Herring disappearance caused by dumped weapons?
Former naval intelligence officer, Bill Cooper, 80, believes the dearth of herring in the North Sea is linked to the dumping of nerve gas into Germany’s River Rhur at the end of World War II.
Bill, author of the seminal cruising book Sell Up And Sail which has inspired many hundreds of yachtsmen to do just that, is the Lowestoft-born son of an East Coast fisherman.
Bill recalls how his father landed a record 220,000 herring from his steam drifter in 1938. Then came World War II and there was no fishing from 1939 until 1945. Even after hostilities ceased, fishing did not make much of a comeback over the following year or two as mines and wrecks were cleared. ‘So there was virtually no fishing for 10 years,’ he said.
When trawling re-commenced fishermen found much of their plaice catch were disfigured with tumours: ‘That’s when the fish finger was invented,’he said, ‘ because the fish had to be filleted to get rid of the diseased flesh.’ But the great shoals of herring had disappeared completely.
One of Bill’s tasks while still working in naval intelligence at the end of the war was to shred old files which were no longer needed. It was while engaged in this task that he stumbled across details of a nerve gas factory based on the Rhur. No state wanted to admit it stockpiled such material and so, Bill says, the agent was dumped into the river. ‘The River Maas was dead and the plaice were the first creatures to be affected and many think it this that caused the disappearance of the herring,’said Bill.