Scottish Fisheries Museum

Scottish Fisheries Museum

Scottish Fisheries Museum Fishing Boat

Scottish Fisheries Museum Display


The Scottish Fisheries Museum is an award-winning museum in Anstruther, Fife, that records the history of the Scottish fishing industry and its people from earliest times to the present day. Opened in 1969, the museum is situated on the harbour front in Anstruther, in the heart of the East Neuk crab and lobster fishing villages of St Monans, Pittenweem, Cellardyke and Crail. It has grown over time into a sizable complex, occupying a number of converted buildings set around three sides of a cobbled courtyard. These include two Category 'A' listed buildings: the 16th century Abbot's lodging and an 18th-century merchant's house, both of which have historical associations with the fishing life of the village. The museum collection contains many model boats, fishing gear, a significant historical photographic archive and paintings. In addition to the traditional exhibits, the museum also boasts a collection of 18 boats, the pride of which is the 104-year-old twin masted Fifie herring drifter, Reaper. This vessel was restored by the museum's boat club and sails regularly in the summer months. When not sailing, the boat is berthed in Anstruther harbour opposite the museum. In total, the collection comprises over 66,000 items.


Fish have been recognised as a major food source by people around the world from the earliest times. Archaeologists have shown that fishing was important to the first people who settled in Scotland around 7,000 BC. At this stage in history, fishing was a subsistence activity, undertaken only to feed the fisherman and his immediate community. Fishing was a natural industry for the people of the British Isles, particularly Scotland. By the medieval period, salmon was an important resource and herring was exported to continental Europe. As the industry developed, fishertouns and villages sprang up to supply the growing towns and fishing became more specialised. The many religious houses in Scotland acted as a spur to fisheries, granting exclusive fishing rights and demanding part of their tithes in fish.


Over the centuries, the Crown and later, the Government, sought to encourage fisheries, with varying degrees of success. They granted licenses to catch and market fish and provided bounties for boat-building and, from the 18th century, for the curing of herring. However, the Napoleonic Wars and severe competition meted out by Dutch and Norwegian fishermen, both of whom had developed more intensive methods of fishing, acted as barriers to development. Private schemes and Government initiatives did begin to have an effect by the early 19th century, however, and the Industry rapidly increased from 1808 onwards.


In the early 19th Century, the British Government gave a bounty of £3.00 per ton to owners of herring boats larger than 60 tons, plus a bounty on all herring sold abroad. This, coupled with the coming of the railways as a means of more rapid transport, gave an opportunity to fishermen and agents to deliver their catches to markets much more quickly than in the past. Herring was a delicacy on the Continent and was caught relatively easily off the Coast of Scotland - off the East Coast during winter and spring, off the North Coast of Scotland and Shetland during the summer months and, in the autumn, off the Coast of East Anglia. At this time, there were as many as 30,000 vessels involved in herring fishing the East Coast, not to mention others in the Irish Sea. As the century progressed, the numbers continued to grow until the Scottish fishing industry became the largest in Europe. Because herring was a fatty fish, it had to be cured as quickly as possible to prevent it rotting. At the peak of the Herring Boom in 1907, 2,500,000 barrels of fish (250,000 tons) were cured and exported, the main markets being Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia.


In 1913 there were over 10,000 boats involved in the Scottish Herring Industry. By this time the herring industry was no longer local or seasonal since the boats followed the shoals around the coast of Britain and, along with them there followed an army of curers, merchants, general hands - and the herring lasses. Throughout the boom, the Scots fisher lasses were an integral part of the fisheries landscape at any port where herring was landed. The girls came from fishing villages all around the Coast of Scotland. They began gutting and packing the silver darlings at the age of 15, and travelled throughout the season from Stornoway to Lerwick, to Peterhead, and as far south as Yarmouth. The First World War interrupted the growth of the industry when fishermen, with their unique knowledge of the seas, became the backbone of the Royal Naval Reserve. They returned to a declining industry which was further interrupted by the Second World War in 1939. After 1945 much of the effort became concentrated on whitefish with an additional sector exploiting shellfish. Technical developments concentrated fishing in the hands of increasingly fewer fishermen operating ever more efficient vessels and, although the annual value of catches continued to rise, the number of people working in the industry fell.


Since the late 19th century, fishing methods have changed radically. New technology has been used to increase fishing boats’ efficiency and the size of catches. Before the 1880s, long-lining was the usual method used to catch white (demersal) fish such as cod, halibut, saithe, ling and flat fish which live at the bottom of the sea. It was very labour-intensive but resulted in a high quality catch. Small line fishing was a family affair with women and children responsible for preparing the equipment. This was a line, up to a mile in length, to which were attached snoods or shorter pieces of line which were baited with fish or shellfish. Great line fishing was similar to small line fishing but was undertaken in deeper waters, further out to sea. The lines could be up to 15 miles in length and would be fitted with 5,000 hooks. The fishermen usually baited the lines on the boat. Because of the work involved in preparing and hauling the lines, new methods of catching white fish were sought. Trawling was introduced into Scotland from England in the late 19th Century and, from the 1920s, seine-netting was introduced from Denmark.


The traditional method used for catching herring was the drift net. A long net in the form of a curtain was suspended from corks floating on the surface. The fish were trapped by the gills as they swam against the net. In the sheltered waters around Loch Fyne in Argyll, ring-netting for herring developed. The method involved surrounding a shoal of herring with a net and then pulling the ring tight to trap them. This method evolved in the later 20th century into the purse-seine net. A low net was set in the water to circle the shoal. Then its bottom was drawn together so that a huge pond of webbing contained the catch, the pond becoming smaller until the fish were gathered alongside the vessel. Today mid-water trawlers can alter the position of their nets in the water to catch pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. Recent years have seen the fishing industry increasingly regulated and fishing activity concentrated on the fewer, larger ports with the facilities to handle the large catches landed by the efficient vessels of today. Fishermen and boats continue to fish out of Aberdeen, Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Shetland while falling fish stocks in recent years and a change in the markets for different types of fish have caused the industry to decline in the smaller communities. However, fishermen all around the coast have diversified into catching shellfish, particularly prawns, once seen as worthless, and the numbers of small boats are increasing.


The Museum's boat collection consists of 21 vessels used for fishing in Scotland or of maritime interest in Fife: Jessie - Nineteenth Century Line Boat; Jane - Drifter's Boat, Peterhead; Creel Boat - from Northern Isles; Reaper FR958 - restored sailing Fifie; Research LK62 - 1st Class Zulu; WhiteWing - restored sailing Baldie; Jim - Dysart racing yawl; Swift (Fiona) PD144 - last used as pilot boat; Light - Fifie Yawl, used for line fishing North East; Rab - Leven Beach Yawl; Swallow - replica Zulu type yawl; Log Boat - result of research project with Institute of Maritime Studies, University of St Andrews; Jubilee - salmon Coble from Montrose; Lively Hope - 1930s Ringnetter; Orkney Soo Boat - built at Westray, Orkney; Tammynorie - Yawl, built at Stromness, Orkney; Fair Isle Yoal – built as a heritage project using traditional design and materials at the National Museums of Scotland; Silver Spray – Grimsay fishing boat; Quaver - Largo beach yawl built by David Gillies of the Cardy Net Factory; Newburgh salmon coble; Maggie - Scaffie; Shirley - motor yawl built by J N Miller of St Monans.


Frank Buckland (1826-1880) was a keen naturalist, prolific writer, campaigner against river pollution, and researcher on fish-culture and fish farming. In 1865, he established the UK’s first fisheries museum, the Museum of Economic Fish Culture, in South Kensington, London and was made Fish Culturist to the Queen in the same year. He was appointed Inspector of Fisheries in 1867. Buckland was well travelled in his role as Inspector and a regular visitor to Scotland where many of his specimens were collected. He is an important figure in the history of fisheries research, acclimatisation, conservation and a larger-than-life, often eccentric, character. Did you, as a child, play with a dead alligator? Have you fed brandy to a porpoise, or tasted a Japanese sea-slug? Frank Buckland did all of these and more in his attempts to satisfy his endless curiosity about the world around him. Despite his unorthodox methods, he was highly regarded as a scientist. After his death, interest in his Museum waned and, over time, many of the artefacts deteriorated. In 1968 what remained of the collection (including 45 plaster casts and a marble bust of Frank Buckland (sculpted by J. Warrington Wood, Rome 1882), latterly added to the collection by public subscription, was transferred to the Scottish Fisheries Museum. You can see some of the impressive fish casts in their online gallery.


There is ramp access at the main entrance where the Shop and the Tammy Norie Tearoom are situated. The Museum itself, apart from the Fisherman's Cottage, is fully ramped throughout. The Fisherman's Cottage which is accessed by a stair from the Courtyard, can still be viewed from within the Museum from the Days of Steam Gallery by means of a viewing window and viewing mirror system. A disabled toilet is situated at the main entrance and accessed via the shop. There are baby changing facilities within the Museum. Most of the exhibits may be touched. Please see the Museum floorplan for information on the layout of the Museum galleries and facilities. Directly opposite the Museum entrance is a public pay and display car park offering both coach (4 bays) and car parking spaces, including 2 disabled bays. A further pay and display car park is situated in Shore Street 150 yards west of the Museum with car and motorcycle bays and a further 2 disabled bays. Both car parks are pay and display from April to September and are Free during the Winter months. There is no charge for blue badge holders. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : The Scottish Fisheries Museum, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB

Transport: Leuchars (National Rail) then bus (via St Andrews). Bus Routes : X58, X60 and 95 stop outside.

Opening Times : April 1st to September 30th, Monday - Saturday, 10:00 to 17:30;  Sundays 11:00 to 17:00

Opening Times : October 1st to March 31st, Monday - Saturday, 10:00 to 16:30;  Sundays 12:00 to 16:30

Tickets : Adults £8.00;  Concessions £6.00; Children (up to 16 years) Free

Tel. : 01333 310628