Aquaculture [/ˈakwəkʌltʃə/] – [noun] The rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food.
The farming of fish is said to have begun as early as 3500 BCE in China. The Chinese used to farm carp, a fish native to China, in freshwater ponds on silk farms. The monsoon would result in the waters from the rivers entering paddy fields and the surrounding irrigation ponds, these waters would bring with them common fish like carp. Over a period of time, the Chinese must’ve noticed that these fish could easily be cultivated in the ponds which must’ve led them to start farming fish.
The cultivation of freshwater and saltwater fish
Similarly, as per the hieroglyphs, 2500 BCE, ancient Egyptians had begun the aquaculture of Tilapia, a variety of freshwater fish, in ponds along the Nile River. The Japanese had started farming freshwater fish around 100 BCE. While the Romans are believed to have begun oyster farming in coastal lagoons sometime during the 1st century BCE.
By the medieval times, the farming of aquatic animals such as fish, molluscs, and crustaceans was being practised in most parts of the world to meet the growing demand for seafood.
The Middle Ages
Fishing fleets were common in this era. This period saw the growth of markets and fairs where people could buy and sell goods. Here, the fishmongers would set up stalls with fish from the sea, freshwater, and those that were farmed in fishponds. Medieval England had marketplaces where a great variety of seafood could be bought like mackerel, herring, lampreys, stockfish, cod, eels, cured salmon, and live crabs.
The Great Fish Market, painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder
People began to experiment with seafood recipes. The Irish liked to grill their fish on a griddle. The Japanese had found many different ways to cook fish such as nikogori (jellied fish), grilled fish, fish soup, and the use of dressing to add flavour to a fish salad. In the 14th century a cookbook called ‘The Forme of Cury’ was written by the Master-Cooks of King RICHARD II, which had a number of freshwater fish and seafood recipes.
The forme of cury : a roll of ancient English cookery, compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the master-cooks of King Richard II, presented afterwards to Queen Elizabeth, by Edward, lord Stafford, and now in the possession of Gustavus Brander, Esq.
Culinary prowess had started to receive the acclaim that it deserved in most kingdoms and this motivated the cooks to try new things in the kitchen. Where seafood cooking was concerned the medieval times can be termed as anything but the dark ages!
Fishing lamprey in a stream; Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century
Modern History, The Age Of Discovery
This was the era of scientific discoveries and inventions. During this time, boats began to be redesigned for better efficiency. The Dutch developed the Herring Buss in the 15th century, which was used for catching fish with long gill nets. By the 17th century, the British had developed an early version of a long-liner, called the Dogger, which was effective for fishing in the rough waters of the North Sea. In the 18th century, the lightweight and easy to build, Dories were introduced for catching cod. In the south-west of England, in the fishing town of Brixham, the Brixham trawler was developed in the 19th century with the intention of travelling longer distances to fish in the ocean. By the late 19th century steam power had begun to be used for powering fishing boats.
Herring Buss taking aboard its drift net (G. Groenewegen)
Further advancements in technology meant mechanization of tasks such as hauling, also better navigation systems, better equipment for finding and trapping fish, and for preserving the freshness of the raw produce.
The Digital Age As the world has become more interconnected in this age of information, it has influenced how we communicate, carry out our work, our social interactions, and how we trade goods and services.
The Digital World
It has also redefined our seafood story. The technological progress over the ages has provided us with more capable fishing crafts and better tools for harvesting seafood, be it angling, netting, trolling, long-lining, or dredging. New cold chain advancements have led to an increase in shelf life while maintaining freshness/quality of produce and have made a variety of quality seafood available irrespective of geography. The Internet on the other hand has made it possible for us to access seafood from the comfort of our homes. It connects the buyer and the seller in a seamless manner, making it possible for almost anyone to have the choicest seafood delivered directly to their doorstep.
The dawn of agriculture during ancient history resulted in us not having to go foraging for our food in the wild anymore. Similarly, the beginning of this information era has made it possible for us to not to have to step out to shop for our raw produce as we can now buy it online. In most cases, when buying from a trusted source, it is a convenient and hassle-free experience that helps us save time and the effort. Basically, quality seafood is now just a click away due to internet-based home delivery services.
As we move forward, the internet, which offers us the platform to buy our seafood as per our convenience and helps us access a wide variety of the finest quality of raw produce, will continue to shape our seafood story further.
History Extra, Feature, Time traveller’s guide medieval shopping. Published on Monday 1st September 2014. Submitted by: Emma Mason. This article was first published in the October 2008 issue of BBC History Magazine.