Marine Merchants

Registered: ​11th May 1976
Duration: 26 minutes
Feet: 2340 feet
Board of Trade Certificate number: ​BR/E38594/16/5/81
Produced for : Cinema International Corporation
Production Company: ​Harold Baim Presentations Limited

More Film Stills: ​at baimfilms.com (opens in new window)
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Hull and North Sea fishing are featured – with pictures of an early “Harry Ramsden’s Fish & Chip” restaurant. A film about fish capturing the life of the fishermen of England. A visit to the aquarium at Aberdeen is a virtual "eye opener" in as much as the exhibits are all denizens of the deep, very few of which are ever seen behind glass.

Title and Credits:

Story told by : Lee Peters
Director of Photgraphy: Lewis McLeod
Assistant Cameraman : Jeffrey Hogg
Music background: De Wolfe
Editors: Howard Lanning, Gerry Levy
Recordists: Ted Ryan, Charles B. Frater
Research : Richard Murray
Produced and Directed by : Harold Baim


4/5 of the Earth's surface is covered by water. We bathe, swim and paddle in it. We travel, surf and ski on it. We drill in it, dive in it, and despoil it. And many who sail on it are heroes. But of all of them, the trawlerman is the most unsung. Without him, our tables would be just that much less interesting.

Over 70 million metric tons of fish are caught each year, and that averages 40lbs for every person in the world, which is above the output of beef.

The Chinese are exotic about it and enjoy shark's fin. In their markets they talk of live weight instead of dead weight.

This looks worth its weight in gold.

In the east, they treasure tench. The Japanese, the largest consumers in the world, eat it raw. The British way is to batter and fry.As mince sauces to lamb and stuffing is to turkey, so are chips to fish. It's being called the Great British Invention.

In Hull, the marine merchants use fish containers called kits. A modern version of the 18th century wooden barrels. At North Shields, the denizens of the deep are contained in boxes of ice. An Arctic deep water specimen; Redfish. Oily, good to eat, without the spikes.

Do it yourself kits of haddock. 60% of them are caught in the North Sea, the rest from the Bay of Biscay to Spitzbergen, the west coast of Scotland and Barents Sea.

He has to know where the bones are. He feels for them with the tip of the knife. Blade pointed away from him, runs it along the length of the fish, and the fillet comes away in one piece.

These people can't give up smoking. Haddock steeped in brine, a salt and water solution, comes out of it, attractively glossed and ready for the smoking kiln.

You may not be able to see these too well, but they're saithe fish known as coalfish or coley.

What's this? You can't tell from the head? It's a 70lbs halibut, and about the most expensive of all. This one could bring a price of some £40 at auction.

Hull was once a whaling port. Today, 185,000 tons are landed every year. Among the many types of trawler Hull numbers in its distant fleet, 62 vessels of over 170ft in length. Each with a 20 man crew catching 100 to 125 tons in a 21 to 30 day voyage.

What the merchants do with cod is everybody's business. At a processing plant, a silver stream pours through the automatic washer. The operator thought being in a film a more fishy business than his own, as he kept looking for our okay for him to switch channels.

They say that group filleting is like group therapy. The skill, concentration and competition makes it a very sociable occupation. A fine cutting edge is their stock in trade. They have to keep their eyes down on this job, or they could do themselves a real mischief.

This man does his filleting in quite a different style. No knives for him. He's fully automated. This piece of equipment bones and fillets up to 80 fish a minute, and skins them.

Pure minced cod is placed into molds and frozen.

Out of the freezer, they are known as planks and like all good planks, they're put through a saw. Cut into a shape called a trapezoid, because this way the portion looks more fishy, they go into a machine which one could say was their bread and batter.

Operators picked them up two at a time, place them onto a conveyor which takes them to another machine. Which wraps them at the rate of 6000 packs, that's 12,000 portions an hour.

Fresh fish leaves the factory hours after it left the sea. Ice keeps it that way for 8 to 10 days. France and Germany are very often on the receiving end.

Floating factories, 200 to 240ft long, with crews of 25 to 35, the freezer trawlers deliver gutted, washed and frozen 100Lbs blocks of fish direct to the cold store. From fishing grounds around the Norwegian coasts, from east and west Greenland to the Labrador and Newfoundland banks, the freezers stay at sea between 6 weeks and 3 months.

They're held at a temperature of -20°F for 3 to 6 months. Eventually taken out to be processed. When thawed out, it's as fresh as the day it was hauled out of the ocean.

The ear bone of the cod has rings on it like a tree trunk. From these, age can be told and projections of future quantity and quality made. Have a guess at this. It would be a big one if 15in long. Lemon sole. And this Dover sole. Plaice, complete with red camouflage spots.

There are the 25 to 35 crew freezer trawlers for distant water work. Distant water side or stern trawlers with 20 on board. Middle water stern or side fishing vessels with 13 to 16 men and the near water boats with 7 to 12 men up. The freezer fraternity stay in dock a minimum of one day for every eight spent at sea. The other types 2 or 3 days. During this time they carry out maintenance, repairs, refuelling and the taking on of provisions.

Distant water freezers catch cod, haddock and saithe. Side trawlers, also distant, go for whiting, Dover sole, lemon sole and plaice. Middle and near water. Ship's net turbot and halibut. The inshore crowd snare dab, crab, skate, mackerel, sprat and shellfish, including lobster.

One of the main training centres for the Merchant Navy is Hull Nautical College. Fisheries science courses are conducted for fishing vessel officers and fishermen. Without this theory, there certainly could be no practice. There are courses in navigation for deckhands and radar operators for boatswains and masters. They teach general seamanship, management and marketing. A princely prospectus for prospective participants.

The industry's regulators, its developers, and its sheet anchor to windward, is the White Fish Authority, which plays one of its many parts in the provision of a mobile training unit, where every aspect of fish finding technology is taught.

Established in 1812, the college has an all embracing syllabus. Student facilities are of the highest order.

Simulated situations at sea are created in this tank. Every possible combination of circumstance can be staged.

A 20th century tutorial marvel.

A build up of ice can capsize a vessel. The instructor shows how important it is to remove ice from the right place on the ship. Correct sequence and procedure must be followed.

Five tons of nylon netting, and two and a half miles of rope, make one net for the catching of herring. When a net tangles in seabed obstructions, it gets torn. It's a very expensive item. Students are shown how to mend them.

If badly damaged, they're taken ashore for attention. Ordinary running repairs are carried out on board ship.

The catfish has a double row of teeth. The dogfish, a member of the shark family, has no bones.

On side trawlers fish is gutted and washed on the open deck. Crews are exposed to weather. Fish is held in the hold in mountains of ice.

At Beverley, in Yorkshire, is one of the most up to date trawler shipyards. Established for almost 100 years. Since the inception of steel construction, over a thousand ships have been turned out.

27 miles from York, 11 from Hull, is the village of Bishop Burton. A picture postcard place. The villages of Cherry Burton and Burton Constable are owned by the same people who own this ship. It's easy to see the connection.

In the League of Fish Consumers, Japan holds first place, Russia the second, England comes third and Italy fourth. India is bottom of the charts.

There are many picturesque small harbours and docks like Portknockie in Scotland, which was established in 1766.

Scottish seine-netter trawlers have operated out of Whitehills since the 18th century. The fisherfolk call themselves industrious and God fearing, and have always manned vessels of up to 55ft long.

Like a post office sorting setup, unloading and selection is done at speed. Everything has to be ready for the ringing of the bell which signifies the start of the auction.

Standing on the boxes, the merchants listened to the cries of the auctioneer, who announces the bids in a rhythm only the buyers can understand. Interesting to the outsider, but for the marine merchants, their livelihood.

Give us a smile then. That's better.

Notices don't tell them to keep off the fish, but they do. They're like tightrope walkers.

Sold, on goes the merchant's label. Everything that moves is pressed into service. It's a race to the merchant's premises.

Filleting is carried out in the open with amazing speed and dexterity.

Most of them are young men and they certainly know their job.

Salmon Trout? No. What are they? What is their correct name?

This scene is repeated throughout Scotland hundreds of times in the season. Salmon fishing is not only a great sport, but the end product, if you're lucky and adept enough, is a valuable and tasty one.

The name of these fish is sea trout, not salmon trout. Salmon have forked tails and are of a different colour, but these are very often known as salmon trout.

He's carrying a box of blue whiting. There are more of them in the sea than ever came out of it. A dishy fish, not too well known, but it will be very soon. It's being caught in increasing quantities.

Have you ever seen trawlers in a basin? Well here they are at North Shields.

What have animals grazing and farmland got to do with a film about fish? Nothing. But it's a good link with farming of a different kind, where water takes the place of land. Some of this farming takes place at Hunterston nuclear power station. Fish farming no less.

Water warmed by the generators pours into the tanks in which the fish are reared. Intensive feeding and the stepped up temperature of the water enables turbot, plaice and sole to be grown to market size and above in less than two years. What do they feed them on? Fish.

Green farming will never replace trial methods, but as certain species become more scarce, something will have to be done to supplement supplies. One day fish of the right type and condition will be available as and when we want it. They won't have to go out and get it. We won't have to haggle about fishing limits. We'll produce it right in their own backyard.

The approach to the sea tanks at Ardtoe off Scotland's west coast. In the unheated water at this White Fish Authority coastal site, our underwater friends are produced in half the time it takes nature. The Chinese have been growing carp in ponds for over a thousand years, so the idea isn't new. But what is new is the attempt to grow saltwater specimens and proving very successful.

The marine biologists are feeding baby turbot. The youngsters certainly have plenty of life in them.

Those with the distinctive markings haven't bothered to change colour to merge with their background in order to avoid being eaten by their friends. They would have done this had they been in the sea, but here there's no danger, so no change.

The tanks at Ardtoe have given us a look into the near future. An intriguing thought, isn't it?

The scallop didn't invent jet propulsion, but it got it. In their natural surroundings, they frequent clean, firm, sandy ground and live in not less than ten fathoms of water.

Don't be alarmed. They don't feel a thing. You can eat them with mayonnaise, cook them Provencal, wrap them in bacon or fry them. There are endless variations on the scallop theme. All lined up for a fast freeze.

There's a marine laboratory in Aberdeen where they have quite an array of lobsters. These are four and a half to five years old and are called common lobsters, because, I suppose, they are common. Adult males molt every year, just like the birds. They reach maturity when about ten inches long. Sometimes they wind up in the soup.

Muscles can be gathered at will from beaches. Bismarck herrings are rollmops developed when Bismarck was chancellor of Germany. Sardines are small pilchards and nothing to do with Sardinia.

The speed with which this young lady hurries the herrings into the machine, ensures that there will be kippers for everybody who wants them. They shoot down the chute in thousands, filleted, boned, and ready for a dip in the briny.

Onto the trays for their journey to the kiln.

There's a wonderful cure for herrings, burning whitewood covered with sawdust. Smoke does the trick, it kippers the herring.

She's blowing the tails out of the nephrops. No kidding. There you are. See the tails being blown out?

These are the Nephrops, the name for Norwegian lobsters. Known as scampi from their Italian name Scampo. The meat is in the tail, faintly pink, chewy and sweet.

People I know always seem to be a little selfish when eating shellfish.

Frozen stiff, and as if that wasn't enough, battered and breaded. You'd think she was weighing out toffees.

Fishmongers obtain their supplies from either coastal wholesalers, dependent on where they're located, or from the big markets like Billingsgate, Glasgow or Birmingham.

There's a place called Rawdon. It's in Yorkshire, a county where these signs are commonplace and frequent. Not far from Rawdon is a restaurant which has become famous for the only dish it serves. 3 or 4 different types of fish with chips. The first known reference was in Oliver Twist, though it wasn't this he asked for more of.

The restaurant uses 9000 pints of vinegar a year, 84,000 pints of milk, 6000lbs of tea, and 14000lbs of sugar.

It was in 1865 the French introduced fried potatoes, hence French fries. The association of fish with chips became almost inseparable. Dietitians call it a balanced meal. Churchill called it the good companions. To prove it, the trade passes over its counters 600,000 tons of potatoes a year, and 5 million hundredweights of fish.

If care isn't taken, and we take more out of the sea than we should, one day there might well be no more fish. Efforts are constantly being made to secure international cooperation and agreement on minimum sizes landed, on quotas, licensing, forbidden seasons and areas and territorial limits. If all this fails, there certainly will come a time when the chips will really be down. 

[The End]

All music should be cleared with 

De Wolfe Music 
Queen’s House 
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