Contributed by John Robinson, UK
Between 1901 and 1905 no less than 69 three-masted fishing vessels were registered at Fécamp in Normandy, France, a natural harbour whose ancient name Fiscannum derives from the term fisk used by the Scandinavian seafarers who had been regular visitors since antiquity.
Fécamp shipyards built many fine vessels in the last century, including the French Navy's two sail training vessels L'étoile andLa Belle Poule, still in service after 80 years. Can any other sail training vessel rival this length of service continuously in the same ownership? Presumably their active sail training role was interrupted by WWII.
For much of the last century, Fécamp landed most of France’s harvest from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. From 1931 power-driven trawlers began to oust the cod schooners. The life remained hard for those who fished in those hazardous North Atlantic waters, as recorded in the work of documentary photographer and oceanographer Anita Conti, who sailed with them to the Grand Banks on two occasions.
Calls to limit the catch to sustainable levels went unheeded, and from about 1980 the Grand Banks cod fishery was exhausted. The last French trawler quit Fécamp in 1987.The town has hitherto presented the story of its fishing industry in its Musée des Terres Nuevas, a compact but comprehensive museum on the seafront housing a complete fishing boat. But that institution is now closing its doors, preparatory to opening a much larger Musée des Pecheries adjacent to the former fishing harbour in an imposing industrial building dating from 1950. Work has now finished on a steel-framed ‘belvedere’ on the roof which will house an introductory gallery and provide visitors with striking views of the dock basins (now heavily used by leisure sailors)and the tall chalk cliffs that flank the harbor entrance. The new Museum of Fisheries is scheduled to open in 2013.
Much of the €13.5m budget for this impressive transformation has come from regional, national and European support funds. The new museum is a principal component in the strategy to promote Fécamp as a year-round tourist destination, and will broaden the town’s appeal beyond the Benedictine distillery and museum that is currently the main attraction. Local residents are assured that, with a doubling or tripling of annual visits compared with the existing museum, there will be no adverse impact on the town’s finances. The smaller building on the seafront will become a Médiatheque.
For further details, see: http://www.ville-fecamp.fr/Musee-des-Pecheries-le-chantier.html