In Great Britain, at least as early as the 18th century – 20th century, a unit of capacity for fresh herring before cleaning, since 1852 the quantity needed to fill 37½ imperial gallons (about 6.03 cubic feet, or 170.5 liters).  From the Gaelic crann, a measure for herring. Sometimes spelled crane. Under the Herring Industry Board's rules, and Weights and Measures Regulations, any herring not sold by the cran must be sold by weight.  A cran typically contains about 1200 fish, but can vary from 700 to 2500.1

The cran originated in Scotland as a heaped measure. A standard but bottomless 30-gallon herring barrel was filled to overflowing with fish, and then the barrel was lifted off. Because the fish were heaped, the resulting pile contained more than 30 gallons of herring – observers estimated around 34 wine gallons2 (others say 35 to 36). An Act of 18153 allowed the Commissioners of the Fishery Board to define the size of the cran, which they did in 1816, setting it at 42 wine gallons. In 1832 it was legally redefined as 45 wine gallons. The 1852 redefinition was simply a restatement of 45 wine gallons in imperial gallons.1  

In 1908 the cran was made a legal measure in England and Wales,4, having previously been legal only in Scotland.

In the United States, the size of the cran was fixed “from and after the first day of June, 1816, the cran to be used for the purchase and sale of fresh herrings...shall be of the content or capacity of forty-two gallons English wine measure.”5

1. J. J. Waterman.
Measures, Stowage Rates and Yields of Fishery Products.
Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Torry Advisory Note No, 17.
London: HMSO.

Available on the web at

2. Second Report of the Commissioners appointed by his Majesty to consider the subject of weights and measures. (1820).

Appendix A, page 14. Cites 41 George III.

3. Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act of 1815.
55 George III c 94, par XIII.
Statutes at Large, Volume XX.

Some say the commissioners didn't get around to setting a value until 1832, and 42 wine gallons was simply a holdover.

4. Cran Measures Act.
8 Edward VII c 17. (1908)
Public General Statutes, Volume XLVI.

Page 30.

5. Report of the Commissioners for the herring industry.
22nd Congress, 2nd Session, House Document No. 99. (1832)



At a Tynwald Court holden at Castle Rushen, the 11th Day of June, in the fifty-seventh Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, and in the Year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventeen, before the Honourable CORNELIUS SMELT, Lieutenant Governor, the Council, Deemsters, and Keys of the said Isle:

An Act for the better Regulation of the Herring Fishery, and the Prevention of Frauds in the Purchase and Sale of Herrings in the Isle of Man, and on the Coasts thereof.

[section on tarred nets omitted]

And whereas, in Consequence of the Frauds practised by the present Mode of buying and, selling Fresh Herrings in the Isle of Man and on the Coasts thereof, by Tale, it is become expedient that Rules aud Regulations should be established for the future Purchase and Sale of the said Fish by Measure commonly called a Cran: Be it therefore further enacted, that from and after the Expiration of one Calendar Month from the Promulgation of this Act, all Fresh Herrings which shall be bought and sold in the said Island, or on the Coasts thereof, (whereof the Quantity of such Purchase or Sale shall exceed a Half-cran) shall be by the Measure commonly called the Cran or Half-Cran ; and that the Cran to be used for the Purchase and Sale of Fresh Herrings as aforesaid, shall be of the Contents or Capacity of forty-two Gallons English Wine Measure, reckoning from the outermost Extremities of the Staves, and that it shall be made of Oak Staves completely seasoned; the Staves not to be under two Inches, nor to exceed four Inches in Breadth, and no Croze allowed ; and the Length of the Cran shall be thirty-one Inches of made work ; that the Bung Diameter, exclusive of the Thickness of the Staves, shall be twenty-one Inches, and that the Diameter of the Ends, taken correctly from Inside to Inside at the very Extremity thereof, shall be eighteen Inches, so that the main Diameter will be twenty Inches and one-tenth Part of an Inch, and the Contents forty-two Gallons and One-half; but Care to be taken at the Adjustment of the Measure, and before it is branded, to reduce the Cran to the exact Guage of forty-two Gallons, by paring a little from the Ends of the Staves.

And be it further enacted, That the Contents or Capacity of the Half-Cran shall be twenty-one Gallons English Wine Measure; that the Staves shall be of the same Quality and Thickness required for the Cran, and from two to three Inches in Breadth; and the Length of the Half-Cran shall be twenty-one Inches of the made work ; and the Bung Diameter, exclusive of the Thickness of the Staves, eighteen Inches, and the inside Diameter of the Ends sixteen lnches; the main Diameter will thus be seventeen Inches; and the said Half-Cran, before it is branded, to be reduced to the exact Guage of twenty-one Gallons English Wine Measure, by paring the Staves as before directed with respect to the Cran.

And be it further enacted; That no Cran, or Half-Cran or Measure shall be used, until it shall have been presented to and approved of by one of the High Bailiffs of this Isle; and that upon the said High Bailiff being satisfied that the Measure is in every respect conformable to the before mentioned Regulations, he shall cause the same to be branded in his Presence with an hot Iron bearing the Figure of a Crown thereon; and that the Iron or Stamp of the Crown shall be applied to the Outside of four different Staves, two at each End, care being had to place the Brand on the Joint at the one End which was not applied to on the other.

And be it further enacted, That upon the approval and branding of every such Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure, the said High Bailiff shall be entitled to have and receive the Sum of one Shilling British, from the Person or Persons presenting the said Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure, to be branded as aforesaid.

And be it further enacted, That if at any Time after the Promulgation of this Act, any Person or Persons shall Purchase or Sell any Fresh Herrings, (whereof the Quantity of such Purchase or Sale shall exceed a Half-Cran), otherwise than by the said Cran or Half-Cran, such Person or Persons shall be subject and liable to a Penalty or Forfeiture not exceeding ten Pounds British, nor less than three Pounds British, for every such Offence, at the Discretion of the Court herein after mentioned.

And any Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure, not so marked or branded as aforesaid, which shall be made use of in the buying, or receiving, or selling, or delivering of Fresh Herrings in the Isle of Man, or on the Coasts thereof, every Person or Persons so making Use thereof shall forfeit such Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure; and also any Sum not exceeding ten Pounds British, nor less than three Pounds British, at the Discretion of the said Court. And any Person or Persons, not authorized by Virtue of this Act, branding any Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure, with the Marks or Characters abovementioned, or with any Marks or Characters counterfeiting the same, shall forfeit the Sum of fifty Pounds British Money.

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for all Officers of His Majesty's Customs within or belonging to this Isle, to search for and seize any such Cran, or Half-Cran, or Measure, as shall not be marked or branded conformable to this Act, as well as such Tarred Net or Nets as aforesaid.

Mark Anthony Mill.
The Ancient Ordinances and Statute Laws of the Isle of Man, Carefully copied from, and compared with, the Authentic Records
Douglas: Printed at the Phoenix Press, 1821.
Pages 465-469.


Before discussing the measure peculiar to the Scotch Fisheries, let us first see the necessity of authorising the same.

Big catches of fish must be landed and dispatched to their destinations as quickly as possible, owing to their perishable nature. To weigh the fish or measure it in the ordinary way would not only take too long, but would be altogether unnecessary, because if a difference of two or three fish were made between two baskets, their value would be altogether infinitesimal, and the probabilities are that any snall shortage in one basket would be made up in another. Moreover, the ordinary wooden measures of capacity are altogether unsuitable for allowing the water and slime to drain off when filling.

The Scotch Fishermen, therefore, used baskets known as quarter-crans. But in reality they were used as “measures,” and not merely as “containing vessels,” … and from their mode of construction could not be placed on the same footing as measures which were multiples of authorised units.

The Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, by section 4, therefore authorised the cran and quarter-cran measures, when duly branded, as the only legal measures of capacity in the herring industry of Scotland, but also permitted the sale of herrings “by weight, or number, or in bulk.”

The capacity of the cran had previously been fixed in a Notice issued by the Fishery Board for Scotland, dated May 15, 1852, at Edinburgh, as being equal to 37½ Imperial gallons.

The stamped wooden cran measure has always been reckoned the standard measure when any dispute arose between seller and buyer, but as it is too unhandy for fishermen to use, the quarter-cran basket measure is really the only measure now used in the herring fishery.

Regulations have been issued since the passing of the 1889 Act, minutely describing the construction of the quarter-cran, and the internal measurements. If the contents of a basket with large intervening spaces between the uprights of the sides can be given in gallons, it may be said the quarter-cran contains 9 3/8 gallons, equal to 42.618 liters.

drawing of quarter-cran

The Quarter-Cran, showing the raised centre, the branded piece of hardwood beneath each cane handle, 1½ inches broad, &c.; pieces of hoopwood (6 in number), 1 inch broad, bark outermost and equi-distant with willows in between; also the binding, waling and cane fitching, according to precise instructions issued by the Fishery Board of Scotland, the Quarter-Cran being the only “legal” local measure in use in the United Kingdom.

Alfred J. Martin.
Up-to-date Tables of Imperial, Metric, Indian and Colonial Weights and Measures…
London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904.
Pages 62-63.

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