why didn't crews of olden sailing ships catch fish for sustenance?

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by Squidly-Diddly, Aug 5, 2012.

  1. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    I'm talking about long distance voyagers, or even "Men-O-War".

    Being as the oceans back then would be near overflowing big dumb fat easy to catch fish, I would think even a overcrowded large warship could just let out one or three lines, baited with less desirable parts of prior catch, and be hauling up 1/4 ton or more of fish a day for the crew.

    Lets remember that a warship would tend to spend lots of time just "on station" were getting max speed out of wind not an issue or even desirable, but I have read lots of references to ships going on 'half rations'.

    How easy (and legal) is it to catch fish making a passage in the open ocean, say from Frisco to Hawaii, or off the coast of USA to and from Baja, Mexico or across the Atlantic?

    I'd think deploying a few lines or even net(when speed not important) would be the constant passtime on any long voyage, just for sport if nothing else. Sort of like an army officer in an African colony doing some big game hunting on the side.
  2. macka17
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    macka17 macka17


    It's actually not very often you'll get a bite from something small enuff to handle, once you really get.. out to sea.

    Coastal yep. not normally too much of a problem. but. even in the 50's and early 60's when I was serious. Always had line over the transom at sailing speed (1 1\2 to 7ish knots)
    Once away from land not too many bites..
    Fish live in shoals below water. sometimes very deep below water.
    You only going to interest surface swimmers..

    Modern days I always had a 200lb line and a 6 in Spoon. tied off on a push bike tube from stern rail. with a small bell tied to a light line. so bell went off when tube stretched..(Bloody seaweed mostly)
    Tuna and Mackerel were the most regular.with occasional small Marlin up here.
    Last thing you want is a bloody Marlin. Sail. or shark, when by yourself..

    I'd say the old boaters were in same situation..??.
  3. Corley
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    Corley epoxy coated

    Military ships would not have liked having fishing junk on their ships and being able to haul the anchor and go immediately was always the priority. Obviously ship speeds were much lower than today but even then every minute could count crew comfort and good food for the crew were hardly considered.

    On merchant sailing ships in the latitudes that were favourable for fishing most sailing ship crew did take the opportunity to try their luck fishing when off watch. It's a common misconception that crews were blessed with lots of spare time maintenance was constant and overhauling ropework and gear and bending and unbending sails was hard work. In the Southern latitudes it was normally unsafe to fish as the low freeboard of the ships often saw the decks awash.
  4. viking north
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    viking north VINLAND

    One problem was quanity enough to feed the entire crew for a meal, otherwise grumbling sets in. The second problem is spoilage -- fish spoil easily and thus have to be processed almost immediately which in any large quanity require manpower, often in short supply when running these large sailing vessels. Meat on the other hand was often supplimented and salted down . There are many recorded cases of a stop over to hunt seals and seabirds to suppliment the food supplies. The great northern Auk is one species that was hunted to extinction thru this activity. For us up here in Eastern Canada it would have been better had they hunted and eaten more seals. :) Then again this may also be the case for the north east United States as reflected by the recent great white attack in Cape Cod. Marine scientists think it's the over population of seals that are attracting greater numbers of great whites to hunt in the area. However corrective action to balance these numbers is not likely to happen anytime soon as pressure from the anti sealing groups have convinced the U.S. government that seals are an endangered species. Possibly i'm missing the political point here, as they are endangered ---From great whites that is. :D
  5. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Fishing was employed, but as mentioned, only when conditions permitted and viability to feed the whole crew made it a worth while investment.
  6. Frosty

    Frosty Previous Member

    Thats true you can feed a thousand peasants with 5 loafs and 3 fishes but you got to be special.
  7. viking north
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    viking north VINLAND

    Frosty you failed to mention wine ---:). The other meat source that is often mentioned in old historic sailing is turtles. These were often taken both at sea and on land and considered a prize food source.
  8. Frosty

    Frosty Previous Member

    Probably not much room behind the ship for fishing because of hundreds of laundry bundles tied on rope. You never thought about laundry did ya.
  9. viking north
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    viking north VINLAND

    Dam good point-- especially after 6 months out and the slop chest bottom is visible.
  10. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    On the many readings I have done of historic sea passages, it was as Macka states, you only find fish near the surface in coastal areas, very little during deep water crossings. Fresh food was always welcome by all, but not always easy to get unless close to land.

    You might go find the several books write by Tim Sevrin, a British adventure and scholar who duplicated many voyages of ancient sea farers in replica ships. The Voyage of Brendan the Navigator, Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece, the Voyage of Sinbad, and a number of others. All of them were rather interesting tales of what life was like a sea in earlier times, not exactly like being on holiday. All of them are great reads.
  11. macka17
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    macka17 macka17

    Culling ANY breed is normal when overpopulated in their environment. Look at us with out Kangaroo's and Crocodiles.

    We don't go about clubbing the poor little B... to death.

    Do it humanely. with a bullet. As we do.
    Then There wouldn't be a problem..

  12. viking north
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    viking north VINLAND

    Individuals (to distinguish from the educated and informed Australians) who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones-- or at least study their subject before shooting off their mouth about it. Clubbing as it refers to the killing of seals hasn't been practised in 20/30 yrs. The hunting of white coat seal pups has been outlawed for 20/30 yrs. 90 to 95% of seals are now hunted with a firearm. In the modern hunt, those that are killed with what resembles a club is not the traditional weapon used in days of long ago. The modern weapon has a manual bolt almost identical in shape as the air powered unit used in beef slauter houses. Testing prior to it's approval has shown that this manual propelled bolt is just as effective on a steer as the air powered unit, thus in reality overkill as a harvesting weapon on the smaller mass of a seal. The killing of any animal is distaseful and I realize we deserve the critisims you posted from our bad harvesting techniques of the past. These possibly not unlike some of the animal control techniques of your country. Personally, one animal control method that really bothers me is poisoning -- I.E. poision bait traps. Have you ever seen the long drawn out death that a poisioned animal can go thru. In all honesty i don't know if this is practised in your country or not and unlike you add this qualifier and offer you this opportunity as a gentleman to correct and educate me prior to tarring your modern country with the in human practises of the past. Something, by the way, every nation on earth is guilty of including humans as well as "animals"--Thus the importance of research and education before throwing the stone. Please forgive me if i sound a little harsh but you are unfairley attacking what is a Modern Canadian Government Regulated "Animal " Hunt subject to large fines. Your outdated information being based on untruths of the Animal Rights fund raising programs. I realize you are a half a world away from this hunt but that is no excuse as your post is proof you have access to truthful information.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2012
  13. midnitmike
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    midnitmike Senior Member

    A hunter or trappers choice of the appropriate weapon used to dispatch game is usually based on species and circumstances unique to their harvesting. In years past it was common practice for trappers to use clubbing as a way to administer the coup de grace for several reasons. First and foremost among them was to reduce damage done to the hide. A bullet hole would lower the grade of the pelt since the damage would have to be repaired prior to use or the hide used in a less visible area.

    It may seem barbaric to our modern sensabilities, but in its day it was a perfectly acceptable method.

  14. macka17
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    macka17 macka17

    Fair enuff. as far as not doing it anymore.
    I seem to remember even just a few yrs ago. that there was still a stink going on about it..
    Sorry if I was wrong.. BUT it could never be accepted by anybody as being a "Practical " way of killing anything. Apart from maybe the person doing the clubbing.
    Just think about it in reverse for a moment.
    Somebody clubbing YOU to death.
    I saw film of Kids doing it as well as adults. Multiple blows not all in the head. Just swinging.
    No matter in what generation it was performed.
    I'm sorry but that was inhumane butchery.

    As far as the Baiting.... Goes. That IS a different circumstance again.
    Your little seals were helpless babies mainly just laying around on the ice.
    Practical Maybe. depending on point of view. but never humane.

    Our Dingoes. Foxes. rabbits. are nocturnal animals. Only come out at night, mainly. and have hundreds of thousands of sq Miles of desert and scrub to roam in.

    An impossibility to control in any way from a one on one point of view.

    Yrs ago I was a pro shooter.
    Kept my family for a few yrs doing it.

    Rabbits for food (I prefer to chicken)
    Foxes 'Roos. Dingoes for pelts and Bounty. (Ears).
    Also did Buff's up north as part of a crew..We utilised all parts of the animals..
    Apart from Buff's I always prided myself on head shots only. with a backstop.
    I had a Marksman badge in English Army in the '50's.

    Used to practice on running rabbits with a 30=06.Bolt action
    My favourite.
    With a Martini Single shot .22. K hornet for foxes. and a Ruger 22 Auto
    For Roos. and rabbits for food.

    Nowadays I buy it all. Including my fish, ready made at the shop...

    Anyway that's enuff of that. we'll probably never agree if you're native North American.
    So let's agree to disagree ok. And get back to subject.
    IM me if you want to carry on with this.


  15. viking north
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    viking north VINLAND

    As I thought you have been programmed by the animal rights groups. You have played the emotional game of connecting seal pups to humans by calling them babies. Young seals are animal and are called pups, young humans are human and are called babies. When out hunting moose we don't say we shot a baby we say we shot a calf. Like wise with any of the animal kingdom when using proper english. To make my point in my country we hunt mature seals for food, pelts and overpopulation control. In your country you poision "baby" animals for no reason other than they are a nuisance. Imagine the hey day and contributions the animal rights groups could have with that if promoted properly in England or the U.S. I'm well aware why your farmers have to protect their crops against overpopulated animals as you should be aware of why our fishermen want to do the same with seals. Who by the way are eatin as much or more fish than most fishermen catch. So much so they are stunting further increase in our cod stocks. These are cold hard facts and not unlike another similar past but possible future situation with wolves and cattle in the U.S. Finally in your comparison of our hunting mature seals on the ice in daylight verses your poisioning mature and immature animals at night on land --I'll let the public be the judge. Now from one military man to another we can, call a truce -- I won't throw stones at your glass house if you promise the same in return.
    P.S. as for what is realistic about all of this , Midnightmike has expressed it in the most understanding words i have ever read on the topic.
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