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Silver Darling

"Silver Darlings"

The Scottish herring fishing of the last century and well into the present brought new prosperity to the larger ports as well as offering employment for both the men and women of the smaller villages.

An important improvement in boat construction followed the rise of the herring drift netting. By 1880 the Zulu and Fifie, decked vessels with a keel length of between forty to fifty feet replaced their open decked counterparts, and came to be a familiar sight along the coast. These boats carried up to sixty nets which were usually shot at dusk when the "silver darlings", as the herring were known, were swimming close to the surface.

The boat would drift with the tide ensuring the nets were fully suspended and stretched - hence the term "drift netting". The hauling in was done by hand, the herring shaken out and stowed in the hold. The women played a vital role in the herring fishery, often working long hours onshore, in all weathers, gutting, curing and packing the "silver darlings".

They worked in squads - two gutters and a packer. Skilled gutters could clean an average of sixty to eighty herring per minute. By the beginning of the twentieth century the women and girls followed the boats from station to station commencing on the west coast north to Caithness and down along the eastern coastline until the end of the season at Yarmouth in England. The boom of 1913 was the peak of the Scottish fishing with over thirty thousand fishermen and nearly ten thousand boats catching over two hundred thousand tons of herring.

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