructured and, although perhaps no one in the industry or in the fisheries laboratories at the time were aware of it, were on the verge of massive growth and investment, driven by the increasing quantities of cod coming onto the grounds and the corresponding financial returns of the fishery. Inshore trawling using keelboats had begun a few years earlier at Scarborough and elsewhere, using the new lightweight and more efficient polypropylene nets and plastic floats, although the old-fashioned metal bobbins were still to be used on the foot-rope for a few years more. Basket-lining from the keel-boats had only just been totally displaced by trawling gear, and new vessels had  already begun to enter into the fleet. In 1968 the growth of so called ‘inshore’ trawling began to boom with the pattern being repeated at Bridlington and Whitby, and within a few short years the Yorkshire fleet with its attendant manpower and trawling effort had tripled.