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Fish #50 Atlantic Herring Clupea harengus ~ Jeanette Killner
Recycled aluminium cans 23 x 23 cm
Atlantic Herring Clupea harengus
When I first looked at the list of 200 fish, my intention was to select the most exotic and flamboyant one available. However, as I looked, the song 'Shoals of Herring' by Ewan MacColl kept coming into my head, and I started to think about, and research, the Atlantic herring instead.
Herring live in large shoals, and are one of the most sought-after food sources in the sea. One of their strategies to avoid predators is to stay in deep water during the day, swimming to the surface at night to feed on their main diet of zooplankton. However, they are still herded and eaten in huge numbers by dolphins, whales and dogfish, as well as being attacked from above by seabirds. Herring have also been over-fished by man, using large trawl nets, but with conservation measures put in place stocks in the North Sea are now considered 'sustainable'.
Growing up in the 1950s and '60s canned sild (tiny herrings canned in Norway) were my preferred alternative to sardines, and Shippam's bloater (whole smoked herring) fish paste was my favourite flavour. Kippers and herring roes were, and still are, occasional treats. In fact, when they are in season, soft herring roes dusted in seasoned flour, sautéed in butter, and served on toast, is one of my favourite meals. In her book 'Good Things' food writer Jane Grigson's recipe for kipper quiche is a delicious dish. Although not to my taste, I remember my granddad eating soused herrings, and as an art student in the early 1970s, with the growing interest in Scandinavian design, rollmops were a 'trendy' snack.
The herring industry has had a huge impact on people's lives, both culturally and economically, but more important is the herring's role in the marine food chain. It is, perhaps, the 'iconic' fish of the North Sea, so instead of selecting the most visually interesting fish on the list, I ended up trying to represent the simple, but indispensable, herring.
Shoals of Herring
With our nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean
It's there on the deep
That we harvest and reap our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring
Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sayling logger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring.
Oh, the work was hard and the hours were long
And the treatment, sure, it took some bearing
There was little kindness and the kicks were many
As we hunted the shoals of herring.
Oh, we fished the Swarth and the Broken Bank
I was cook and I'd the quarter sharing
And I used to sleep standing on my feet
And I dreamed about the shoals of herring.
Oh, we left the home grounds in the month of June
And the canny sheels we soon were bearing
With a hundred cran of the silver darlings
That we'd taken from the shoals of herring.
Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman
You can swear and show a manly bearing
Take your turn on watch with the other fellows
While you're searching for the shoals of herring.
In the stormy seas and the living gales
Just to earn your daily bread you're daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faroe Islands
As you're following the shoals of herring.
Well, I earned my keep and I paid my way
And I earned the gear that I was wearing
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes
We were sailing after shoals of herring.
(Words & music Ewan MacColl)
Shoals of Herring, sung by Ewan MacColl via Youtube
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