Imitation in European herring fisheries, c. 1550-1860

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For no less than 300 years, c. 1550-1860 the Dutch way of fishing was the envy of neighbours in the North Sea area and looked upon as the undisputed best practice. This was a lasting consequence of the Dutch Golden Age in fishing outliving the reality of best practice with at least 150 years. This paper explores the consequences of the image of Dutch dominance, as seen through 41 different attempts to build a fleet and run fishing operations similar to the Dutch. Most of them were short lived, and some never made it to the fishing grounds before going bankrupt. When reviewed one by one, they all have unique reasons for lacklustre performances. Privateering, warfare, bankruptcy, bad fishing luck are all valid explanations at the level of politics and short term events. However, when looked upon in connection to each other, some recurrent features of more or less sound policies appear, as well as structural social and natural conditions for varying degrees of success and failure. Two waves of imitation emerge from this comparison. In the mid-17th century and during the 1760s-70s there was a particularly strong European wide interest in emulating Dutch fisheries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of History
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)185-207
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • marine environmental history
  • fisheries history
  • Industrial espionage
  • maritime history
  • environmental history
  • The Dutch Republic


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