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Raw Herring/Hollandse Nieuwe

by Alex Macbeth

Alex Macbeth reviews a film which examines why only two herring vessels remain fishing under the Dutch flag

For thousands of years, Dutch fishermen have been catching one of Holland's prime exports: New Dutch Herring. Whole communities and rituals grew around the seasonal trade.

Raw Herring follows two Dutch boats - Wiron 5 and Wiron 6 - the last of dozens that once carried the Dutch flag.

The boats zigzag across the North Sea, searching for schools of herring. But as the Wiron vessels revisit old latitude and longitude co-ordinates once abundant with fish, the North Sea's depleted herring stock becomes apparent. Search after search yields no catch.

"The Norwegians get most of the herring these days," proclaims one fisherman in the Wiron 5 canteen, where many of the fishermen drink and laugh the day away, awaiting news of fish from on-deck.

The boats travel North, South, East and West, returning to old sites like ‘Silverpit Crater,' only to return with empty nets.

But the herring are not the only threatened entity in the film: the fishermen's culture, which has been the backbone of Dutch port communities like Scheveningen for centuries, is also in danger of extinction. Many fathers still take their boys on the boats to learn the trade, but the tradition is threatened by cheaper processing techniques elsewhere.

A quaint yet timely portrait of a trade in decline.

Raw Herring, Netherland, 2013. Dir: Leonard Retel Helmrich and Hetty Naajkens-Retel Helmrich.

Alex Macbeth is a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Berlin.


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