Helmsdale’s Sea Fishing Heritage: Boats, People, Memories

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Helmsdale’s Sea Fishing Heritage: Boats, People, Memories explored the importance of fishing to Helmsdale’s history and the lives of Helmsdale’s community past and present. How have fishing boats developed over the last 200 years? What has been the impact of the fishing industry on families living and working in Helmsdale? 

Helmsdale: A Fishing Village
The fishing village of Helmsdale was largely created at the beginning of the 19th century as part of a wider programme of Improvements carried out by the Sutherland landowners at the time of the Highland Clearances. The fishing fleets followed large shoals of herring along the east coast from Shetland to the southern ports of England. The village swelled in number to several thousand during the herring fishing season and a large workforce was required to process the fish as soon as it arrived at the harbour ready for the waiting markets. The men from local families made up the crews and some were also employed as coopers, curers, blacksmiths and labourers, while the women gutted and packed the herring and were responsible for selling it around the district on creels on their backs. The development of the more efficient Fife, Scaffie and Zulu boats meant larger catches and by the 1880s they became a common sight around the Scottish ports. By the end of WW1 the herring industry was in demise and the improved seine netter fishing boats primarily concentrated on white fish including cod, haddock and ling. The Bunillidh was the last boat to fish out of Helmsdale Harbour in the mid 1990s.

Helmsdale Harbour, c1880
Helmsdale Harbour, c.1880

Collann: Helmsdale’s Fifie
This fishing boat known as a Fifie came to Helmsdale around 1900 from Findochty. She is currently on display at the old harbour at Helmsdale where many of her contemporaries would have been moored around 100 years ago.

In 2014 Timespan was compelled to take action due to the poor state of preservation of the boat. The lack of regular maintenance, exposure to the elements and minor episodes of vandalism had all taken their toll on its condition. The speed of deterioration had increased over the last couple of years and without any form of positive intervention the future of the boat was uncertain.

Timespan secured a grant from Museums Galleries Scotland to preserve and paint the boat. The programme of work outlined in the project report followed a period of lengthy public consultation that took place from May to September 2014.

Project Report

The report outlines the preservation work that has been carried out on the Fifie boat sited at Helmsdale’s old harbour. It includes a brief history of the boat and information gathered as part of a public consultation during the course of the project. The aim of this report is to inform the community and interested parties about the condition and potential future uses of the boat.

Download Helmsdale’s Fifie report

Fifie 2006
Helmsdale’s Fifie, 2006
Fifie 2014
Helmsdale’s Fifie, 2014


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