by Dr David Jenkins, Senior Curator, National Waterfront Museum,

In 1929, Colin Matheson, keeper of zoology at the National Museum of Wales, published a brief yet comprehensive overview of fishing off the Welsh coasts entitled Wales and the Sea Fisheries. All types of sea fishing, from fish weirs to deep sea trawling, from mussel farming to potting for crabs and lobsters, are covered in this fascinating book. Matheson’s pioneering work still provides an useful survey of Welsh fishing before such words as ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’ became commonplace terms in relation to our depleted fish stocks. Yet even in 1929, Matheson found it necessary to entitle one of his chapters “Some factors usually considered injurious to the inshore fisheries”, quoting as an example the then-relatively recent decline of the  oyster beds at Mumbles - an ominous portent of what was to come.

This theme was taken up again by one of the foremost historians of maritime activity in Wales, Dr. J Geraint Jenkins, in his Inshore Fishermen of Wales (1991). He mentions in particular the near- extermination of the plentiful hake stocks in the Western Approaches by the trawling fleets of Milford Haven, Swansea and Cardiff in the first half of the twentieth century, despite the fact that two world wars had given fish stocks time to recover whilst trawlers were engaged as convoy escorts and minesweepers.

Today Milford Haven is no longer the fourth most important fishing port in the British Isles, and the great fleets of trawlers that set forth from the Bristol Channel to “do business in great waters” are no more. There is a great emphasis today on sustainable fishing, and this is reflected in this fascinating survey of Welsh fishing boats by Stewart Lenton, in which he lists the considerable numbers of modestly-sized craft that are involved in fishing off the Welsh coast in the early twenty-first century. Wales has a long and unbroken tradition of sea fishing; for instance, the chronicle of the Welsh princes, Brut y Tywysogion, records a great glut of herring off Aberystwyth in 1206,”…y roddes Duw amylder o byscawt yn Aberystwyth”. It is to be hoped for the future that the sustainable small-scale fishing carried on by the vessels lavishly illustrated in this book’s pages will enable that old tradition to continue.

David Jenkins

26th October 2010