Scandinavian Herring Fisher

The Scandinavian herring fishery of medieval times may have been the most influential fishery in history

According to researchers from the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) field project of the Census of Marine Life Program, the historical development of Western Europe may have been so heavily influenced by herring that the fishery has been referred to as the most commercially important fishery in the world. The growing European economy of the late middle ages needed a steady supply of quality food to feed the increasing population as most Western European cities weren't able to produce enough food. The Baltic area became a cross-roads for commerce between Eastern and Western Europe, and it can all be attributed to the "silver of the sea", the common herring.

As salted Scandinavian herring become recognized as a high quality product that was relatively cheap and easy to produce, the fishery literally exploded in the late 13th century. With populations of herring so rich that some writers referred to them as being able to be "caught by the bare hands", the fishery grew to more than 35,000 fishermen, and fed a good portion of Western Europe. The demand for herring was so high, that the customs registers of some towns, such as Lubeck, Germany where the herring fishery came to be based, indicated herring as the most important trade item in some years. As trade in herring increased, so did other commerce. Markets for herring soon expanded to include other goods and created trade ties between East and West.

Due to its abundance and availability, Baltic Sea herring came to feed Europe's population, stimulate commerce, and fuel the development of the European economy. For more information on this subject please visit the HMAP website:

  • What: The Baltic Sea's herring fishery may have been the world's most historically important commercial fishery.
  • Who: HMAP -->> Maibritt Bager
  • When: N/A
  • Where: The Baltic Sea
  • How: Analysis of Historical data and documents
  • References: N/A