Ancient sailors used to eat horrid food. Why didn't they fish?
Sarah C
2008-03-09 12:42:18 UTC
I was reading about pirates and other sailors from the past. It seems they ran out of fresh food really quickly and subsisted on a diet of "hard tack" for long voyages.

My question is, why didn't they just catch fish? They could have had a tasty fish chowder every day instead of yucky biscuits.
Eleven answers:
2008-03-09 12:54:41 UTC
It is my understanding that it is difficult to fish on a sailing ship. Many fish won't bite a worm or other bait swimming 12-15 knots through the ocean - this isn't a natural mealtime option for them - the bigger fish may (marlins, tuna), but these are very large fish requiring a fishing operation, not a simple sailor fishing for his afternoon cup of chowder. The option then would be to take down the sails, stopping the vessel for a few hours to allow the men to fish (and fish populations tend to be much more plentiful near the coasts, rather than in the shipping lanes of the deep sea), which could take a lot of time and resources and leave the men on the high seas (where weather was their worst enemy) for a longer period of time. Conversely, they could travel nonstop to the nearest port of safety simply by storing food in some of their holds.

I think sailors did not enjoy the months at sea. Stopping to fish so often would not yeild such high results, and there was no guarantee that the fishing would be so successful - meaning the men could starve. I doubt many sailors would have joined with the caveat that they'd have to fish for their own food. Sailors did consume more than simple hard-tack, though this was the light and portable staple, along with alcohol :-)

Even if some sailors did desire to fish for extra tasty bits to make some fish pate for their hard-tack crackers, there are still a few problems. Any moving ship would inevitably cause all the lines cast on either side of the ship to crift toward the same location, toward the ship's stern (rear). So really you could only have one line on either side without the multiple lines getting caught. This hardly makes for a dependable food source for 30, 90, or 160 men. Throw out a net you contest, and the ship is now dragging a lot of weight and moving quite slowly through the water, adding hours or days to the length of the journey. On a crowded ship over the course of several months in crossing the sea, every day spent on the ship needlessly endangers the captain to the risk of mutinee. These men DID NOT want to be on these ships for very long.

Finally I think a lot of these sailors were inately afraid of the sea. We think of them as sturdy seamen, but by and large, until the advent of the professional British navy, they were largely men who had little or no experience on the seas.
2016-12-24 04:38:42 UTC
Vince M
2008-03-09 12:58:07 UTC
Of course, they fished, but, remeber, a pirate ship was not equipped to do much commercial fishing. What fish were caught would have been brought in by some pretty basic tackle, much like a baited hook, one fish at a time. Condisering that they were not out at see on fishing expeditions, they wouldn't be hanging around known fishing grounds.

Also consider how much luck any random person at sea may have, dipping a line into unknown waters. Even good fishermen have bad luck.

Also, pirates and any other sea farers did not go out to sea with the intention os wandering around for months, expecting to run out of food. A typical voyage would have been planned for a few days, or weeks, with plenty of food stored. It was only the ocaisional trip that lasted longer, and, running out of food would have been considered a disaster. "Fresh" food was a relative discription, so that a piece of wormy meat was not considered all that bad, even on dry land.

Hard tack and corn meal could last a very long time, so lack of fresh food did not mean hardship until THAT ran out.
2016-10-18 10:28:42 UTC
Ancient Sailors
2008-03-09 13:44:27 UTC
As said above you cannot fish while running under wind, the crew was busy either sleeping or working, and you wouldn't be able to catch enough fish to feed everyone everyday.

And as for stopping to fish, noone would be crazy enough to do so. You never knew when the wind would fail and leave you stuck in the middle of the ocean with a dwindling water supply, so one did not waste time stopping every day to fish. Water was the real problem, and once you ran out of water you were dead. Better eat hard tack than die of thirst.
2014-09-25 18:20:11 UTC
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2008-03-09 19:10:31 UTC
Very good answers !!! Fish are all members of the food chain. Great big fish eat smaller fish. Smaller fish eat smaller fish. Those little fellers eat plankton and small organisms. The food chain begins in wetlands where nutrients flow into the ocean from inland rivers. If you are out in the middle of the ocean there is nothing to create a food chain. Thus, no fish and terrible luck at catching a fish for your supper. Please pass the hardtack.
2016-07-31 02:35:14 UTC
Great point, but I'm not 100%
2008-03-09 12:50:18 UTC
They did fish. This was their main source of food, for sure. "Hard tack" was sort of like the equivalent of emergency rations. Also, starting a fire on a boat to cook saltwater fish is risky.
2008-03-09 12:50:30 UTC
they did fish! fish are not everywhere in the ocean. the guy before me mentioned fire. they did not start too many fires on a wooden boat. Most of the time it was NEVER.
2016-08-27 12:35:36 UTC
Interesting question!

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