The Economic History Review

The expansion of the south‐western fisheries in late medieval England

Volume 53 Issue 3
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Pages: 429-454Authors: Maryanne Kowaleski
Published online: January 22, 2003DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.00166

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This article argues that the expansion of marine fishing in south-western England from the late fourteenth century to the early sixteenth was part of the maritime sector’s critical, but unappreciated, contribution to the rising prosperity of the region. Revenues from fishing represented a substantial supplement to the income of the fisher-farmers who dominated the industry; promoted employment in ancillary industries such as fish curing; improved the seasonal distribution of maritime work; and stimulated capital investment in ships, nets, and other equipment because of the share system that characterized the division of profits within fishing enterprises. In offering what was probably the chief source of employment within the maritime sector, fishing also provided the ‘nursery of seamen’ so prized by the Tudor navy, and built the navigational experience that underpinned later voyages of exploration.