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pliances, it might be; insomuch that the fisheries on the southern coast are by no means what a glance at the geography of the country might lead the inquirer to expect.
' In the Evidence” will be found a description of the most remarkable fishing-grounds around the entire coast of Ireland, as supplied by the Coast Guard replies to the Commissioners' queries. These are founded on information communicated by the fishermen ; and though in all probability not sufficiently accurate, they are still enough to satisfy the inquirer that the miserable and depressed condition of the fisheries is not a consequence of defective natural resources ; and that, on the contrary, Ireland is a decidedly favoured country as to the richness of its waters. With this fact foreign nations were early acquainted, and their fishermen were long accustomed to approach the Irish coasts for the purpose of fishing on ground superior to any near their own country.'pp. iv., v.
Now, can anything be more striking than this? Here is a store of wealth and abundant food, so rich that the foreigner finds his account in the outlay and risk of a voyage to procure it, while those whose natural property it is are not in a condition to touch it.
The Report goes on to state, that, exclusively of the finned fish, Ireland possesses oyster-banks which yield valuable returns when properly fished; and that the lobster-fishery would form a most lucrative branch of industry—but this is not sufficiently worked. There is no doubt that fine lobsters exist in great plenty on various points of the coast; and yet, the reporters observe, the English markets derive their principal supplies from Norway; while in the Irish markets lobsters are scarce, dear, and often not to be had. Scotland, as is well known, now sends its contribution to the London market; and ere long, Ireland, we trust, will do the
There is room for all. Consumers are every day increasing; and we will answer for the supply to an unlimited amount.
Whales are met with in the Irish seas; but these do not come within the sphere of our present observations, for they are mammiferous animals, nor is there any reason for supposing that more than occasional captures would be made. But it is otherwise with the sun-fish--not the Orthagoriscus oblongus of Schneider, Tetrodon truncatus of Gmelin and Pennant, which looks like some deep bream-shaped fish cut in half, with fins tacked on at the truncated end, though that often arrives at the weight of a hundred pounds—but the great hasking-shark or sail-fish, Squalus maximus of Linnæus, Selachus maximus of Cuvier, that grows to the length of thirty-six feet, and was confounded with the whales from its great size, and the overlooking of the branchial orifices and the perpendicular trim of its tail. But, shark as it is, the monster is a very harmless monster, and loves to lie lazily stretched
out on the surface of the sunny sea, now on his shining white belly, and anon, like a tired swimmer, on his broad, dark, leadcoloured back, and, apparently unsuspicious of guile, will suffer himself to be approached, and sometimes even stroked with the hand; but when he feels the harpoon, down he dives into the dark-blue depths, at first rolling in agony upon the ground to detach the deadly steel, which is often bent by the exertions of the victim, and then, when he finds his efforts unavailing, rushing a-head with a velocity and power that has been known to tow away a vessel of seventy tons against a fresh gale. On ordinary occasions, however, the fish swims leisurely with the back fins out of the water (whence the name of sail-fish). They sometimes disport themselves on the surface, leaping high above the waves, and falling back with a loud crash. The Commissioners state that these fish only a few
since visited the north-west coast annually in considerable numbers, but are now rarely seen there, resorting, according to the opinion of those best acquainted with the subject, to banks more distant from the coast. From this cause, and also perhaps from the inexpertness of the fishermen, and the want of proper boats to follow the business, the taking of sun-fish, they remark, may be said to have ceased, and the oil, formerly in high repute in the Dublin market, is scarcely to be found in the trade. It appears that, to pursue the sun-fish with success, the vessels employed should be of from eighty to one hundred tons burthen, with three attendant boats, manned with eight men each; but the Galway people consider forty tons to be sufficient; and the fishermen of that county go after it in their ordinary fishing-boats; nay, those of Mayo use still smaller craft for that purpose; but then, when these Mayo fishermen took a fish or two, they lost a large portion of the oil by conveying the liver (the only valuable part of the fish) to land in a small open boat, and also for want of fit means for extracting the oil. The Commissioners conclude that the prevailing opinion is probably correct—that the fish are still to be found farther from the shore, if due pains were taken to seek them; and that a valuable enterprise is open to such fishermen as could proceed on an adequate scale of operations. The high price of spermaceti oil in Dublin, and the excellent quality of that obtained from the sun-fish (especially if due care were taken to boil it while the liver is fresh and sweet), would, they think, ensure a brisk and steady sale for the article (Report, p. v.).
Pennant says of this species, which is the Hoe-mother or Homer* of the Orkney islanders
* Mother of the picked dog-fish (Spinax acanthias, Cuv.), called in the Orkneys Hoe.
These fish are migratory, or at least it is but in a certain number of years that they are seen in multitudes on the Welsh seas, though in most summers a single and perhaps strayed fish appears. They inhabit the northern seas, even as high as the arctic circle. They visited the bays of Caernarvonshire and Anglesey in vast shoals in the summer of 1756, and a few succeeding years, continuing there only the hot months, for they quitted the coast about Michaelmas, as if cold weather was disagreeable to them. They appear in the Firth of Clyde and among the Hebrides in the month of June, in small droves of seven or eight, but oftener in pairs, and continue in those seas till the latter end of July, when they disappear.'
The uncertain movements of the herring * are too well known to be here repeated; but come to the shore to spawn they must; and the only question is, where they will make their election : this is in all probability determined in great measure by food, for they frequently desert bays where they have been abundant, and reappear in large shoals.
The condition of the fishermen next occupies the attention of the Commissioners. They observe that in 1830, when the establishment was dissolved which had been formed by government in 1819 for promoting the Irish fisheries, similar to that created for the Scotch fisheries in 1808, there were around the coast of Ireland 64,771 fishermen and 13,199 fishing-boats. In 1836 there were, according to a carefully-revised enumeration, made by the officers of the coast-guard, only 54,119 fishermen and 10,761 boats :
"This decrease of 10,652 in the number of persons occupied in supplying fish for the markets of an increasing population occurring so suddenly, while the consumption of all other domestic supplies has been considerably augmented, and in a period during which the markets of Liverpool and Manchester have largely increased the demand on the industry of Irish fishers, is a lamentable fact, too plainly indicative of much local suffering. It appears, however, that at the appointment of the late Fishery Board, the total fishing population of Ireland amounted to but 36,000, and that during the short course of its activity the numbers increased to nearly double. Hence it may be inferred that the subsequent falling off must, in part at least, be a result of some previous excess of stimulation; and that the bounties had indeed drawn more persons to this branch of industry than in the then condition of the country were really enabled to support themselves by its exercise, without government aid.'-Report, p. vi.
And this brings us at once to the vexed question of the bounty system.
* Those acquainted with the Loch-Fyne fish well know the test of a well-fed herring. When held up and balanced by the back fin, the head and tail should be on an imaginary horizontal line.
The whole sum distributed under this system by the Irish Fishery Commissioners, from 1819 to 1830 inclusive, was 163,3761. 7s. 10d., and certainly a great increase in the activity of the trade was experienced under its operation; for much capital was drawn to it, and large sums were circulated among fishermen, curers, and the like. But it further appears that at the end of ten years, when the bounties were discontinued, the trade began to languish and fall back into exhaustion. In return for the large sums paid, little or no new capital had been created and vested in the fisheries ; so that many of the boats which had been brought into action by the stimulus were withdrawn from the trade, and were to be seen rotting upon the beach, while the unhappy crews who had manned them were driven to seek other employment, or sank into mendicancy. The Commissioners justly remark that some portion of this failure may indeed be assigned to causes not necessarily inherent in the system ; such as the shortness of its duration; the abrupt manner in which the bounties were withdrawn; the cost of outfit incurred by boatowners to obtain them; and to evasions and frauds which were largely practised to the injury of the fair dealer. It will be sufficient to state one instance to show with what more than Corinthian assurance the system was abused. Adventurers who chartered vessels from Ireland proceeded, without one Irish fisherman on board, to the coast of Scotland, there cast their nets, to evade the law, then purchased from the Scotch fishers enough to fill their barrels, and returned home to sack the bounties. So much for the working of a system which was to ensure the employment of Irish fishermen by bounties on cured fish.
To obtain the tonnage-bounties vessels were chartered which were never before used in the fisheries and only hired for an occasional adventure; and these bounties it appears were within the reach only of the owners of large-decked boats; for the scale was adopted from the Dutch, who fish far away and have long voyages to make, and which therefore, with a tact truly Milesian, was selected as the rule for those who were to fish at home. What was the result? The vessels so drawn into the Irish trade proved not to be generally available, and, so soon as the bounties were withdrawn, the decks of many of them were removed to adapt them better to the service. But we shall now let the Commissioners speak for themselves :
Many persons, who had never been concerned in the fisheries before, also became competitors with the established fishermen, when these bounties were given ; and none but the crews of large boats were served by the tonnage-bounties, though all partook of the production-bounties.
It is further to be observed, that the bounties did not augment local employment to any considerable extent among the fishers on the western coast of Ireland ; as the boats of Skerries, Balbriggan, and other places, which were employed on that coast in taking fish to cure for the bounties, brought with them fishermen, who, for the most part, took and cured whatever quantity was required—and as bounties were not obtained on the great bulk of the fish caught by the local fishermen.
• No permanent establishments or stations for curing fish were formed on that coast through the stimulus of bounties. There is not, on the whole line from Malin Head to Galway, one establishment for the drying of cod and ling; and the curing of herrings is at present as defective, even in Galway, as if a bounty for curing in barrels to preserve the pickle had never been given.
‘Only two reasons in support of bounties have been urged by the boat owners interested in them: they supplied capital to the adventurers, and enabled their crews to get credit for gear, which was provided in shares. It does not however appear in evidence that these benefits were of much permanent advantage; and even if, notwithstanding such drawbacks, they were still thought of permanent utility, similar advantages might be obtained by a better and cheaper machinery.
'It is true that bounties for promoting the fisheries are still given in France, Belgium, and Holland. But the example of other countries, far from affording encouragement to their revival, furnishes a conclusive argument against it; for, if bounties were capable of accomplishing any permanent good, the necessity for their continuance ought to have ceased in those countries long since.'— Report, p. xi.
In these observations we entirely agree with the Commissioners, after much reflection on the case, in all its bearings. The bounty system appears to have operated as a sudden stimulus, which is soon exhausted and followed by a reaction of hopeless collapse. Few things are more attractive than a forced plant; but at what an expense to its energies is it made to display its premature beauties! No: cheapen the necessaries of life to the fisherman; reduce the price of timber and enable him to build a better boat; give him a regular demand for the article in which he deals, and a harbour to fly to; teach him to rely on his own energies—they will do more to elevate him than all the false glare of the bountysystem which has been an ignis-fatuus to lure too many to destruction, and has been well characterised, as far as the tonnage-bounty is concerned, as 'a bounty on idleness and perjury.' Much of this has been done, and done well; and we look with increased confidence for the completion of the good work.
The Report divides the fishermen into four classes :
* 1. Those constantly engaged in fishing, who belong to Dublin Bay, Galway, Arklow, Dungarvan, and a few other stations. 2. Those partly engaged in fishing, and occasionally in the coast