The Isle of Man’s renowned herring industry, which had remained dormant for a quarter of a century, is experiencing a renaissance due to a post-Brexit agreement on fishing quotas between the island and the UK.
As a result of this new deal, the fishermen of the Isle of Man will be permitted to catch four times the amount of herring they were previously allowed, alongside a quota of 235 tonnes of langoustines. This revitalization is expected to contribute over £2 million annually to the island’s economy.
Decades ago, the Manx fishing industry faced severe setbacks due to the constraints imposed by the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, which placed strict limits on catch sizes during the 1980s. Consequently, the island’s fishermen were compelled to rely on catching scallops in order to make a living. By the turn of the millennium, the herring quota had become too meager to sustain commercial viability.
However, with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and reclaiming control over its waters, the Isle of Man has been allocated a substantial 100-tonne quota for oily fish by the British government.
A Rekindled Legacy
The herring industry on the Isle of Man has a rich heritage dating back to at least the 13th century, boasting a fleet of 350 fishing vessels during its zenith in the early 19th century. Cured herrings from the island were exported to various destinations, including Britain, Ireland, Italy, and the Mediterranean. During the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, approximately one in every 15 soldiers was rescued aboard a vessel registered in the Isle of Man.
Under the terms of the UK’s Brexit agreement with the EU, the process of regaining control over territorial waters is being gradually implemented. Over the past two years, negotiations between Therese Coffey, the Environment Secretary, and the government of the Isle of Man, a self-governing Crown dependency, along with the Manx Fish Producers Organisation, have taken place.
Clare Barber, the Manx minister for the environment, expressed that the newly granted quotas represent a “once in a generation opportunity” to revive the island’s herring industry, which will be managed sustainably under the agreed quota system.
Furthermore, the herring population in the Irish Sea has doubled since the 1990s, and the fishing season for herring will be limited to the period from July to October.
Herring, known as “skeddan” in the Manx language, held such significance in the island’s diet and food security that Manx folklore even narrates the tale of how skeddan ascended to become the King of the Sea—a tale still celebrated through Manx folk music.