Shona here. Sitting in a soundcheck, I'm finding that I never tire of watching John Grierson's film. Each place we go to, we find out something new about the film and its subject from our audiences and the research we're doing throughout the journey. Every time I saw this intertitle in the film, I never understood why a catch would be ruined if the sea got in the hold. Surely, there would be a bit of sea sloshing about in there anyway? It was a former boatbuilder from Buckie who answered my question after the screening in Baltasound, Unst. If sea got into a full hold, the fish would start rubbing up against each other. This would de-scale the fish and in turn de-value the catch when it came to auctioning it off on the quay.
To me, this is another example of how efficient herring fishing was in the early 20th century. As we look back at it now it's a labour intensive process, from the hours of hauling in nets to gutting each and every fish before packing. But not a moment's labour was lost. Sleep was often a scarcity on the boat as everyone had a role to play in the relatively few hours they were out at sea. Boats could be casting approximately two miles of nets, some of which were owned by a number of men not onboard but who paid to have their nets cast, so clubbing together to make the best use of the crew's time. The gutting quines were well known for their coefficient teams of three: two gutting and one (usually the tallest) packing the gutted fish into barrels with layers of salt and ice on top.
Grierson's level of research is clear throughout the film. He really got to know his subject indeed he'd spent time on commercial fishing boats as a young man. And audiences today certainly seem to recognise this if the reactions to screenings in former fishing communities on this tour are anything to go by.