Pilchard Fishing

Active Cellar

Pilchard fishing in Cornwall is recorded as far back as Elizabeth I. This migratory fish seems to have changed its routes and timings over the years bringing mixed fortunes to its hunters. In Newquay it was at its last peak at the end of the 19th century.

Pilchards are caught using the seining technique. The special nets, boats and a building, called a 'cellar', for storage and processing required a considerable outlay. Individuals bought shares in a seining company and shared in the profits (and losses). There were a number seining companies formed in Newquay; the names of company cellars are perpetuated today by Newquay's pilot gigs.


  • Active
  • Concord (at Porth)
  • Fly
  • Good Intent
  • Hope
  • Point
  • Rose
  • Speculation
  • Spy
  • Toby
  • Treffry (also known as 'Flour and Fat')
  • Union
  • Unity

Catching and Curing

Seine fishing Newquay Bay

Two large rowing boats, capable of holding seven men were required. The 'seine boat' held the very long stop seine net which was paid out to surround a shoal of fish. The 'volyer' or 'follower' held one end of this net and also carried the tuck net. A third boat called the 'lurker' had the master seiner who would oversee the whole operation

An important member of the team was the land based 'Huer' who kept a watch for the shoals of fish. When they arrived he raised the alarm with a cry of 'Heva Heva' and helped direct the boats from a high vantage point.

Once a shoal was surrounded it was eased towards shallower water and made secure. The tuck net was now used to draw the fish to where they could be transfered into a boat and thence ashore to the cellar.

The fish were now bulked or stacked neatly, head to tail, in layers with salt in between to form a solid wall of fish. They were left like this for several weeks while the fish oils drained away. The final stage was to break down the bulk, wash the fish and carefully pack them into barrels. Pressure was applied at the top of the barrel, using a wooden lever pivoted at one end in a wall and weighted at the other with a pressing stone. This was done to get the maximum number of fish into a barrel.

Other Fishing

Off loading and packing herring

Herring fishing took over from pilchards around the beginning of the 20th century. Caught using drift nets fishermen were not restricted to the shallower inshore waters. After returning to harbour the catch was transfered ashore were it was packed into barrels with salt. This type of fishing was less expensive to equip and was not so labour intensive. However herring fishing could not be economically sustained.

'Corves'-shellfish storage boxes

More recently lobsters and crabs are fished, many finding the way to the continent where best prices are paid. Until only just a few decades ago the once familiar corves [carves?] could still be seen in the harbour; these triangular wooden boxes held the shellfish catch until they could be sold.