You may never have heard of a wondyrechaun, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time this description should sound familiar.
And that the great and long iron of the wondyrechaun runs so heavily and hardly over the ground when fishing that it destroys the flowers of the land below water there, and also the spat of oysters, mussels and other fish upon which the great fish are accustomed to be fed and nourished. By which instrument in many places, the fisherman take such quantity of small fish that they do not know what to do with them … to the great damage of the commons of the realm and the destruction of the fisheries, and they pray for a remedy.
You might think of destructive bottom trawling as a modern phenomenon, but that paragraph was written in 1376 as part of a commoners’ petition to the English king Edward III, asking him to ban the new practice.
I learned this tidbit from Callum Roberts’ new book, “The Unnatural History of the Sea,” which we’ve mentioned before. Roberts notes, “What’s striking about the commoners’ petition is that, even at the very beginning, the trawl was perceived as a destructive and wasteful fishing method.”
King Edward apparently didn’t see it that way. While he set up an exploratory commission to look into the trawling nets – which were weighted down with lead and “many great stones” – the historical record reflects no official ban on the practice. On the bright side, it gives us something to do.