Festival and events will promote herring revival in Great Yarmouth to celebrate town’s seafaring heritage

Paul Williams and Bridget with bloaters, red herrings and kippers at Northgate Fish in Great Yarmout

Paul Williams and Bridget with bloaters, red herrings and kippers at Northgate Fish in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant

They are a small forage fish which put Great Yarmouth at the centre of a global fishing boom - and which today remain at the heart of its seafaring heritage.

Herring Season Great Yarmouth herring being unloaded off boat in crans 85 crans total Dated: 19th

Herring Season Great Yarmouth herring being unloaded off boat in crans 85 crans total Dated: 19th November 1961

The town's connection with herring dates back as far as the 1100s, when a herring fair held at the port was said to attract merchants from all over Europe.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fisherman from the town exported millions of the fish around the world, with the harbour said to become so crammed with boats during herring season that the river could be crossed on their decks.

In 1913, a fleet of 1,000 drifter boats landed 544m of the so-called Silver Darlings, cementing the area's reputation as the most important herring port in the country with the most fruitful fishing grounds in the world.

But after the Second World War the fishery declined, and today the humble herring is often overlooked for favourites such as cod, while the once formidable drifter fleet is just a handful of vessels.

Great Yarmouth herring seasonScooping catch into a cran basketDated: 1957

Great Yarmouth herring seasonScooping catch into a cran basketDated: 1957

Now, businesses and tourism figures in Great Yarmouth hope to kickstart a herring revival and see the town promote its connection to the silver fish through events, recipes and displays.

Paul Williams, whose father worked on the drifters, is one of the remaining herring fishermen. He nets, catches, smokes them into kippers, before selling them at the family shop Northgate Fish.

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'Most of our customers are 50-plus, but youngsters also tuck into them at festivals where they outsell burgers twice over,' he said. 'We just need to find more ways of promoting them.

'Great Yarmouth herring taste the best.'

Great Yarmouth herring season Scottish drifter heads for herring ground Dated: 25th October 1961

Great Yarmouth herring season Scottish drifter heads for herring ground Dated: 25th October 1961

He said that while stocks of herring are plentiful, much of the fish goes to zoos to feed penguins or is used as bait for other fishing.

The Greater Yarmouth Tourism and Business Improvement Area (GYTABIA) hopes to draw visitors to the coastal resort with its annual Maritime Festival, which will see herring sizzle on quayside barbecues.

Tony Smith, GYTABIA cafe and restaurant group chairman, said: 'Herring have been part of local life for centuries - not just as a food, but as an important part of the tourism economy because landlords' letting seasons were lengthened when the Scottish fishergirls arrived after the summer holidaymakers went home.

'We would encourage visitors to sample our local seafood as part of their trip to get a flavour of the area's past, and present.'

Scottish fishergirls at Great Yarmouth.

Scottish fishergirls at Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Archant

Meanwhile, the Prom Hotel, on Marine Parade, is organising a comedy and cooking fundraising event for a local charity - with herring featured in every dish.

Operations manager James Docwra said he hopes it will help further boost Great Yarmouth's connection to the herring.

'We would love to see Yarmouth as closely associated with the herring as Cromer is with its lovely crabs, and we hope that our summer event will become an annual fixture in the town's culinary calendar,' he said.

The event will take place in May, although a final date is yet to be decided.

In 1912, the Yarmouth bloater - cured whole herring smoked for five days - was on the menu of the doomed Titanic, while the tails of three silver herring, linked to the heads and bodies of three golden royal lions, feature on the town's coat of arms.

Do you have a tourism story for us? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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