Fishermen distinguish between inshore and offshore fishing. Inshore fishing takes place within reasonable proximity of the fisherman’s home port, while offshore fishing occurs further afield, requiring fishermen to spend some time away from their base (McGillicuddy, 2008, p.14). McCaughan notes that Irish herring grounds were 12-25 miles offshore, while mackerel could be caught up to 70 miles off the coast (1989, p.131).
Fishing may be seasonal. For instance the mackerel and herring fisheries have spring and autumn seasons. On the south coast, mackerel fishing generally occurred in March and April, the spring season (Rynne, 2006, p.201). At this time of year, shoals were found some distance out to sea, so large fishing vessels were required. In spring, fish were usually caught and sold fresh (McGillicuddy, 2008, p.15).
By contrast, during the autumn season the shoals lay nearer to the shore. In West Cork they frequently occurred ‘where the cliffs are high and steep and with northern aspect’ (Inspectors of Irish Fisheries, 1884). During this season fishermen could use smaller rowing boats to capture the fish.
At the start of the season fishermen used seine nets, which were replaced by gill, or mesh, nets from September. These could be drifted or anchored out at dusk. The season ended, Green remarked, ‘at the commencement of the wintry gales, [when] the fish retire into the deep waters, and do not make their appearance again before the summer when shoals of small fish, herrings, sprats, & c. approach the shore, pursued by the larger kinds, which feed upon them’ (1902, pp.376-7).