Flying Visit to the Netherlands



I found myself in the Netherlands for a two days, in a flying visit to IJmuiden and Katwijk. I went to chat to a few people about all kinds of interesting things, things mostly of the  fishing gear variety.

Both towns are of the small yet quite nice type, the kind of places you know have been around for a while and will be for some time. In IJmuiden I met with two great guys, Dirk van Beelen and Bob van Marlen. Dirk van Beelen met me at his offices, kindly talking me through the role of synthetics and mesh sizes form the late 50’s onwards, giving me some good background information and a launching point for research for the Netherlands. A quick tour of the pace ended with some useful information about Van Beelen Netten – a venerable company which started in 1900 as a trading company with Dirk’s grandfather, importing and selling material to the fishing industry. Dirk’s father took the company further by creating a factory floor and working with rope and twine, graduating to netting machines and selling product internationally. When Dirk himself started, aiming to expand further afield. Now Dirk’s daughter, Caroline, runs the business. Interestingly, Engel Netz in Bremerhaven bought netting form Van Beelen post-war, Engel Netz going on to be an integral part of the first successful single boat pelagic trawl.

Bob van Marlen supplied a wealth of contacts and some key data for the development of pelagic trawls form the 70’s, not to mention the fact that there is a peligac trawl in an Ancient Egyptian tomb somewhere…

In Katwijk I was met by Gijsbert van der bent of Visserij Nieuws, who translated for me (as well as taking some nice pictures) and Floor Kuijt. Floor came prepared, with a suitcase of material including diagrams and drawings and explanations. Several cups of tea and a lot of notes later, I have a pretty solid idea of the start and progression of pelagic trawling in the Netherlands – although I think it will take me a week to sort throughout the pile of notes I’ve made!

Otter Trawls

The otter trawl is a well-established and reasonably well documented bit of gear – general common knowledge says its Irish in origin, originating in freshwater loughs before making its way to English shores. Adopted in the 1880’s, it wasn’t fully utilised until the 1890’s by the surely now famous Mr Scott of Granton. If he laid claim to this invention, I have yet to find a patent for it… Nevertheless, the otter trawl became widespread within a few years.

Those that would benefit were the new steam trawlers, themselves recent additions to the fishing fleet. unlike sailing smacks, they were better able to maintain the speed that trawl doors required. Once commonplace, a multitude of variations on the trawl door and trawl itself appeared, form the functional to the fabulous. According to my database, there are 77 different patents relating to trawling between 1984 and 1914 – and most of those are just for doors. these patents are just the British ones, of course – with most of the applicants being English or Scottish. Who knows how many other patents there in European databases?

So what happened to the sailing smacks? Many simply fell into disuse, a great many were sold on to other countries, like Scandinavia. The Second World War sounded the end of the sailing smack in England and Scotland, even with the loss of vessels during that time.


GB189420323, a patent from 1894

Euronete, Portugal – Thanks

A big thank you from me to Euronete, Portugal, who has been very kind in supporting this ongoing research with a handy donation. I’m lacking a corporate logo, so here are some balloons instead:

Unfortunately I have not been very well (I always seem to  get the summer-autumn lurgy) but I shall be back this week, after a flying visit to Langeland tomorrow. Posts shall resume sometime this week!

Modern Fishing Gear of the World, Vol I

My book of choice this week has been Modern Fishing Gear of the World, Volume I, a collection of papers written by scientists and innovators in fisheries technology. The book came about through the FOA, as it was a conference in 1957 when all the writers met up and discussed, well, modern fishing gear. It sold out, and my (father’s) version is a third reprind from 1981.

This sizeable tome was first published in 1959 – and, as Hilmar Kristjonsson points out in his introduction, technology in the 20th century develops faster (and bigger) than all the centuries before it. So what was so new and important, that the first of 3 big books talking about fishing will be published? Hilmar goes on to talk about the 3 main technological leaps: mechanisation, echo sounding and synthetic fibres, which together have changed fishing as we know it. But it not just technology that makes the difference – the intent is also a key factor. The drive to create and try new things in a thorough and scientific way changes everything; the need to understand every aspect and variable of fishing, from fish behaviour to physics.

Like most good books, it pays off to read the introduction – Hilmar here starts off with a few facts. Fish production in in 1957 is almost 30 million metric tonnes; a “few years ago” it considered absurd that any more than 25 million metric tonnes would be possible. As of 2010, total global production was 148.5 million tonnes. Needless to say, things have changed and developed a lot more since 1957.

These books are invaluable to me because it does something important to the whole PhD concept: documentation. It’s not that I don’t have any faith in first hand accounts – rather, I am going to rely on them. But what I need is dated, pinned down fact that I can easily read, quote and reference. Which is why I have acquired my father’s copy and absconded with it over to Esbjerg. Not to worry , though. I’ll sure to bring it back – eventually!

Trawling and the Local Press (1899)

I know I forgot to post last week, but it turned out that we were a little busy… The fieldschool ended early, so we upped sticks from sunny Bagenkop and made our way back to Esbjerg – a day of packing, cleaning and travelling. On returning I found a room full of spiders and a to-do list a yard long – starting with a spring/summer clean. Having recuperated from this oh-so-arduous week, I have just begun exploring newspaper archives. This though had not occurred to me before Chris Vening, my lone commenter, brought it up in reference to some of the more bizarre patent applications I described earlier in the year.

I started with the first article that came in my search, the earliest that popped up, from the Newcastle Courant, October 4th 1899. Entitled “A Northumberland Trawling Trip”, a rather quaint piece that begins with the popular superstition about the use of the word ‘pig’ on boats (very bad luck, it appears). I am sure that someone, somewhere, has compiled all the superstitions – I’m guessing it isn’t a short work…

The author, Mr Alexander Meek, MSc, goes on to describe the beam trawl, a 22 foot wooden beam with curved iron shoes at either end. The steam trawler is out for an experiment, it seems, and Mr Meek is apparently delighted when the juvenile fish are thrown back and swim away “none the worse for their journey aboard the trawler”. The experiment consists of dragging small nets form the beam and on the surface, made of ‘a muslin-like material, called “wireino”’. An iron hoop keeps the open, and the catch made is of interest to all. The catch is designated to specimen status, and kept in bottles to await further study.

The whole experiment is to be subject to statistical and biological study, or as the author notes, for ‘the naturalist’ department – a term sadly out of use, I think. The author views the whole experience with a romantic air, being rather taken in with the whole trip, often describing the whole affair in somewhat poetic terms. But his is clearly an enthusiastic supporter of trawling and trawlers, having clearly enjoyed his experience.

I won’t post the article itself (it’s a pay-per-view service), but the link is here.

I’ll admit I spent a lot of my day not doing trawling stuff, but total stationing. I and my two lovely instructors spent an afternoon the total station and a 3D modelling software used a lot in archaeology, called Rhino. Massimiliano is the lovely lad with the locks, while Alex, being Belgian, is naturally referred to as Tintin.

The ultimate is to reproduce the anchor, in 3D. The total station is accurate in recording points to the millimeter; it can also be used to reference in objects with GPS so we not only know exactly what something looks like, but also where it is (or was – all rather important to archaeology, when so many things are so easily lost or destroyed). Data like this can be used for many things – one of things the Maritime Archaeology students learn here is how to use it to calculate hydrostatics and other important boaty-type stuff. I’m no good at hydrostatics, so I use it to get a really good 3D sense of an object – or ship construction – that I would otherwise assess from complex 2D media, like photographs, drawings and measurements. The students, when not tutoring their elders, have been working their way through the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century fishing vessels, recording them for posterity. Next project for me? An actual boat, or even some lovely trawl doors…

Archaeology – Bagenkop, Continued

I am still in Bagenkop, a lovely little town in the south of Langeland, an island in Denmark. Although I am attached to the University of Southern Denmark’s archaeology fieldschool, I have had a chance to walk around the harbour and look at the local area. From Bagenkop harbour it is pretty clear that fishing may be small scale but is very much a long-standing tradition in this area.

Trawl doors in Bagenkop – one of many piled up

Bagenkop is a few kilometers from a village called Magleby. It is in Magleby that I am currently working with my trusty fellow students on what we hope will be a Viking Age settlement. What’s interesting is that up until about 150 years ago Magleby was connected to the sea by a nor (or inlet). They began to reclaim the land in 1853 – although the process never seemed quite successful, as demonstrated by numerous storms that flooded the new land, as well as the need for pumping stations to manage the water table.

A gent fixing his nets in Bagenkop harbour

After the land was reclaimed, the fishermen of the area filed a suit against the government for compensation. Their case was not simply practical; they stated that not only did they lose revenue and access to Magleby’s church (leading to a new one being built in Bagenkop), but also that the reclamation had made the area less attractive than before. they lost their case, a blow followed by another in the 20th century when a bridge was built to connect Langeland to the rest of Denmark with a efficient road system. As a result, Magleby, and then Bagenkop, lost most of it’s fishing trade. Currently the fishing fleet numbers in the few dozen.

A fishing vessel in Bagenkop harbour

In Bagenkop harbour the fishing boats are moored alongside yachts and other small vessels, while the areas directly around the harbour is full of fishing paraphernalia. Given Bagenkop’s tiny size, it is clear that the small fishing fleet one of the only industries here, along with farming and tourism.

The entrance to one of the many small work huts/houses that crowd around Bagenkop harbour

For those interested in archeology, a subject that ties in pretty well in this area, the underwater site is going well, while myself and the land team are still conducting resistivity test and land surveys. History tells us that this area is rich in farmers, fishing and fishermen-farmers, and as such we hope that we can find out where the Viking house that would have been among the earliest of that era in Magleby would have stood. Tomorrow we head to the priest’s garden, the gentleman himself having been kind in allowing a bunch of scruffy students to wander around and talk shop about all this old stuff.

Me, resistivity meter and the same bit of field I’ve been standing in all week

Well, I’ve been pacing up and down the same field for the last week, endured rain, wind, gravel, maths, sunburn and a distinct lack of cake. I’m heading out for a beer, and shall be posting again at the end of the week.

Archaeology – Bagenkop, Denmark

A week ago I said I would be posting again, which given the silence that has reigned since is a bit of a fib, I’m afraid. Well, I meant to post, but as soon as I returned to sunny Esbjerg I got immediately packing to go to Bagenkop. Bagenkop is a lovely little own in Langelend, Denamrk. Langeland is described as the Caribbean of Denmark, which I thought was a bit of a fib myself. After two days and some not too debilitating sunburn, I am prepared to admit that sunshine is not in short supply down here.

I am here not on fishy stuff, but on an archaeological fieldschool, looking firstly for a boat barely a 100 meters of Bagenkop and an area called Ågebet. The second focus is on the land immediately adjacent to this area, currently the village of Magleby. And the sunburn? Courtesy of two days standing on a lawn with a resistivity meter. And only three weeks to go!

We  – or rather, I and the Maritime Archaeology Programme of the University of Southern Denmark (and home to this PhD) are looking at the whole area for some good archaeology. What I can’t help but notice is all the small fishing boats, and of course some trawl doors in the harbour – all of five minutes walk from our accommodation.

More posting soon – that’s a promise this time!