Mevagissey is a working fishing village with an inner and outer harbour, complete with a fleet of small fishing boats. During the 17th century the fishermen used to make their living from pilchards and smuggling. Many of the buildings around the harbour were connected with the sea, ranging from boat builders, coopers, fish merchants and warehouses.
You can still watch the fishermen on the harbour unloading their catch and mending nets. You can purchase a variety of locally caught fresh fish on the harbour.
On the top floor of the Museum you will find a collection of items that have either been recovered from the local beaches or which managed to find their way in to a local fisherman’s net. Look out for the whalebones, the turtle shell and the aircraft propeller.
You will also spot this fisherman with his protective clothing, his eyes scanning the coastline for signs of shoals of fish.
Jack Dunn's Memories of Mevagissey
Most of the fishermen were crews, or owners, of luggers and they fished mostly for herring in winter, mackerel in spring, and pilchard in summer. Between seasons they did line fishing, sometimes combining netting and lining. The long-liners often caught their own bait (pilchards) in their nets and then went off into the channel to fish for conger, ling, skate, cod, etc. on lines up to 10 miles in length with 5000 hooks about 10 feet apart.
Usually, the largest of the luggers engaged in long-lining. The smaller luggers often went spiltering, working on the same principle as the long-lines but using finer and shorter gear, maybe 3000 smaller hooks with shorter spaces between. The main catches were usually whiting, ray, ling, and conger, with the occasional bream, flat-fish, crab, lobster. dog-fish, etc.
My father owned a small lugger most times (he had a larger one for a while) and did a good deal of spiltering, and as a child I used to wait eagerly on the quay for the first sign of the boats returning.
They often left harbour not long after midnight and returned about noon, and usually spectators quickly gathered on the quay to see the catch landed. Any elderly or retired fishermen looking on would often be asked if they wanted a couple and then a dozen or more fish would be thrown up for them.
I thought of this recently, when in Plymouth fish market I paid £1 for a medium-sized whiting. I never remember our fisherman getting more than three shillings a stone for whiting, except in the war years when there was a guaranteed price.