Posted 11th Nov 2014
This weekend marks the 8th year of the Clovelly Herring Festival which takes place on 16th November. To celebrate we explored the history of the festival in this well-known fishing village
Hidden at the bottom of a steep cobbled path, framed by rows of white cottages, sits Clovelly Bay, a once thriving fishing port that housed 100 or more boats during a season. Each boat was bursting with fishermen excited at the prospect of a good season, burying any niggling doubts that the temperamental herring, their prized catch, may be in short supply that year. Living off the sea, the fisherman eagerly awaited the time to check their nets and haul in their catch, allowing the villagers to gorge on herring for the weeks and months ahead.
However, over the years the 'Silver Darlings' have dwindled in their numbers, leaving fewer fisherman to cast out their nets. The villagers resolve however has not been abandoned and for the past eight years they have celebrated the existence of herring and the fishermen who helped to make Clovelly a well-known fishing village.
Featuring fishing-inspired activities, net-making, chef demonstrations, beer tasting, craft skills, photography exhibitions of the Clovelly fishing history and speciality herring dishes to taste, the festival celebrates what once was a flourishing, bustling fishing village filled with row after row of boats. Now, with only two fishermen left continuing to fish using methods that made their home famous, their boat is the sole survivor of more than 400 years of fishing heritage.
Dating back to 1602, Clovelly could be blessed with 9,000 herring at any one time, an abundance of fish that would fill the 100 boats that docked at Clovelly Bay until they were bursting, and by 1630 the village was well known for its fish for miles around. Using traditional, sustainable methods, fishermen would drift on the tide and only catch what came into their small nets, a line of employment that, until the 20th Century, was undertaken by the majority of men in Clovelly. Ever since then herring has been a staple of Clovelly's economy.
Throughout the years the herring would come and go, and when the fishing season was good, it was very good, however when it was bad, it was awful, and between 1743 and 1746 fish was scarce and saw boat numbers fall. The number of herring became so temperamental that the 100 boats that had occupied the harbour in the 1600s fell by half in 1900. In 1976, herring fishing was banned, resulting in all fishermen having to pack up their nets and find alternative work, and by the time it was reinstated in 1983, it was too late.
Today, only brothers Stephen and Tommy Perham keep the Clovelly legacy alive. In honour of the fishing, each year the Clovelly Herring Festival is held, and so far has been lucky enough to have good weather and a great catch, with families and friends from the town enjoying the celebration of a time gone by. The festival is held two weeks before St Andrews Day to guarantee the best weather, however legend has it fishermen catch the most fish on St Andrews Day itself, as St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Fishermen.
Unfortunately, Clovelly has been struck with bad news this year as the European Parliament has proposed a ban on fishing with drift nets across European waters. Though meant to protect Blue Fin Tuna, the ruling would stop the artisan fishing still carried out by Stephen and Tommy in Clovelly Bay, putting a stop to the Clovelly Herring Festival altogether. Should the proposal take effect, fishing with drift nets will no longer be legal as of 1 January 2015.
With visitors to the Clovelly Herring Festival increasing each year, the village of Clovelly hope to make 2014 their best one to date, despite threats to their sustainable fishing practices and the traditional methods that has made it a famous fishing village today.
It has since been announced, following a meeting in Brussels, that the ban has been postponed as it was decided more consultation is needed before a final decision can be made.
For more information about the Clovelly Herring Festival which takes place on Sunday 16th November 2014 visit their website here.
By Lauren Morton
Images courtest of the Clovelly Estate