As the days shorten and the winter solstice draws nigh, life on The Suffolk Coast continues at a quieter pace than the preceding, hectic days of summer and early autumn. Those bright open summer skies, soon give way to darker, colder mornings, light winds and often a pervading gloom of fog, as a still relatively warm sea, encounters colder air moving southwards
For our fishermen, it means a marked change in conditions too. The clearer water of recent months starts to ‘colour’ and fishing methods change according to the seasonal patterns and migration of fish and shellfish. The summer Dover sole fishery ebbs to a close, as does the inshore fishery for crab and lobster, as cooling sea temperatures mean a reluctance to feed and sees them return to deeper water to tough out the winter. Wild bass continue to be caught though for a while, the bigger fish being taken well offshore by rod and line, with a multitude of smaller fish inhabiting the estuaries of the Deben, Orwell and Stour.
But where one opportunity ceases, another emerges and many of our boats are now geared up for the annual south’ard herring migration. These teeming, shoaling fish have been part of our coastal history in Suffolk for many generations of fishermen, with the Lowestoft fleets of drifters dominating herring output throughout the first half of the 20th century. With those days now gone, their annual migration is of course, far less important, but nonetheless, some of our boats do still catch the ‘Silver Darlings’ from Lowestoft right down to Felixstowe Ferry, using both traditional drift nets and more conventional mid-water trawl gear. One of nature’s true superfoods, herring are plentiful, affordable, eminently nutritious and incredibly versatile.
Skate (Thornback ray or roker) so abundant over the summer, are still there and a return to traditional East Coast long lining should see catches pick up again. Landings of cod, once so commonplace all along our coastline, have been few and far between for several years now, but we always hope for their welcome return. The ubiquitous whiting though, show up everywhere and are a wonderfully sweet and light textured fish suitable for baking, frying or battering.
After Christmas shoals of silver should appear once again, but this time in the form of sprats - another underrated delicacy!