Fishing in Medieval Europe

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Fishing in Medieval Europe

Although, we know that fly fishing is the most superior of all types of fishing, and that dry fly fishing, is perhaps one of the most perfect and enjoyable experiences that man may have here on Earth, it is important to understand the history of fishing, and how the sport has evolved throughout time. Throughout history fish have played an important role in the diet of many cultures, including the diet of many people in Medieval Europe. Different forms of fishing and various techniques had been developed and used throughout history. Detailed information of these practices in medieval times and earlier dates is difficult to find. This being the case it is a relatively unexplored area in which much can be learned about the development of fishing technology, and its impacts on society and culture in medieval times. We will examine then in this essay, the use of fish catching gear and tackle, the use of boats, advances in maritime technology, and fish processing in Medieval Europe to approximately 1050 A.D., all of which set the stage for further advances and growth in the later part of the medieval time period. In Medieval Europe, fish and shellfish became an important element of the European diet. This partly became true due to the fact that the Catholic Church forbade the eating of meat two days out of the week and also forbade its consumption during various special holy days and during the six weeks of Lent; these rules were strictly observed. As far as the types of fish that were eaten, fish taken from the sea dominated the market, however freshwater species were also available for consumption. The saltwater fish were of course, consumed fresh in coastal areas, but it was also common to find preserved fish on the coast and further inland. Among these fish the most popular and most widely consumed were Cod and Herring. Oysters dominated the shellfish market and crab and lobster were also consumed. The suppliers of the fish were for the most part small organizations, some of whom worked on behalf of monastic houses. It has been assumed, that as is the case with any popular food item, that as more fish became available, the more the price would drop. This being the case, it seems that even for a large fishing operation of this time, it would have been difficult to earn a lot of wealth in the industry. With advances in fish preservation however, fisherman were able to expand their market reach further inland, and extend the availability of seasonal fish. The gear or tackle which these organizations used varied greatly, and was dependant upon many factors. Nets, hooks and line were all made with in different designs based primarily on the type of fish. The larger fish, including bottom feeders like cod were caught primarily using a hook and line. Smaller fish that swim in schools such as herring were usually caught with nets. Other varieties of fish which tend to congregate in shallower water were often caught using spears. Fish traps were also used in areas were the tide fluctuated greatly. The lines which were used to fish at sea with a hook were most likely made of either horse hair or hemp, and obviously had to be made strong enough to support the weight and fight of the fish. Hooks of the time have been found in many different sizes, and were made mostly of iron and bronze. Hooks of this type have been found in excavations from the time period of 1000-1200, and have been found in varying sizes. All of the found hooks had barbs on them, but they did not have an eye to string the line through like today's hooks. Instead they had a slightly thicker and wider end so that the line would not slip off the end of the hook. Some of the largest hooks found were around 75mm long, and it is speculated that hooks of larger size were also used for the biggest fish such as halibut. Fishermen in Medieval times would use these lines and hooks much the same as fishermen do today....
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