"F" is for Fishing

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Visitor's ABC's

By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff

Beach News, Thursday, June 16, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
Each year, the Beach News is proud to feature an unique ongoing series of articles concerning interesting facts about the region's places and history. This year, we will be doing a virtual visitor's ABCs of the Seacoast region.

The first Europeans to these shores didn’t come here for religious freedom -- they came to fish.

Prior to the Civil War, fishing was a simple affair similar to recreational fishing today. Fishermen would row out, sit out in their boats, tending their lines, and haul in the plentiful catch. Many of the small summer cottages you see at Hampton’s North Beach and the North Hampton State Beach were once home to these fishermen.

Fishing further out to sea was another matter. A large boat, such as a schooner was used as a mother ship, and each fisherman would be put out in a small dingy to bring in as many fish as he could.

It was hard work on the best of days. But profitable. Thanks to even the earliest drying techniques, fish could be sent far overseas to Europe, the West Indies and Africa in exchange for manufactured goods, rum, sugar and spices. For a time, the region commanded the price of fish across the known world.

Today fishing is still hard work ? but requires fewer people and more machinery thanks to a rig called an 'otter trawl’.

Trawlers are easily recognizable in local harbors.

They have a large spool at the stern, which holds the net, and two large door-like panels on either side called 'otter board’ or a 'trawl door’.

At sea, the net is unwound behind the trawler, until it is off the spool. Floats on one side and weights on the other keep the net open vertically. Disks along the bottom edge also help keep the net from catching onto an underwater obstructions, such as forgotten wrecks or rocks. Once the net is off, the 'otter doors’ are put in the water, where they act like wings, pulling the net’s mouth open horizontally.

Only fish small enough to pass through the mesh can escape the gaping maw of this net.

Once the net is out, the trawler will travel in a straight line for a few miles, scooping up any fish that are in the way.

Then the net and the catch are hauled back up on deck. The backmost part of the sack-like net is opened up over the deck, and the catch spills out for all hands to sort through as quickly as possible.

Fishermen aim to catch groundfish: cod, haddock, pollock, flounder and related species are sought after, but other fish ? skate, goosefish, dogfish and the like are caught as well. In some cases, new markets in places like Japan have been found for these 'byproduct’ fish, but for the most part, these unwanted fish are thrown back into the sea.

The catch the fishermen are after is quickly gutted, and the fish are packed below in bunker after bunker filled with ice. The refuse -- fish heads and innards -- are tossed over the side where an ever-present flock of seagulls hover looking for their meal.

Once a day’s work is done, its back to harbor to unload the fresh fish and get it to market as quickly as possible.

In recent years, the local fishermen have been under pressure to cut back on their catches. Ecologists worry that improved fishing techniques are quickly depleting the region’s fisheries. While fishermen defend their livelihood and maintain that the local fishery is healthy, once cannot deny that other fisheries have been overfished, leaving those fishermen without a livelihood at all. To head that fate off, regulations have become stricter in an effort to curb the catch.

Only time will tell who is right ? the fishermen with their age-old knowledge of the seas, or the ecologists with their computer forecasts.

"F" is also for:
Funnybones, a fun toy store
in the center of Hampton.
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