There must be something strangely sacred in salt. It is in our tears and in the sea.
~ Kahlil Gibran (from ‘Sand and Foam’)
The sea is perilous and unforgiving. Yet, fisherfolk from generation to generation wrestle with its power to earn a living and feed humanity. Theirs is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world — even more dangerous than that of merchant seamen.
In 2016 American fishers and fishing workers had the highest work-related death rate after loggers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worldwide, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says more than 24,000 fishermen die every year. The figure is likely much higher, since not all countries have a system in place for reporting and analysing occupational deaths.
For sure, a fisherman’s life is hard and even heroic. The following photos are a testimony to that life. Although these pictures were all taken at least a century ago, they still open a window to a world that is fascinating and, in a sense, timeless.
Niendorfer Fischer anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts (circa 1910)
Niendorf fisherman at the beginning of the 20th century
Photo: Chronik des Niendorfer Hafen
Dories Nested and Dress Gang Finishing up the Day’s Catch (1916)
Photo: John Nathan Cobb/ Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington
Valencia. Pêcheurs aux bords de la mer (d’après nature) (between 1860 and 1880)
Valencia. Fishermen at the seaside (from nature)
Photo: J. Laurent/ U.S. Library of Congress
Four-foot long cod are slung across the backs of cod fishermen (1915)
Photo: A. B. Wiltse/ National Geographic
Fishermen on the pier at Downings, Co. Donegal (1909)
Photo: National Library of Ireland on the Commons
Concarneau : le séchage des filets (1913)
Concarneau: the drying of the nets
Photo: Agence Roi/ Bibliothèque nationale de France
Herring girls, Scarborough, Yorkshire (circa 1910)
Photo: Samuel Coupe Fox/ Royal Museums Greenwich
Fishermen Unloading a Boat, Sea Bright, New Jersey (1887)
Photo: Louis Comfort Tiffany/ Smithsonian American Art Museum
Children playing on beach, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria (circa 1914)
Photo: Francis Francis Frith & Co/ Royal Museums Greenwich
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