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“Fish appeared on my table, for aught I knew it might have grown on the Fishmonger’s slab! Let those who speak of the price of fish spend one night aboard a trawling smack. You must be prepared for the grey wilderness of a floating ocean, swept by winds as cold and pitiless as the hand of death!”
Ebenezer J. Mather, founder of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, 1881
The film may have been sponsored by – or at least given the blessing of – the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, a Christian organisation concerned with the welfare of fishermen. Filmed from the ‘mission’ – or support – ship the Joseph and Sarah Miles, Heroes of the North Sea, like many such films, follows the ‘trip’ of the trawlermen, although here we start with the fleet already at sea.
The trawlers would fish round the clock, spreading out over a mile to cover the huge shoals of herring. They gutted and packed the fish on board, before putting them off onto rowing boats to be sent to the fast carrier ships, which would rush them off to market. The fleets were supplying the great fish markets, such as Billingsgate, with fresh fish, rather than herrings for salting and preserving, hence the need for speed.
The cameraman, Frank Grainger, a veteran of nautical subjects, captures the violence of the North Sea and the perilous unloading of the processed fish with such keenness it may make viewers queasy.