The colourful row of “Hummerbuden” along Hafenstrasse – Harbour Road – is hard to miss. These lobster huts are regarded as one of Heligoland’s architectural landmarks. The historic originals were rather less colourful. They served the fisher folk as simple tool sheds, where they kept everything needed for their work.
For centuries, the islanders made a living from fishing. Along with herring, the main catch until the 19th century was haddock.
The haddock fishing grounds were out in the North Sea, at a distance of forty nautical miles or more. For trips like that, the fishermen used sloops, large wooden boats with sails and a folding side rudder. Once on the high seas, they laid out long lines with hooks. A sloop would have several kilometres of line with several thousand hooks on board, baited by the women before the boat set sail. In record years, the fishermen caught two million haddock a year. But since the 20th century, haddock fishing has vanished completely – the large trawlers fished the place clean, leaving nothing for the Heligoland fishermen.
In the German sector of the North Sea, the only place where you can catch lobsters is off the Heligoland cliffs and rocky reefs. In the 18th century, the fishermen still used gillnets to catch lobsters, but since 1790, they’ve switched to lobster pots.
At peak times before the Second World War, the fishermen were catching almost 90 thousand lobsters a year. But after the war, a wide range of factors led to the complete collapse of lobster fishing. Climate change and the pollution of the world’s oceans had destroyed the lobsters’ habitat. However, thanks to a breeding programme by the Heligoland Biological Institute, lobsters are back, and numbers are rising. Today, only a handful of fishermen catch lobsters as a side-line.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland