The Sea’s Spring Harvest

As an island community our history is inextricably tied to the sea, and for generations we have taken to the waves to provide food and income for our families. Once upon a time this was a matter of sheer necessity, as what land was available for agriculture was often poor and difficult to raise crops upon.

Those villages with natural harbours and small open boats would fish with the ‘small lines’ baited with lug-worms, sand-eels and limpets to catch haddock and whiting. The catch from these could also be used to bait the ‘great lines’ of up to 1000 hooks to snare cod, ling, skate and turbot.

The fish would be split and dried to provide food throughout the winter, or sold to provide a little income to pay croft rents. Fish oil was also very useful for use in lamps in those distant days, long before electricity. But, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the ‘herring boom’ transformed these traditions into an industry.


Scalpay is an island just off the east coast of Harris (although they might prefer to say Harris is an island just off the west coast of Scalpay!), and boasts a long and deep history of fishing herring. So, it was there we turned to share more of our Island Calendar story as we caught up with local skippers Finlay Ewen and Donald Macleod.

Finlay and Donald have been fishing here since they were boys, taught by their father who had, in turn, been taught by their grandfather. This heritage would have enjoyed many of the good years of the herring harvest but times have changed somewhat since then.

Today, their focus is mainly on world-class shellfish, caught in pots and creels and hauled from the pristine waters around our islands, with much of their catch being sent to the eagerly awaiting tables of Spanish restaurants.


But, with more tourists and local demand for lobster, langoustine and crab, they’re now supplying people closer to home, selling straight from the boat at Scalpay’s North Harbour in their new business venture Scalpay Shellfish.

We love fresh seafood like this, and think our Isle of Harris Gin is the perfect accompaniment to deliciously simple dishes like grilled prawns and garlic butter, crab claws with lemon aioli or even a classic Lobster Thermidor. Serve it as neat and ice-cold shots, poured over ice or with just a small splash of tonic.

We also recommend adding a few drops of the Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water to the ingredients themselves to bring out even more of the maritime flavours.

Join us next week for part two of our look at the sea’s spring harvest as we catch up with Donald and Catriona Maclennan and their new Sound of Harris Shellfish venture as they work from Leverburgh harbour in the south of our island. Meantime, we hope you enjoy the film and slàinte mhath!

Our thanks to Finlay Ewen and Donald Macleod.

Music by Iain Morrison.

Film by Kenny Stewart.

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