In the seventeenth century the Dutch herring fisheries in the North Sea was the largest single fishery in Europe. For centuries the Dutch practice of fishing the entire North Sea with factory-like vessels was the most sophisticated and demanding fishing operation anywhere in the World. Processing the catch on board immediately after hauling in a night’s catch, a prime product was made, which was marketed and sold all over Europe and overseas. This provided food for millions and the Dutch earned a strong reputation as fishermen. Herring is a fast moving species, and finding and catching it in a changing natural environment took not only efficient fishing gear and vessels, but also a skilful and cooperative behaviour amongst fishermen.
This is the first study to take into consideration all of the above factors in assessing the dynamics of the North Sea herring, and herring fisheries over the span of several centuries. With these factors defined, our understanding of the driving forces in pre-modern natural resource exploitation is greatly increased. The role of the natural environment, and the long-term development of the Dutch herring fisheries, is also documented.
Bo Poulsen is associate professor of environmental history at the Department of Culture and Global Studies.