Sunday, July 27, 2014

Harvesting Herring at Muttock

One of the iconic images of nineteenth-century Middleborough is the local herring catcher, scoop net in hand, surrounded by a multitude of barrels and crates. Worth quoting at some length is the following description, carried in 1897 in the New York Times, detailing the manner in which herring were harvested at that time at Muttock:

At the lower junction of the canal [used as a fishway] and river a net is placed across the latter, thus forcing the fish to continue their course up the canal. On the off days, when all dams and obstructions are removed and the net is taken away, the fish, perhaps through fright or attracted by the quiet waters, swim into the space between the junction and the falls and accumulate into the thousands. There are sometimes 30,000 or 40,000 fish preserved here, and when the day for catching them again comes around, the net is pulled down, and the fish remain there—waiting for a rise in the market. About 150 feet above the lower junction a temporary dam is thrown across the canal, the lower part of which is made of pine planks, surmounted by a moveable screen of coarse wire bars, through which the water passes and falls about three feet. Further down the canal a huge coverless wooden box is sunk, extending across the waterway. It is plainly visible, as the water is shallow and clear. The fish coming up the stream swim over the box and on until they reach the dam; there they are thrown back by the force of the water, and many of them jump out upon land in their endeavor to scale the fall. Others resort to deep pools sheltered by rocks. Here they hide and are sometimes successful in making their excape by remaining during the fishing days. When a sufficient number of fish have gathered between the box and the dam, a net is stretched across, below the box, and the fishermen don high rubber boots, and, starting at the dam, walk downstream, driving the fish before them into the sunken box. Here other men are stationed with huge landing nets; they scoop up the fish, throw them upon the platform, from which they are taken and packed into barrels partly filled with ice, and sent away to market. Nine catches are made daily, the average catch being eighty barrels. The present manner of taking the fish has been in vogue almost from the settlement of the town.


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