Self-Sufficiency: Food From the Sea

How to catch your own food, including sea fish, herring, mackerel, pilchards, white fish, lobsters, crabs and more.

| July/August 1976

  • seafood
    The ocean is full of delicious food just waiting for you to catch it.

  • seafood
An excerpt from the book, "Farming for Self-Sufficiency - Independence on a 5-acre Farm" by John and Sally Seymour

Copyright® 1973by John and Sally Seymour. Introduction copyright © 1973 by Schocken Books Inc.

Sea Fish

The sea is never more than a few hours from us in the British Isles, provided we use mechanical transport, and of course if you live near the sea it is madness not to make use of sea fish. All you need to catch these is a small boat and some gear. The full-time professional fisherman has to go out in all weathers, and scrape about trying to pick up a few fish when there really aren't enough to bother with. He is forced into this by the fact that he has to earn a living for twelve months of the year. The man who has other work to turn to can, however, when fish are scarce, or the weather is bad, avoid going to sea. He need take very little risk and should have a good catch every time he goes out. For if the weather is not fine, or looks the slightest bit unsettled, he has plenty of work to do ashore. And, if he strikes his sea harvests right, a very few days fishing in the year will be enough to keep him and his family, or his community, in fish the year round.


The herring is the acknowledged king of the sea. There is no finer fish and they are excellent for preserving. They come to British shores at various times of the year in various places, but in many places the summer sees the start of them. At first they may well be small fish with immature roes, but the time will come (about October or November on the east coast, perhaps December in Wales) when huge shoals of big fat herring packed with roe or milt come close inshore. Those are the boys to go after. Don't waste time after the others, and above all don't catch spent fish—they are worthless. Spring herring are generally spent.

The best thing for catching herring is the drift net. The new nylon nets are streets ahead of hemp or cotton, and herring drift nets can be obtained ready made up and hung from Bridport Gundry, Bridport, Dorset. They are expensive but you only need about fifty yards. If you hit lucky such a length will give you all you need. Don't go out at all until you have heard that other fishermen have been getting them in quantity. Let somebody else go out night after night prospecting. When you know the fish are there—out you go, and shoot your net close to the shore, or wherever you think the fish are. Shoot it in a straight line so that it hangs like a wall in the water; hang on to one end of it in your boat and play cards, drink rum or go to sleep. But keep a watch and occasionally cast the boat off from the net and row along a little way and haul some net up to see if there are any fish in it. If not-back to the end and hang on again. The net and you will drift with the tide, hence the name drift net. If the fish really hit you you will know immediately because all the corks of the headline, which is all you can see of the net, will sink. Haul the net up immediately. Pay it into the bottom of the boat, fish and all, don't try to shake the fish out of the net on board. Then row, sail or motor back to port, spread a large sail on the sand beside your beached boat, and overhaul the net over it, shaking it hard to get the fish out into the sail.

We find we need three hundred herring to salt down every year for our family. If we had more we wouldn't eat them. Instead of lashing out money for a boat and a net you might consider just buying your herring direct from a fisherman in a time of glut. My boat is round the south coast this year and so I bought from a man in Fishguard two hundred and fifty small herring for a pound. And if that isn't cheap food I don't know what is! But eschew middlemen, at all times.

Having caught your herring you salt them. We head ours so they don't take up so. much room, but professional "Klondykers" leave the heads on. We scrape the scales off, cut the heads off, put the roes in the deep freeze, whip the guts out (pig bucket of course, although heads and guts we often boil first), wash the fish well, and pack them down in a barrel with dry salt. Enough salt really to cover the fish. You can use an earthenware crock just as well as a barrel of course. Naturally you will cover whatever it is.

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