Dorset, England
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Abbotsbury, Dorset, England         OS Map Grid Ref: SY577852
 The County of Dorset
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Fishing has been carried on from the beach at Abbotsbury since earliest times. Here mackerel are caught from the Channel with seine nets.

Daniel Defoe commented on the mackerel fishery here as he travelled around Britain in the first quarter of the eighteenth century; the catches were so large that the fishermen "could hardly draw them on shore", the mackerel being "the finest and largest I ever saw" and were sold for "a hundred a penny".

In those times of large catches there was frequently more mackerel than could be sold and the surplus was divided amongst the fishermen. To ensure that the fish was divided fairly, it would be divided as equaly as possible into lots, equal in number to the fishermen. One of their number would then be blindfolded and touched each of the lots in turn, calling out the name of a collegue who would recieve the lot as he did so.

By the last quarter of the 20th century, the catches were so small that a hundred mackerel were considered a good catch. All to frequently the nets would be hauled in empty. Sometimes the nets would be found to contain a salmon - this noble fish automatically belonged by ancient right to the lord of the manor.

On May 21, 1802, the crew of an Abbotsbury vessel, the Greyhound, killed a huge fish which had fouled their nets. It was 26 feet and 6 inches long, had a girth of 15 feet, had a 4-foot fin and its tail spread 8 feet. It weighed 15 tons and it took fourteen horses to drag it ashore. The fish was never identified although the villagers knew it was not a basking shark because Abbotsbury fishermen had caught one some fifty years previously.

Many, if not all, of the fishermen of Abbotsbury must have been involved in smuggling and the wrecking for which this part of the Dorset coast was famous.

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The King's England: DORSET
by Arthur Mee (1967), revised and edited by E T Long
Hodder & Stoughton 1971   ISBN 0 340 00079 1

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