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The Scottish Fishery Board
From Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (1855)


This is an article at the time when the Herring industry was in full flow and thus makes interesting reading.

The capture and cure of the herring is now the largest, in point of extent, of all our fisheries, and with the single exception of agriculture, the most valuable branch of our productive industry. As an article of food, the herring is at onoe a welcome visitor to the table of the rioh and the humbler board of the poor. Exported to foreign countries, it has proved an increasing source of wealth to the nation; but its chief value undoubtedly is in the means of employment and subsistence which it affords to many thousands of our poorer population, rearing a hardy and enterprising race of seamen, who in time of peace are usefully employed in adding to the industry of the country, and in time of war supply our fleets with able and experienced sailors. These advantages, so well understood at the present day, appear to have escaped the attention of the legislature and the country until a comparatively recent period. For more than a century prior to 1749, the herring fishery on our coasts was in the hands of the Dutch, then onr great commercial rivals. The extent to which they availed themselves of this permission, may be estimated from the fact that, at one time, no fewer than 1,600 burses, or herring vessels were despatched to our shores, and so great has been the wealth derived from these fisheries, that it mainly contributed to the maritime greatness of Holland, and it has long passed into proverb with the Hollanders, that the city of Amsterdam was founded on herring bones. It is difficult at the present day to account for the supineness of the nation in regard to its coast fisheries at that time, or to reconcile this state of things with the energy and enterprise of the British people. It may be accounted for, partly, by the fact that the Dutch had acquired a footing in the trade, and the art and mystery of curing herrings in such perfection as, even at the present day, to maintain their superiority in the markets of Europe.

In the year 1749, the attention of Parliament was directed to the subject, in a speech from the Throne; and a Committee of the House of Commons having recommended a vigorous effort to explore and cultivate this hitherto neglected field of industry, a corporation was formed, called "The Society of the Free British Fishery, with a subscribed capital of half a million. The Prince of Wales was appointed Governor, and men of the highest rank and fortune enrolled themselves as patrons and supporters of the new Society. A remission was obtained of the duties on salt, and an extravagant tonnage bounty was offered to each buss fitted out for the deep sea fishery. But the Society defeated its own objects and hastened its own destruction by the very lavishness of its encouragement, for the bounty became, in course of time, a much more eager object of pursuit than the fish, and vessels were fitted out, of the requisite size and tonnage, with no other purpose than to u catch the bounty. In 1759, the incredible sum of 159 7s. 6d. was paid as bounty for each barrel of herrings produced, an article which at the present time may be purchased for twenty shillings.

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