A NEW book is set to shed light on a little known period in Shetland’s rich fishing heritage when it is published later this week.
John Goodlad, a former chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, has spent considerable time tracking the cod hunters who fished the waters around Faroe and Iceland during the second half of the 19th century.
What surfaces is the fascinating story of an enterprising community that took the traditional Haaf fishery a step further, and laid the foundation of today’s model of local fishermen owning shares in their own vessels.
Goodlad said he had always intended to research the story of the cod hunters.
“I was brought up like many Shetlanders on the stories of the Faroese smacks, as some of my great grandfathers and great great grandfathers have been involved with it,” he said.
“Since I was peerie (small) boy, I was aware of all these stories; it has been an enduring part of my life, and I wanted to find out more about it, but there wasn’t much written about it.
“There is a lot of material written about the Haaf fishery and the sixareens, and lots have been written about the herring fishery, these big two periods in Shetland fishing history.
“But there is very little about the distant water fishery that existed from the middle of the 19th century.”
The cod hunters went out in big, decked sailing vessels on fishing trips to Faroe, Iceland and Rockall that lasted between 12 and 14 weeks.
They fished for cod, salted the fish on board and brought it back to Shetland where it was cured on beaches before being sold to markets as far away as Spain.
Some vessels were even fitted with a well enabling the crew to carry live fish for landing at Grimsby, which was then taken by railway to London.
“It was an amazing business based here in Shetland,” Goodlad said, “with up to 70 boats employing hundreds of men.”
He added: “Apart form a few distant memories there is very little known about it.
“The book is a collection of stories of very ordinary folk doing really quite extraordinary and amazing things during this incredible period in Shetland’s history.”
The Cod Hunters is being published by Shetland Heritage Publications. The book will be launched at an event at the Shetland Museum and Archives’ Boat Hall in Lerwick on Thursday 10 May.
On sale via the Shetland Museum’s shop, and also online, the Shetland Times book shop and via Amazon, all of the proceeds will go towards the Swan Trust.