Medieval to modern sea fisheries of Ireland: scale and causes of decline
My name is Jessica Jones and I am a PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin. I am based in the Trinity Long Room Hub, which is Trinity’s Arts & Humanities research institute. It provides the perfect environment for interdisciplinary research. Here, the use of new technologies in the Arts & Humanities is promoted and encouraged.
My research aim is to examine Irish fisheries in the medieval and early modern period, up to the apparent neglect of the industry in the 19 th Century. Can we identify when Irish sea fisheries began to be exploited commercially? What scale was the commercial exploitation? And what are the causes of its under-development and neglect?
Ireland is surrounded by water. It is widely acknowledged that the fishing industry has huge potential to be a valuable part of our economy, as well as being sustainable. However, the present situation is one of uncertainty. Has the sun set on Ireland’s fishing industry?
Dana Miller, PhD Researcher in Marine Conservation says, “We are finding that the production of fishery resources has changed dramatically over the last hundred years. We’ve seen depletion of some of the most popular commercial species. But the good news is that there are efforts to improve the situation in Europe and one of those efforts is called Ocean 2012. We’re looking to reform the policy that’s currently in place to manage European fisheries and hopefully make improvements for the future, so we can look upon a sustainable economy.”
There is evidence to suggest that Irish fisheries have, in the past, been very productive, especially in the medieval to early modern period. At one point, fish were the second largest export from Ireland. Fishermen came from far and wide to exploit our abundant marine resources. Irish merchants established trading routes with Europe and the New World, exporting fish and other natural resources, while importing luxury goods such as wine and textiles.
I am working retrospectively through the 19 th Century sources, as these are extensive and mostly complete. There are several data sets I could extract from these sources – for example, trade statistics, government subsidy payments, and so on. But, it would be extremely difficult to achieve a continuous data set throughout the time period as older sources are incomplete and often confusing. It is my objective to provide as detailed a picture as possible. Therefore, I’ve taken an inter-disciplinary approach, using methods from archaeology, environmental history, historical marine ecology and historical geography.
On such methodology is using a Geographical Information System, or GIS, to analyse and use mapping outputs to investigate the relationship between coastal fishing settlements and urban centres and markets. I will examine the changing dynamics in the fishing industry over time and help place Ireland in a wider European fisheries context.
his interdisciplinary project is funded by the Innovation Alliance and is one of ten studentships offered by TCD under the theme “Sustainable Society”. I hope that my work will contribute to the current and very relevant debate about the future of Irish fisheries management, by highlighting past successes and failures and providing an historical context for the many pressures affecting the industry.