Returns of Fishing Vessels

Fishing vessels were given official numbers, but from 1894 (following the Merchant Shipping Act 1894) fishing vessels were required to be lettered and numbered according to their port of registry. Each port had a letter (or letters) assigned to it along with the fishing register number allotted to the vessel. The letters used by each port - a full list may be obtained via the National Archive website - usually were related to the port name... Grimsby = GY; Folkestone = FE, Ramsgate = R (originally RE) Certificate details and the vessel's letter and fishing number were entered into registers by the Customs Officers at each port. Returns were sent to the RGSS annually, but the original registers are all being transferred to relevant local County Record Offices, a process now almost complete.

The RGSS entered details into Statistical Registers of Fishing Vessels, now held at the National Archive in BT145. The first series covers the dates from 1893-1898, but thenceforth each form includes statistics for a five year period. These registers include the Fishing register number and letter; name, date of registration and reference, official number, tonnage etc along with a description of the kind of fishing in which the vessel was normally employed.... trawling, dredging, shrimping, cockling, musseling.

There was an indication of the number of crew normally employed but there is NO note of the names of any crew nor officer. These registers do however make it a simple matter to compile a list of all fishing vessels working out of a port at any particular time, and a systematic search may then be made of all crew agreements in order to compile records of a fisherman's service.

This is a brief overview of the records available for tracing British fishermen and records of fishing vessels. Other records may be held in local maritime museums and record offices and it is always worth while contacting the nearest archive to the port to enquire about any locally held records. The Public Record Office has recently revised their series of online leaflets and the latest version is available at their website National Archives »». They have also placed their catalogue on line from which you may ascertain the records you require.