May 14th – The Festival of Coracle Fishing

There is an extensive archaeological record of coracle fishing in the Buentoille region, primarily because of craft preserved in the marshes which border the City. It seems that for hundreds of years the coracle, a small, usually circular, one-person boat made from animal hide or tar-covered material stretched over a wooden frame, was a primary source of sustenance to the people of the region, and they became embedded in the Buentoilliçan culture as the City developed.

In the early days of the City, peasants would supplement their crops and earnings with trout and crayfish, and this tradition became a working class pastime when no longer needed for survival. Coracle fishers could be seen each Wednesday after church, zipping across the surface of the water to reach their crayfish traps, or holding a net between them to catch fish. River and marsh eels were also a popular catch of coracle fishers.

The coracle was particularly popular with the working classes not only because of the tradition behind it, but also because they were comparatively cheap to build, and could easy access shallow parts of rivers because of their high position in the water. Unfortunately, this and their potential fragility made them unsuitable for sea fishing, were stronger, more expensive craft were used, even in the comparatively calm waters of the Buentoilliçan Bay.

Unfortunately, their restriction to the river meant that the practise of coracle fishing and indeed of making coracles all but died out in the fifteenth century when industry began to pollute the Moway river in earnest. As fishing the river was primarily considered a working class activity, there was little effort from legislators to stem the flow of pollutants, which were not only killing the fish, but also, according to more more modern research, probably causing cancers and other such nasty diseases in the folk who ate the fish. Parliament’s response to the pollution was to re-route the river out of their way, and the way of the richer neighbourhoods, because of how malodorous it had become, but as they owned many of the factories causing the pollution they did nothing to stop the cause.

It about a century later, in 1545, that the Working Group for the Preservation of Working Class Culture was formed, an offshoot of which eventually becoming the Society of Coraclers. Little to no actual fishing was done on and around the Moway at this point (although upstream a wealthy aristocrat, Bertaine Devil, built a large lodge and selection of supporting servant’s cottages for the purpose of fly-fishing, now called Devil’s Elbow) for the simple reason that there were no fish, but the Society would build coracles nonetheless, in an attempt to keep the craft alive for future generations. Each member would build their own coracle in their spare time, then send it down the river with a scarecrow-style fisher in it (to actually pilot the craft would leave one perilously close to the foul waters).

Heavy industry lessened somewhat in and around the river towards the end of the 18th century, although the river was still too polluted to allow life back. After the Revolution, however, the workers who now ran the factories instigated far more stringent controls on the waste they produced, ensuring that it was properly disposed of rather than simply being dumped directly into the river. Hundreds of years of poisoning doesn’t go away overnight, but there have been significant improvements in recent years; river weeds are once again prevalent, and they are attracting in turn much of the biodiversity that once existed there.

Perhaps the most significant sign that things are returning to their pre-industrial form is the re-emergence of the migratory spring trout spawn. The spring trout, partly named for the time of year it appears, partly named for its tendency to jump out of the water to catch insects as it makes its way upriver to spawn, was always considered a great delicacy, and used to appear in such great numbers that they would feed many families for a good few weeks. The first few trout began to arrive last night, so today the coracle fishers will be out in the water, as they would have been all those hundreds of years ago.

Because numbers are still low fishers are limited to five fish each, and licenses are handed out sparingly, but there are hopes that in the next few decades stocks will return to pre-industrial levels. The Coraclers still build their unmanned craft, in addition to those actually used for fishing. At some point in the nineteenth century it became popular within the Society to grow flowers in any coracles which survived previous journeys downriver, and then to set them loose once again. As the fish returned, the Society has coincided the release of the coracles with their spawn, meaning that today the Moway will be full of life, as spring trout surge through the water, fishers lay out their nets whilst being emulated by scarecrows, and large baskets of bright spring flowers float aimlessly on by.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Excellent Excuses
  • Hat Maker’s Day
  • The Festival of Extremely Small Accessories