The Danish seine fishing cutter the Ellen has more than a hundred years on its back – or rather on her beautifully shaped stern. She was built at the wharf of the famous shipbuilder Otto Dolmer in Vesterø in 1906 as a hunting-rigged sailing boat with an engine of 10 hp.
The Ellen – at the time the Fri, and also once the Ingrid, is made of oak, is almost 10 metres long, just under 4 metres broad and about 1.5 metres deep. The characteristic little whale on the stern is the trademark of Otto Dolmer.
The Ellen’s active career as fishing cutter stretched over 80 years, so it’s safe to say we are talking about real, solid shipbuilding. Of course certain adjustments were made during this period – including a wheel house and a larger engine, probably some time in the 1920s – and since then navigation and communication equipment has been added.
The Ellen more or less has her original set-up, and she is still equipped with all the necessary gear for Danish seine fishing, including an old stop machine for pulling in the seine ropes.
In 1989 the Ellen’s last master sold the cutter to Læsø Museum, which in cooperation with the Ship Guild Ellen, has since then maintained the Ellen so that she appears ready to sail, as a representative of a type of ship which has now largely disappeared from our waters. Besides ongoing maintenance, the wheel house and cabin have been renovated according to the Danish Ship Preservation Trust’s careful regulations, so that the ship remains as authentic as possible.
If you would like to see the Ellen just follow the signs in Vesterø Harbour. If you would also like to go on a trip to the Northern Rønner, have a chat about the cutter and fishing in olden days and listen to the rhythmic sound of the old classic Grenå-engine, you just have to join the Ship Guild – you can do this at the Maritime Museum, Vesterø Havnegade 5.
Danish seine fishing was invented by the Linfjord fisherman Jens Væver in 1848 and has since then been adapted for sea fishing, where the method had a revolutionary effect. On the sea, Danish seine fishing originally worked in such a way that the cutter would anchor with one end of the seine secured, after which you would row out in the ‘seine-dinghy’ with the seine rope and throw out the seine itself (the net bag). Then you would row in a semi-circle back to the cutter with the other end of the seine rope. When the cutter was reached, the seine bag was pulled in and emptied, and the same process would be repeated in a different direction from the anchored cutter – you would ‘spin’ around it until the entire area had been cleared. When engines appeared in Danish fishing around 1900 the dinghy became redundant. The cutter could now ‘spin’ itself around a buoy, regardless of wind direction, and the power of the engine could also be used in the capstans, so the heavy work of pulling in the seine became much easier.
As a result of Danish seine fishing the catch of cod and plaice in the Kattegat, for example, increased drastically – so much so that maritime biologists already in the 1890s (in other words even before the engine appeared) spoke of a reduction in the stocks as a result of too much fishing for plaice…
Danish seine fishing was an important part of Danish fishing far into the 20th century, but has gradually been replaced by trawling and seine fishing. Today Danish seine fishing, which is a very gentle fishing method, is mainly done with small boats.
By Jon Voss, Museum Inspector