Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how diverse our county is, and Yorkshire’s vibrant coastal region remains the beating heart of a historic fishing industry. For hundreds of years, our seaside towns have seen local fishermen bringing in catches full of delicious, fresh produce, including brown crab, scallops, and even the mighty lobster.
Throughout the county, fishermen, market traders, chefs, and more are all doing their bit to keep this crucial industry alive. At every stage, from ocean to table, local people are doing their utmost to bring the very best the sea has to offer to Yorkshire and the wider world.
Historically, the North Sea and Holderness have been rich waters for fishing ever since the end of the first ice age. Since then, countless generations have made a living off of the generous fruits of the Yorkshire coastline, before the arrival of railway lines and bigger fleets in the 1900s saw Yorkshire’s fisheries thrive.
Nowadays, the traditional oar-powered coble boats used by local fishermen have become an iconic symbol of the Yorkshire coast, while engine-powered craft are now much more common. But while the fisheries have faced many challenges in the last fifty years, the region remains home to the second-largest fishing industry in the UK, with only Scotland coming in above.
While the fishermen work tirelessly throughout the day to bring in their catch, this is only the beginning of the seafood journey. Towards late afternoon in Whitby, the boats begin to land, signalling factories such as L&W Shellfish to begin working through the night to pick, prep, and package the crab that comes in from the local boats.
Here you’ll find owner Louise Boocock making sure that the process runs smoothly. Once the crab arrives, the factory checks the quality before washing, stunning and boiling in salted water, then the team gets to work on the tricky task of hand-picking the crabs. By 5am, the crab is all dressed and packaged, ready to send off to local restaurants and the merchants who ship further afield.
The crab doesn’t have to travel far to reach the next stop, with the local fish merchants located just down the road from L&W’s factory, including Dennis Crooks and Lockers Trawlers. Will Crooks joined his dad’s merchant business at just 18 years old, and since then he’s expanded the reach of their customer base right across the country: “I’ve spent the last however long trying to get these retail outlet customers like restaurants and shops. We supply as far down as London, but our core market is Yorkshire, including around 300 places now, all with our own drivers.”
The challenge facing merchants such as Dennis Crooks is that fish is no longer coming in from local boats, due to fishing quotas and a focus on sustainability across the industry. Instead, the fish that the merchants supply comes from further afield, including Scotland, Norway, and Iceland, after which it is filleted and distributed alongside the local catch.
Lockers, another traditional Yorkshire fish merchant with their own trawlers, explain the overnight process which ensures their fish remains at its freshest. Setting off from Peterhead, each individual catch is labelled with where and when, then processed and supplied fresh to Whitby within 20 hours. Their focus on sustainability is especially evident, with a discard rate of 0.03% the best in Europe.
In Whitby, some of the fish and shellfish coming through Lockers ends up at the Magpie Café, a renowned family-run seafood restaurant that often sees queues building up on a sunny evening. But the supply chain also travels much further inland to local fish and chip shops throughout Yorkshire, such as Westmoreland Fisheries in Skipton, who receive two deliveries a week from Dennis Crooks.
Throughout Whitby, you’ll also find plenty of smaller businesses that continue to champion the traditional coastal industry. One of these is Cod Roe Fishmongers, a family-run business that operates around the clock to bring the freshest produce from the ocean to the table. Dad Adrian is out fishing for shellfish through the night, bringing his crab and lobsters back to the shop at 4am, ready to be prepped, while Mum and Daughter duo, Amanda and Natasha, take charge of the day-to-day running of the shop.
With such dedication to the trade and a real-love for seafood, it’s no surprise that Yorkshire has its fair share of seafood restaurants. These traders continue to champion the local produce, such as the Seaview Restaurant in Saltburn- by-the Sea, famous for its seafood platters and crab brioche, which are best enjoyed sitting out on the sun-drenched seafront terrace. Meanwhile, just down the coast, the Cod & Lobster Pub in Staithes serves up hearty seafood dishes from its waterfront home, echoing the traditional heritage of the thriving fishing communities.
In fact, most seaside towns and villages will boast seafood restaurants at the very top of their game, including the fresh, cooked-to-order fish and shellfish served up by Cafe Fish in Scarborough, and the stylish takes on traditional seafood fare offered up by Fish Cottage in Sandsend, a beachfront restaurant that oozes with seaside charm.
Yorkshire’s love of seafood doesn’t just stop at the coast, something proven by the team at the Crab and Lobster in Thirsk, a beautiful pub that plates up incredible seafood in their sun-trapped beer garden and cosy restaurant. Even as far inland as Sheffield, you’ll still find specialist fishmongers, such as JH Mann, championing delicious fresh produce to local shoppers, diners, and kitchens, helping to sustain this traditional industry that continues to write the history of our incredible seafood county.