I’m reading some Hornblower – on the basis of why the hell not – and there’s a scene in which they blow up an underwater wreck, an effect of which is to bring dead fish to the surface. Which they don’t collect. A slight oddity, as a major subtheme of this part of the story is how they’re negotiating for supplies from the coastal area they’re off- lamb, kids, lettuce etc.
Yes, I know about salt beef, hard tack and so on, the ritual menus of the day for the seamen. And in the Jack Aubrey books there’s some mention of fish being taken (I seem to recall a turbot at some point?) for the officer’s mess. Or even the Captain’s table.
But a thought occurs, of no importance at all but of interest to me at least. How much did the sailing Royal Navy supplement diets with fish? It obviously cannot be counted upon as anything central to the diet as large parts of the oceans are deserts. But how much supplementing went on? Did they routinely carry small nets? Lines and hooks? I cannot believe that anyone sailing the Grand Banks didn’t take a few cod but then that’s my imagination, not reality.
And to extend this out from the RN to merchantmen. Plenty of people must have ploughed though froths of herring or mackerel – did they take them? Routinely that is? Or out in deep, have lines out for tuna?
Armies often enough did try to live off the land – and as often get soundly beaten by those with good logistics trains. The RN did stock and carry its food, supplementing with bullocks and so on and especially anti-scorbutics when making landfall. But how much did the sea traffic of the time also try to pluck fish to add to the diet?
It couldn’t be that no one on board knew how to fish – the press gangs operated in coastal towns and villages. Similarly, it couldn’t be that fish wasn’t part of the land diet of the crew at the time for the same reason.
Any good sources on this? I can imagine it being anything from no, fishing was a most odd thing, through to a hopeful line dropped out of a gunport now and again right up to official but blind eye perhaps escapades with a jolly boat launched with a few good hands and a net to get some herring.
But does anyone know?