Sitting proudly in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man had a long history of subsistence fishing, with herring, ling and cod plentiful in the seas around the place. Indeed the island's 'national' dish is boiled potatoes and herring, simple, filling, nutritious, from a time before offshore banking and rich second homers. The Manxmen were fortunate not only in the location of their territory as regards fishing, but the timing of the herring's arrival there each season: June, the last fish departing in August, thus the fish caught nearby are in their prime, oil-rich condition.
Kippering was developed by Northumberland 's John Woodger in about 1843, and by the 1870s it had been adopted by fish processors in Peel on the West Coast of the Isle of Man. There are still quality fish smokers in Peel today.
In earlier times salting and smoking were very definitely to preserve the fish for transportation and storage, salt cod for example having been the staple protein of sugar plantation slaves in the West Indies. But by the mid-Victorian era railways and improved shipping were speeding the carriage of foodstuffs, and so the processors were able to reduce the salting and smoking of fish, making them more instantly palatable, and importantly also reducing the length and thus cost of the curing process.
The Manx Kipper is direct evidence of that trend from preserving to pleasure. It is traditionally left rather more oily than other cures, the smoking being light and brief, so it is not intended for long keeping.
There is significance in the designation of the kippers produced on the Isle of Man: Manx Kippers are guaranteed free from colouring, so the old-gold colouring of the flesh is from the smoke alone; Isle of Man Kippers can use dye.
It is rather tragic that many now avoid kippers because of the fiddly bones they contain. Kippers are a true delicacy, and the survival of regional differences is surely something to be supported and more importantly enjoyed. Those holidaying on the island should make a point of breakfasting on them at least once during their stay; though once is unlikely to be enough.
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