Fishing for Pilchards

Until recently one of the major industries of the west coast of Cornwall was fishing and preserving Pilchards. Now the ships are gone and the only Pilchard Works left is a working museum in Newlyn.

A traditional rhyme from St Ives.

The Pilchards are come, and hevva is heard,
And the town from the top to the bottom is stirred.
Anxious faces are hurrying in every direction,
To take a fine shoal they have no objection.
The women now gathered before the White Hart,
Their hopes and their fears to each other impart,
"What stem have you got?" "A first to the lea,"
"And look! Our men are now going to sea."
We see the huer with bushes in hand
Upon the White Rock he now takes his stand.
While "Right off," "Win tow boat," "Hurray" and "Cowl rooze"
Are signals no seiner will ever refuse.

The huer was the lookout posted on The Island at St Ives to watch for the shoals of fish approaching the bay. When they were spotted his cry was "Hevva" and he then guided the fishing boats towards the shoal.
Traditionally Hevva Cake (now called Haevy Cake) was baked for when the fishermen returned home. This is basically a sweet pastry with currants bound together with milk, rolled out to a thick round, sugared and baked in the oven.

In the 1800's St Ives was the centre of the seine-net fishing for pilchards. The object of seine-net fishing is to totally enclose a shoal of fish in a gigantic net that could be winched inshore and emptied with wicker baskets over a few days. The shoreline was divided up into territories so that each group of fishermen had their own area. If the catch were a particularly large one, several groups would work together to land and store the fish. In 1834 30,000,000 pilchards were enclosed in a net in one hour. The last big catch was in 1907 when 24,000,000 fish were landed in the year. The shoals of pilchard declined after this.