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The Harvest of the Sea
Chapter XIII - Our Shell-Fish Fisheries


 Productive Power of Shell-Fish - Varieties of the Crustacean Family - Study of the Minor Shell-Fishes - Demand for Shell-Fish - Lobsters - A Lobster Store-Pond described - Natural History of the Lobster and other Crustacea - March of the Land-Crabs - Prawns and Shrimps, how they are caught and cured - A Mussel-Farm - How to grow bait.

SHELL-FISH is the popular name bestowed by unscientific persons on the Crustacea and Mollusca, and no other designation could so well cover the multitudinous variety of forms which are embraced in these extensive divisions of the animal kingdom. Fanciful disquisitions on shell-fish and on marine zoology have been intruded on the public of late till they have become somewhat tiresome; but as our knowledge of the natural history of all kinds of sea animals, and particularly of oysters, lobsters, crabs, etc., is decidedly on the increase, there is yet room for all that I have to say on the subject of these dainties; and there are still unexplored wonders of animal life in the fathomless sea that deserve the deepest study.

The economic and productive phases of our shell-fish fisheries have never yet, in my opinion, been sufficiently discussed; and when I state that the power of multiplication possessed by all kinds of Crustacea and Mollusca is even greater, if that be possible, than that possessed by finned fishes, it will be obvious that there is much in their natural history that must prove interesting even to the most general reader. Each oyster, as we have seen, gives birth to almost incredible quantities of young. Lobsters also have an amazing fecundity, and yield an immense number of eggs—each female producing from twelve to twenty thousand in a season; and the crab is likewise most prolific. I lately purchased a crab weighing within an ounce of two pounds, and it contained a mass of minute eggs equal in size to a man's hand ; these were so minute that a very small portion of them, picked off with the point of a pin, when placed on a bit of glass, and counted by the aid of a powerful miscroscope, numbered over sixty, each appearing of the size of a red currant, and not at all unlike that fruit : so far as I could guess the eggs were not nearly ripe. I also examined about the same time a quantity of shrimp-eggs; and it is curious that, while there are the cock and lien lobster, I never saw any difference in the sex of the shrimps : all that I handled, amounting to hundreds, were females, and all of them were laden with spawn, the eggs being so minute as to resemble grains of the finest sand.

Although the crustacean family counts its varieties by thousands, and contains members of all sizes, from minute animalculae to gigantic American crabs and lobsters, and ranges from the simplest to the most complex forms, yet the edible varieties are not at all numerous. The largest of these are the lobster (Astacus marinus) and the crab (Cancer pagurus) ; and river and sea cray-fish may also be seen in considerable quantities in London shell-fish shops ; and as for common shrimps (Crangon vulgaris) and prawns (Palaemon serratis), they are eaten in myriads. The violet or marching crab of the West Indies, and the robber crab common to the islands of the Pacific, are also esteemed as great delicacies of the table, but are unknown in this country except by reputation.

Leaving old and grave people to study the animal economy of the larger Crustacea, the juveniles may with advantage take a peep at the periwinkles, the whelks, or other Mollusca. These are found in immense profusion on the little stones between high and low water mark, and on almost every rock on the British coast. Although to the common observer the oyster seems but a repulsive mass of blubber, and the periwinkle a creature of the lowest possible organisation, nothing can be farther from the reality. There is throughout this class of animals a wonderful adaptability of means to ends. The turbinated shell of the periwinkle, with its finely-closed door, gives no token of the powers bestowed upon the animal, both as provision for locomotion (this class of travellers wherever they go they carry their house along with them) and for reaping the tender rock-grass upon which they feed. They have eyes in their horns, and their sense of vision is quick. Their curiously-constructed foot enables them to progress in any direction they please, and their wonderful tongue either acts as a screw or a saw. In fact, simple as the organisation of these animals appears to be, it is not less curious in its own way than the structure of other beings which are thought to be more complicated. In good truth, the common periwinkle (Littorina vulgaris) is both worth studying and eating, vulgar as some people may think it.

Immense quantities of all the edible molluscs are annually collected by women and children in order to supply the large inland cities. Great sacks full of periwinkles, whelks, etc., are sent on by railway to Manchester, Glasgow, London, etc. ; whilst on portions of the Scottish sea-coast the larger kinds are assiduously collected by the fishermen's wives and prepared as bait for the long hand-lines which are used in capturing the codfish or other Gadidae. As an evidence of how abundant the sea-harvest is, I may mention that from a spot so far north as Orkney hundreds of bags of periwinkles are weekly sent to London by the Aberdeen steamer.

From personal inquiry made by the writer he estimated that for the commissariat of London alone there were required three millions of crabs and lobsters ! May we not, therefore, take for granted that the other populous towns of the British empire will consume an equally large number ? The people of Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin, are as fond of shell-fish as the denizens of the great metropolis; at any rate, they eat all they can get, and never get enough. The machinery for supplying this ever-increasing demand for lobsters, crabs, and oysters, is exceedingly simple. On most parts of the British coast there are people who make it their business to provide those luxuries of the table for all who wish them. The capital required for this branch of the fisheries is not large, and the fishermen and their families attend to the capture of the crab and lobster in the intervals of other business. The Scotch laird's advice to his son to "be always stickin' in the ither tree, it will be growin' when ye are sleepin'," holds good in lobster-fishing. The pots may be baited and left till such time as the victim enters, whilst the men in the meantime take a short cruise in search of bait, or try a cast of their haddock-lines a mile or two from the shore ; or the fishing can be watched over, and when the lobsters are numerous, the pots be lifted every half-hour or so. The taking of shell-fish also affords occupation to the old men and youngsters of the fishing villages, and these folks may be seen in the fine days assiduously waiting on the lobster-traps and crab-cages, which are not unlike overgrown rat-traps, and are constructed of netting fastened over a wooden framework, baited with any kind of fish offal, or garbage, the stench of which may be strong enough to attract the attention of those minor monsters of the deep. A great number of these lobster-pots are sunk at, perhaps, a depth of twelve or twenty fathoms at an appropriate place, being held together by a strong line, and all marked with a peculiarly-cut piece of cork, so that each fisherman may recognise his own lot. The knowing youngsters of our fishing communities can also secure their prey by using a long stick. Mr. Cancer Pagurus is watched as he bustles out for his evening promenade, and, on being deftly pitched upon his back by means of a pole, he indignantly seizes upon it with all his might, and the stick being shaken a little has the desirable effect of causing Mr. Crab to cling thereto with great tenacity, which is, of course, the very thing desired by the grinning "human" at the other end, as whenever lie feels his prey secure lie dexterously hauls him on board, unhooks the crusty gentleman with a jerk, and adds him to the accumulating heap at the bottom of the old boat. The monkeys in the West Indies are, however, still more ingenious than the "fisher loons" of Arran or Skye. Those wise animals, when they take a notion of dining on a crab, proceed to the rocks, and slyly insinuating their tail into one of the holes where the crustacea take refuge, that appendage is at once seized upon by the crab, who is thereby drawn from his hiding-place, and, being speedily dashed to pieces on the hard stone, affords a fine feast to his captor. This reminds me of the story told about a man's dog which was seized by a crab when passing a fish shop : Punch has it, "Whustle on your dog, man;" "Na, na, my man; whustle you on your partan." On the granitebound coast of Scotland the sport of crab-hunting may be enjoyed to perfection, and the wonders of the deep be studied at the same time. A long pole with a small crook at the end will be found useful to draw the crab from his nest, or great fun may be enjoyed by tying during low-water a piece of bait to a string and attaching a stone to the other end of the cord. The crab seizes upon this bait whenever the tide flows, and drags it to its hole, so that when the ebb of the tide recurs, the stone at the end of the cord marks the hiding-place of the animal, who thus falls an easy prey to his captor. The natives are the best instructors in these arts, and seaside visitors cannot do better than engage the services of some strong fisher youth to act as guide in such perambulations as they may make on the beach. There are few seaside places where the natives cannot guide strangers to rock pools and picturesque nooks teeming with materials for studying the wonders of the shore.

Lobsters are collected and sent to London from all parts of the Scottish shore. I have seen on the Sutherland and other coasts perforated floating chests filled with them. They were kept till called for by the welled smacks, which generally make the circuit of the coasts once a week, taking up all the lobsters or crabs they can get, and carrying them alive to London. From the Durness shores alone as many as from six to eight thousand lobsters have been collected in the course of a single summer, and sold, big or little, at threepence each to the buyers. The lobsters taken on the north-east coast of Scotland and at Orkney are now packed in seaweed and sent in boxes to London by railway. Lobsters have not been so plentiful, it is thought, in the Orkney Islands of late years; but a large trade has been done in them since the railway was opened from Aberdeen-at all events, the prices of lobsters are double what they used to be in the time of the welled smacks alluded to above. The fisher-folks of Orkney confess that the trade in lobsters pays them well. At some places in Scotland lobsterfishing is pursued at great risk. Among the groups of rocky islands on the west coast of Scotland, it is often a work of great danger to set the lobster-pots, and often enough after being set they cannot again be reached, in consequence of sudden squalls, till many days have elapsed ; so that, if the remuneration for the labour is good, it is sometimes very hardly earned.

All kinds of crustaceans can be kept alive at the place of capture till " wanted "-that is, till the welled vessel which carries them to London or Liverpool arrives-by simply storing them in a large perforated wooden box anchored in a convenient place. Nor must it be supposed that the acute London dealers allow too many lobsters to be brought to market at once; the supply is governed by the demand, and the stock kept in large store-boxes at convenient places down the river, where the sea-water is strong and the liquid filth of London harmless. But these old-fashioned store-boxes will, no doubt, be speedily superseded by the construction of artificial store-ponds on a large scale, similar to that erected by Mr. Richard Scovell at Hamble, near Southampton. That gentleman's pond has been of good service to him. It is about fifty yards square, and is lined with brick, having a bottom of concrete, and was excavated at a cost of about £1200. It will store with great ease 50,000 lobsters, and the animals may remain in the pond as long as six weeks, with little chance of being damaged. Lobsters, however, do not breed in this state of confinement, nor have they been seen to undergo a change of shell. There is, of course, an apparatus of pipes and sluices for the purpose of supplying the pond with water. The stock is recruited from the coasts of France and Ireland ; and to keep up the supply Mr. Scovell has in his service two or three vessels of considerable size, which visit the various fisheries and bring the lobsters to Hamble in their capacious wells, each of which is large enough to contain from 5000 to 10,000 animals.

The west and north-west coasts of Ireland abound with fine lobsters, and welled vessels bring thence supplies for the London market, and it is said that a supply of 10,000 a week can easily be obtained. Immense quantities are also procured on the west coast of Scotland. A year or two ago I saw on board the Islesman steamboat at Greenock a cargo of 30,000 lobsters, obtained chiefly on the coasts of Lewis and Skye. The value of these to the captors would be upwards of £1000, and in the English fishmarkets the lot would bring at least four times that sum.

A very large share of our lobsters is derived from Norway, as many as 30,000 sometimes arriving from the fjords in a single day. The Norway lobsters are much esteemed, and we pay the Norwegians something like £20,000 a year for this one article of commerce. They are brought over in welled steam-vessels, and are kept in the wooden reservoirs already alluded to, some of which may be seen at Hole Haven, on the Essex side of the Thames. Once upon a time, some forty years ago, one of these wooden lobster-stores was run into by a Russian frigate, whereby some 20,000 lobsters were set adrift to sprawl in the muddy waters of the Thames. In order that the great mass of animals confined in these places may be kept upon their best behaviour, a species of cruelty has to be perpetrated to prevent their tearing each other to pieces; the great claw is there rendered paralytic by means of a wooden peg being driven into a lower joint.

I have no intention of describing the whole members of the crustacea; they are much too numerous to admit of that, rang-inn as they do from the comparatively giant-like crab and lobster down to the millions of minute insects which at some places confer a phosphorescent appearance on the waters of the sea. My limits will necessarily confine me to a few of the principal members of the family-the edible crustacea, in fact; and these I shall endeavour to speak about in such plain language as I think my readers will understand, leaving out as much of the fashionable "scientific slang" as I possibly can.

The more we study the varied crustacea of the British shores, the more we are struck with their wonderful formation, and the peculiar habits of their members. I once heard a clergyman at a lecture describe a lobster in brief but fitting terms as a standing romance of the sea-an animal whose clothing is a shell, which it casts away once a year in order that it may put on a larger suit-an animal whose flesh is in its tail and legs, and whose hair is in the inside of its breast, whose stomach is in its head, and which is changed every year for a new one, and which new one begins its life by devouring the old ! an animal which carries its eggs within its body till they become fruitful, and then carries them outwardly under its tail; an animal which can throw off its legs when they become troublesome, and can in a brief time replace them with others ; and lastly, an animal with very sharp eyes placed in movable horns. The picture is not at all overdrawn. It is a wondrous creature this lobster, and I may be allowed a brief space in which to describe the curious provision of nature which allows for an increase of growth, or provides for the renewal of a broken limb, and which applies generally to the edible crustacea.

The habits of the principal crustacea are not pretty well understood, and their mode of growth is so peculiar as to render a close inspection of their habits a most interesting study. As has been stated, a good-sized lobster will yield about 20,000 eggs, and these are hatched, being so nearly ripe before they are abandoned by the mother, with great rapidity-it is said in forty-eight hours-and grow quickly, although the young lobster passes through many changes before it is fit to be presented at table. During the early periods of growth it casts its shell frequently. This wonderful provision for an increase of size in the lobster has been minutely studied during its period of moulting. Mr. Jonathan Couch says the additional size which is gained at each period of exuviation is perfectly surprising, and it is wonderful to see the complete covering of the animal cast off like a suit of old clothes, while it hides, naked and soft, in a convenient hole, awaiting the growth of its new crust. In fact, it is difficult to believe that the great soft animal ever inhabited the cast-off habitation which is lying beside it, because the lobster looks, and really is, so much larger. The lobster, crab, etc., change their shells about every six weeks during the first year of their age, every two months during the second year, and then the changing of the shell becomes less frequent, being reduced to four times a year. It is supposed that this animal becomes reproductive at the age of five years. In France the lobster-fishery is to some extent " regulated." A close-time exists, and size is the one element of capture that is most studied. All the small lobsters are thrown back to the water. There is no difficulty in observing the process of exuviation. A friend of mine had a crab which moulted in a small crystal basin. I presume that at some period in the life of the crab or lobster growth will cease, and the annual moulting become unnecessary ; at any rate, I have seen crabs and other crustaceans taken from an island in the Firth of Forth which were covered with parasites evidently two or three years old.

To describe minutely the exuviation of a lobster, crab, or shrimp, would in itself form an interesting chapter of this work, and it is only of late years that many points of the process have been witnessed and for the first time described. Not long ago, for instance, it was doubtful whether or not the hermit-crabs (Anonaoura) shed their skin ; and, that fact being settled, it became a question whether they shed the skin of their tail ! There was a considerable amount of controversy on this delicate point, till the "strange and unexpected discovery "was made by Mr. Harper. That gentleman was fortunate enough to catch a hermit-crab in the very act, and was able to secure the caudal appendage which had just been thrown off. Other matters of controversy have been instituted in reference to the growth of various members of the crustacea; indeed, the young of the crab in an early stage have before now been described by naturalists as distinct species, so great is the metamorphosis they undergo before they assume their final shape-just as the sprat in good time changes in all probability to the herring.

Another point of controversy at one period existed in reference to the power of crustaceans to replace their broken limbs, or occasionally to dispense, at their own good pleasure, with a limb, when it is out of order, with the absolute certainty of replacing it.

When the female crustacea retire in order to undergo their exuviation, they are watched, or rather guarded, by the males; and if one male be taken away, in a short time another will be found to have taken his place. I do not think there is any particular season for moulting ; the period differs in different places, according to the temperature of the water and other circumstances, so that we might have shell-fish (and white-fish too) all the year round were a little attention paid to the different seasons of exuviation and egg-laying.

The mode in which a hen lobster lays her eggs is curious: she lodges a quantity of them under her tail, and bears them about for a considerable period; indeed, till they are so nearly hatched as only to require a very brief time to mature them. When the eggs are first exuded from the ovary they are very small, but before they are committed to the sand or water they increase considerably in size, and become as large as good-sized shot. Lobsters may be found with eggs, or "in berry" as it is called, all the year round ; and when the hen is in process of depositing her eggs she is not good for food, the flesh being poor, watery, and destitute of flavour.

When the British crustacea are in their soft state they are not considered as being good for food ; but, curiously enough, the land-crabs are most esteemed while in that condition. The epicure who has not tasted "soft crabs" should hasten to make himself acquainted with one of the most delicious luxuries of the table. The eccentric land-crab, which lives far inland among the rocks, or in the clefts of trees, or burrows in holes in the earth, makes in the spring-time an annual pilgrimage to the sea in order to deposit its spawn, and the young, guided by an unerring instinct, return to the land in order to live in the rocks or burrow in the earth like their progenitors. In the fish-world we have something nearly akin to this. We have the salmon, that spends one-half its life in the sea, and the other half in the fresh water ; it proceeds to the sea to attain size and strength, and returns to the river in order to perpetuate its kind. The eel, again, just does the reverse of all this; it goes down to the sea to spawn, and then proceeds up the river to live; and at certain seasons it may be seen in myriad quantities making its way up stream. The march of the land-crabs is a singular and interesting sight: they congregate into one great army, and travel in two or three divisions, generally by night, to the sea ; they proceed straight forward, and seldom deviate from their path unless to avoid crossing a river. These marching crabs eat up all the luxuriant vegetation on their route ; their path is marked by desolation. The moment they arrive at the water the operation of spawning is commenced by allowing the waves to wash gently over their bodies. A few days of this kind of bathing assists the process of oviposition, and knots of spawn similar to lumps of herring-roe are gradually washed into the water, which in a short time finishes the operation. Countless thousands of these eggs are annually devoured by various fishes and monsters of the deep that lie in wait for them during the spawning season. After their brief seaside sojourn, the old crabs undergo their moult, and at this period thousands of them sicken and die, and large numbers of them are captured for table use, soft crabs being highly esteemed by all lovers of good things. By the time they have recovered from their moult the army of juveniles from the seaside begins to make its appearance in order to join the old stock in the mountains; and thus the legion of land-crabs is annually recruited by a fresh batch, which in their turn perform the annual migration to the sea much as their parents have done before them.

It is worth noting here that lobsters are year by year becoming "smaller by degrees and beautifully less," all the large ones are being fished up and the small ones are never allowed to become bigger in consequence of the yearly increasing demands of the public. As a general rule, the great bulk of lobsters are not much more than half the size they used to be. The remedy is a close-time. Yes; there must be a close-time instituted for the lobster and the crab as well.

Before leaving the crabs and lobsters, it is worthy of remark that an experienced dealer can tell at once the locality whence any particular lobster is obtained-whether from the west of Ireland, the Orkney Islands, or the coast of Brittany. The shelly inhabitants of different localities are distinctly marked. Indeed fish are peculiarly local in their habits, although the vulgar idea has hitherto been that all kinds of sea animals herd indiscriminately together; that the crab and the lobster crept about the bottom rocks, whilst the waving skate or the swaggering ling fish dashed about in mid-water, the prowling "dogs" busily preying on the shoals of herring supposed to be swimming near; the brilliant shrimp flashing through the crowd like a meteor, the elegant saithe keeping them company; the whole being overshadowed by a few whales, and kept in awe by a dozen or so of sharks ! Nothing can be more different than the reality of the water-world, which is colonised quite as systematically as the earth. Particular shoals of herring, for instance, gather off particular counties ; the Lochfyne herring, as I have mentioned in the account of the herring-fishery, differs from the herring of the Caithness coast or that of the Firth of Forth ; and any 'cute fishmonger can tell a Tweed salmon from a Tay one. The herring at certain periods gather in gigantic shoals, the chief members of the Gadidae congregate on vast sand-banks, and the whales occasionally roam about in schools ; while the Pleuronectidae occupy sandy places in the bottom of the sea. We have all heard of the great cod-banks of Newfoundland, of the fish community at Rockall; then is there not the Nymph Bank, near Dublin, celebrated for its haddocks ? have we not also the Faroe fishing -ground, the Dogger Bank, and other places with a numerous fish population? There are wonderful diversities of life in the bosom of the deep ; and there is beautiful scenery of hill and plain, vegetable and rock, and mountain and valley. There are shallows and depths suited to different aspects of life, and there is life of all kinds teeming in that mighty world of waters, and the fishes live

"A cold sweet silver life, wrapped in round waves,
Quickened with touches of transporting fear."

The prawn and the shrimp are ploughed in innumerable quantities from the shallow waters that lave the shore. The shrimper may be seen any day at work, pushing his little net before him. To reach the more distant sandbanks he requires a boat ; but on these he captures his prey with greater facility, and richer hauls rewards his labour than when he plies his putting-net close inshore. The shrimper, when he captures a sufficient quantity, proceeds to boil them ; and till they undergo that process they are not edible. The shrimp is "the 'Undine' of the waters," and seems possessed by some aquatic devil, it darts about with such intense velocity. Like the lobster and the crab, the prawn periodically changes its skin ; and its exertions to throw off its old clothes are really as wonderful as those of its larger relatives of the lobster and crab family. There are a great many species of shrimp in addition to the common one ; as, for instance, banded, spinous, sculptured, three-spined, and two-spined. Young prawns, too, are often taken in the "puttingnets " and sold for shrimps. Prawns are caught in some places in pots resembling those used for the taking of lobsters. The prawn exuviates very frequently ; in fact, it has no sooner recovered from one illness than it has to undergo another. Although the prawn and the shrimp are exceedingly common on the British coasts, when we consider the millions of these "sea insects," as they have been called, which are annually consumed at the breakfast tables and in the tea-gardens of London alone (not to speak of those which are greedily devoured in our watering-places, or the few which are allowed to reach the more inland towns of the country), we cannot but wonder where they all come from, or who provides them ; and the problem can only be solved by taking into account the fact that we are surrounded by hundreds of miles of a productive seaboard, and that thousands of seafaring people, and others as well, make it their business to supply such luxuries to all who can pay for them. It is even found profitable to send these delicacies to England all the way from the remote fisheries of Scotland.

The art of "shrimping" is well understood all round the English coasts. The mode of capturing this particular member of the crustacea is by what is called a shrimp-net, formed of a frame of wood and twine into a long bag, which is used as a kind of miniature trawl-net ; each shrimping-boat being provided with one or two of these instruments, which, scraping along the sand, compel the shrimp to enter. Each boat is provided with a "well," or store, to contain the proceeds of the nets, and on arrival at home the shrimps are immediately boiled for the London or other markets. The shrimpers are rather ill-used by the trade. Of the many thousand gallons ,cut daily to London, they only get an infinitesimal portion of the money produce. The retail price in London is four shillings per gallon, out of which the producer is understood to get only threepence ! I have been told that the railways charge at the extraordinary rate of £9 a ton for the carriage of this delicacy to London. It is an interesting sight to watch the shrimpers at their work, and such of my readers as can obtain a brief holiday should run down to Leigh, or some nearer fishing place, where they can see the art of shrimping carried on in all its picturesque beauty.

The fresh-water cray-fish, a very delicate kind of miniature lobster, abundantly numerous in all our larger streams, and exceedingly plentiful in France, may often be seen on the counters of our fishmongers ; as also the sea cray-fish, which is much larger in size, having been known to attain the weight of ten or twelve pounds, but it is coarser in the flavour than either the crab or lobster. The river cray-fish, which lodges in holes in the banks of our streams, is caught simply by means of a split stick with a bit of bait inserted at the end. The fresh-water cray-fish has afforded a better opportunity for studying the structure of the crustacea than any of the saltwater species, as its habits can be more easily observed. The sea cray-fish is not at all plentiful in the British Islands, although we have a limited supply in some of our markets.

There has hitherto been a fixed period for the annual sacrifice to crustacean gastronomy. As my readers are already aware, there is a well-known time for the supplying of oysters, which is fixed by law, and which begins in August and ends in April. During the r-less months oysters are less wholesome than in the colder weather. The season for lobsters begins about March, and is supposed to close with September, so that in the round of the year we have always some kind of shell-fish delicacy to feast upon. Were a little more attention devoted to the economy of our fisheries, we might have lobsters and crabs upon our tables all the year round. In my opinion lobsters are as good for food in the winter time as during the months in which they are most in demand. It may be hoped that we shall get to understand all this much better by and by, for at present we are sadly ignorant of the natural economy of these, and indeed all other denizens of the deep.

Considering the importance attached by fishermen to the easy attainment of a cheap supply of bait, it is surprising that no attempt has been made in this country to economise and regulate the various mussel-beds which abound on the Scottish and English coasts. The mussel is very largely used for bait, and fishermen have to go far, and pay dear, for what they require -their wives and families being also employed to gather as many as they can possibly procure on the accessible places of the coast, but usually the bait has to be purchased and carried from long distances. I propose to show our fisher-people how these matters are managed in France, and how they may obviate the labour and expense connected with bait buying or gathering, by growing such a crop of mussels as would not only suffice for an abundant supply of bait, but produce a large quantity for sale as well.

It is no exaggeration to say that, although the British people are shy of eating the mussel, except when it is cooked for sauce - and a very excellent sauce it makes - countless millions are annually required by our fishermen for bait. There is one little fishing-village in Scotland which I know, from personal investigation, uses for its own share, for the baiting of the deep-sea lines required in the cod and haddock fishery, close on five millions of these molluscs, which have all to be sought and gathered from the natural beds, the men, and the women as well, having frequently to go long distances to obtain them. These figures will not be thought to be exaggerated when I say that each deep-sea line requires about twelve hundred mussels to bait it; and as many of the boats carry eight or ten lines, it is easy to check the calculation. The fishermen, it is hoped, may by and by come to grow their own mussels, as do the industrious men of Aiguillon; and if they do not turn mussel-farmers after what I have to tell them, they will have themselves to blame for the ultimate extinction of the mussel, for the natural scalps are giving way under the present increasing demand for bait.

"Where is Aiguillon?" was naturally enough the first question I had to answer, after determining to visit the great French mussel-farm ; but no one could answer it. I asked many who are interested in fishery matters, but none of them had heard of the mussel-farm. Aiguillon, they said, was mentioned in Murray's Guide, and doubtless the site of the fishery would be there. But the mussel-farm is not at the Aiguillon mentioned by Murray, which is a town, of nearly two thousand inhabitants, on the left bank of the Lot, about a mile above its influx into the Garonne. My Aiguillon, indeed, is not even on the same line of railway, although it is at an equally great distance from Pall Mall. In fact, Murray contains nothing at all about my Aiguillon. Murray has a soul above mussels, and, to speak the truth, doesn't even seem to care much about oysters, seeing that he sometimes neglects to mention localities where they are grown in the greatest profusion. I found my Aiguillon at the port of Esnandes, which is itself a curious out-of-the-way place.

In order to see the mussel-farm, it is necessary first to get to Paris, and to take the Orleans Railway to Poitiers, then to change to the line for La Rochelle, after reaching which place a voiture must be hired for the rest of the journey, Esnandes being about seven kilometres from Rochelle. I need not weary the reader with a description of all that is to be seen on the Orleans Railway, which, as all the travelling world at least knows, runs through the most historical part of France. Looking from the window of the railway carriage, I enjoyed for a few hours the lovely champaign scenery of the claret district of France. There are vine-fields, and big joint-stock walnut trees, and cherry orchards-and cherry orchards, walnut trees, and vineyards, over and over again, all the way to Bordeaux. Then there are little patches of water ; and dark-green grassy quadrangles laid down every here and there, guarded by those tall alder trees one sees in such profusion all over the Continent. Every here and there, too, may be seen a distant chateau on its finely-wooded hill ; then come a few old farmhouses, their inner yards alive with the minute industry of the plodding husbandmen. Anon we pass the outskirts of old historical towns, tempting one to break one's journey.

It might have well suited others to perform these pleasures of travel; my errand was to see la moule. History had no charms for me till I had seen the mussel-farms, which I had come so far to visit. To my exceeding astonishment, almost no one in La Rochelle knew anything about the industry of Aiguillon. I had to search far and wide to obtain information as to how to get to the place ; another exemplification of the old story, that one may live all his life in London, and not be able to find his way to St. Paul's. By virtue of a little Scottish perseverance, and the expenditure of much bad French, I at length found out that it was at Esnandes that they cultivated la moule. So, procuring a voiture, and a garcon to drive it, I sallied away out through the gates and barriers of La Rochelle ; and after a pleasant drive through the vineyards and small farms of the district, on each of which there appeared to be a little flock of black sheep, I arrived in about an hour's time at my destination, much to the astonishment of the idle poultry and young dogs of the neighbourhood, which looked and acted as if they never had seen a voiture or a Scotchman before.

The port of Esnandes is very much like all other fish' villages, and the fisher-people like all other fishing-people. As you enter the town, you feel that it has the usual ancient and fish-like smell; and you see, as you suppose, the same little boys with the overgrown small-clothes that you meet with in the fishing-villages of England or Scotland. After passing a little way down the one street of the village, you observe all the way, right and left, the invariable mussel middens, the worn-out old fish-baskets, and the various other insignia of the trade of the people, the like of which you can also see at Whitstable or Cockenzie. The people waken up the moment it is buzzed about that a stranger has arrived. At first, I thought the population were all out at sea, but I was so quickly surrounded by an inquisitive little crowd, that I speedily gave up that idea; and as soon as I had explained my errand to the buxom landlady of the village cafe, I was provided with a guide, who kindly escorted me to the bouchots (fishing hurdles), or rather to the depot of the boucholiers, which is about a quarter of a mile from the village.

Having alighted from the carriage, I looked around me with some curiosity ; but I saw no farm of mussels, no appearance even of there being a common fishery. About a mile away to the right there was moored a small fleet of the common flatbottomed fishery-boats peculiar to the coast. A few miles to the left lay the Ile de Rd, famous for its oyster-beds; but where was the object of my search-the mussel-farm ? Well, to make a long story short, the farm was at that particular hour covered with water; but, as the tide was on the ebb, I speedily obtained a view of the vast mud-fields to which the people of Esnandes are indebted for their peculiar fish-commerce. The story of the translation of these vast sloughs of mud into fertile fields of industry, productive of comfort and wealth, is short and simple, for the discovery of the bouchot was purely accidental. An Irish vessel, laden with sheep, having been wrecked in the bay, so long ago as the year 1235, only one out of all the crew was saved. This man's name was Walton, and he became the founder of the present industry by means of the bouchot system of cultivation. On finding himself saved, he at once set about finding a means of earning his own food, so that he might not be a burden upon the poor fishermen who had rescued him from the ravening waters, and who were themselves at the time wellnigh destitute of every comfort of life.

All around him, however, as Walton soon perceived, was one vast expanse of liquid mud, and what could any man do on such a barren field? Walton speedily solved the problem. He first of all invented a mode of travelling upon the mud-bed, for walking was an impossibility, as at every step he sank up to the knees in the miry clay. This boat is called a pirogue by the boucholiers, and it is still in use. By means of this simple machine, which I will by and by describe, Walton was able to travel along and explore the muddy coast, by which he found out that vast numbers of land and sea birds used to assemble on the waters and in the mud in search of food. A kind of purse-net for the capture of these birds at once suggested itself to the hungry sailor. This being made and set on the mud as a trap to float with the tide, was found to answer admirably, and every night large numbers of aquatic birds were captured in its purse-like folds. It was out of that little example of a destitute sailor's ingenuity that the present industry of Aiguillon was developed, for it was not long before Walton found the strong posts to which he had affixed his net all covered over with the spawn of the edible mussel ; these he found grew very rapidly, and when mature, had a much finer flavour than the mud-grown bivalves from whence the spawn had floated. The Irishman soon saw how he could multiply his own food-supplies, and create at the same time a lasting industry for the benefit of the poor people among whom he had been thrown by his unfortunate shipwreck; he therefore went on multiplying his stakes, till he found that there was no end to the produce; so that in due time this accidental discovery became a rich inheritance to the fisher-folks of the district, for in ten years after the shipwreck the bay was covered with an appropriate and successful mussel-collecting apparatus, out of which has grown the present extensive commerce.

The work of cultivation at Aiguillon is carried on very systematically. I shall give what I learned about it, just as I saw it myself, or as it was described to me by my guide, a very civil and `immensely voluble fisherman, who had the whole theory and practice of mussel-farming at his finger-ends, or rather at the end of his tongue. It was truly curious to consider that the same mode of cultivating and working was going on that had prevailed from the beginning-the invention having been perfect from the first. One of the most curious phases of the whole industry is the mode of progression over the fields which has been adopted by the men, for each man has not only to paddle his own canoe on these soft fields of mud, but if he have a visitor, he has to paddle his boat as well. The manner of progression is very primitive. The man kneels in his little wooden vessel with one leg, the other, being encased in a great boot, is fixed deep in the mud ; a lift of the little canoe with both hands, and a simultaneous shove with the mud-engulfed leg, and lo ! a progress of many inches is achieved ; this action, frequently repeated by the industrious labourers, soon overcomes the distance between the different fields ; and when a new trousseau has to be carried out to the bouchots, or a stranger has to be conducted over the fields, two men will load a canoe, and work it out between them, not, however, without a few jolts and jerks, which, like a ride on a camel's back, is rather tiring to the unaccustomed. When three of the canoes are joined together by means of pieces of stout rope, the boucholier in the first one uses his left leg as the propelling power, while the man in No. 3 uses his right leg, and by this means they get along in a straighter line and with greater speed. This peculiar boatexercise has not a little of the comic element in it, especially when one sees a fleet of more than a hundred narrow boats all propelled in the same eccentric manner by upwards of one hundred merry boucholiers. I may mention that the mud at Aiguillon is unusually smooth and soft ; there are no sun-baked furrows to interrupt the progress of the canoe, a fact that is due to the presence of a little animal, which accomplishes for the boucholier what a regiment of a thousand soldiers could not perform.

In addition to the large and strong stakes originally used as holdfasts for his bird-nets, Walton planted others, in long rows, in the form of a double V, with their apex open to the sea, the sides being interlaced with branches of trees, to which the mussels, by means of their byssus, affixed themselves with great aptitude. These bouchots were also so arranged one with another so as to serve as traps for the taking of such fish and crustaceans as frequent the coast; so that the fishermen had thus a double chance, being, of course, always assured, when there is no fish, of a canoeful of mussels.

The men in search of fish depart for the farm a little time before the tide recedes, and taking their places at the mouth or apex of the V, they affix a small net to the opening, so that they are sure to intercept any fish that may have come in to feed with the previous tide. I made very particular inquiries into the constitution of the farm, and although disappointed at not finding it, as I was led to expect, a vast scene of perfect co-operation, I was pleased to learn that, although the bouchots had many owners, there was no violent competition among those who owned them. Some of these mussel-farmers have three or four bouchots, and the very poorest among them have a half, or at least a third share in one. The system of family co-operation prevails very largely ; I found, as in the case of the celebrated walnut-trees, so often quoted, that one or two families, grandfathers, sons, and grandchildren, were often the owners of several bouchots, which they worked for their joint benefit, dividing the profits at the end of the season.

The farm occupies a very large space of ground, equal to eight kilometres, and is laid out in four fields or divisions, each of which has its peculiar name and use. There are at least 500

bouchots, and each one represents a length of 450 metres, forming a total wall of strong basket-work, all for the growth of mussels, equal to a length of 225,000 metres, and rising six feet above the mud-bed on which it is erected.

Great pains are taken to keep the bouchots in good order ; repairs are continually being made; and along the protecting wall of the cliff by which the bay is bounded, there are to be seen what my guide called the trousseau of the bouchots - great strong wooden stakes twelve feet long, and of considerable girth. These are sunk into the mud to a depth of six feet, the upper portion being the receptacle of a garniture of strong but supple branches, twisted in the form of basket work, on which are grown the annual crops of mussels. The bouchots have different names, according to their uses and their situation. The bouchots du bas are those farthest away in the water : these are very seldom left uncovered by the tide; they are formed of very large and very strong solitary stakes, planted so near each other that there are three of them to each metre.

The duty of these stakes is to enact the part of spat-collectors -the spat is locally called naissain at the Port of Esnandes -so that there may be always a store of infant mussels for the peopling and repeopling of such of the palisades as may accidentally become barren. My guide, in describing to me the operations of the farm, used agricultural terms, such as seeding, planting, transplanting, replanting, etc., and he told me that operations of some kind are continually going on all over the farm. When it is not seed or harvest time, the bouchots have to be repaired or the canoes mended.

As near as I could understand, the spat of the natural mussel which voluntarily fixed itself to the outer rows of posts, attains about February or March to the size of a grain of flaxseed. In May the young mussels are about as big as a lentil, and in about two months more they will attain to the dimensions of a haricot bean-the men of Esnandes then call the mussel a renouvelain - which is the proper time for the planting to begin ; and this operation was in progress during my visit. It is simple but effective. When a few canoe-loads of these young mussels are required for the seeding of the more inland bouchots, the men proceed to the single or collecting stakes at the lowest state of the tide, armed with long poles, having blunt hooks at the end, by means of which they scrape off the seedlings. The men do not, however, scrape off more of the mussels than they require for the operation in hand, which must be completed before the flow of the next tide. Having filled a few baskets, each man paddles his canoe to the seat of work, and there commences the first stage of the work or planting, which is effected in a curious but characteristic way, the operation being called la batisse by those engaged in it. Taking a good handful of the mussels, they are skilfully tied up by the boucholier in a bag of old netting or canvas, and then deftly fastened in the interstices of the palisades, or bouchot basket-work, each group of mussels being, of course, fastened at such a distance as to have plenty of room to grow. Left there, the byssus of the animal soon forms a point of attachment ; and the bag rotting away by means of the water, speedily leaves the mussels hanging in numerous vine-like clusters on the bouchots, where they increase in size with such great rapidity, as speedily to demand the performance of the next operation in mussel-culture, which is called the transplanting. It is conducted with a view to the attainment of two ends : firstly, the thinning of overcrowded bouchots ; and, secondly, to bring the ripe mussels gradually nearer to the shore, so as to make their removal all the more easy at the proper time. The change of habitation is effected precisely as has already been described ; the mussels are again tied up in purses of old netting, although not so particularly as before ; again the mussel, whose power in this way is well known, weaves itself a new cable, and the bivalve clings to its new resting -place as tenaciously as ever. It may be asked, why the mussel-farmers should so plant the mussels as that they will require constant thinning; but the reason is, that it is desirable for the purpose of their proper fattening that the mussels should be always, if possible, covered by the salt water ; this, however, is not compatible with the extent of the crop ; but all that can be done is done, and the mussels are kept in the front-ranks as long as possible. A third and last change brings the mussels as near the shore as they can ever get, so long as they are ungathered.

The labour of planting and transplanting goes on incessantly, till all the spat that had found a resting-place on the solitary stakes-that is, the advanced guard-has been dealt with. The labour of all these varied operations is constant, and is carried on by old and young, male and female, both day and night, at times when the tide is suitable. Some portions of the farm are always under water ; other portions of it, again, are uncovered at the ebbing of the tide; and this circumstance, I was told, has a great influence on the quality of the mussel ; those being the best, as may be supposed, which are longest submerged, and kept at the greatest distance from the mud. Although the greatest possible care is taken to keep the mussels from being affected by the copious muddy deposits of the place, by means of allowing a good flow of water between the base of the bouchots and the sea-surface, yet some of the bunches become deteriorated, in spite of all the precautions that can be taken. This, of course, distresses the boucholiers, as one of their points is the superior flavour of their produce; indeed, it was the superiority of the mussels, as discovered by accident through Walton's bird-net, which was set so as, to float high above the mud-the quality of the mussel more than the quantity - that influenced Walton to commence as a mussel-farmer ; and to this day it is still quality more than quantity that the boucholiers study at Esnandes. After the process of about a year's farming has been undergone, the

mussels are considered to be ready for the market, and by the care of the farmer, the mussels are in season all the year round, although, of course, not so good for food at some periods of the year as at others ; thus, the Aiguillon mussels are not so fine in the spring months as they are in the autumnal periods of the year, when they became deliciously fat and savoury ; indeed, I can bear testimony, having had a feast of them, to the fact of their being better, larger in size, and more pronounced in their flavour, than any of the British mussels I have tasted. About April the mussels become milky and unpalatable, although there are still many branches of them fit for the market. It is in the months between July and January that the great harvest goes on, and the chief moneybusiness is done. If the mussels are to be sent to a distance, they are separated and cleared from all kinds of dirt, packed in hampers and bags, and sent away on the backs of horses or in carts ; while those required for more local consumption are kept in pits dug at the bottom of the cliff, and within the enclosure where the men keep the trousseau of the bouchots. There are no less than a hundred and forty horses and about a hundred carts engaged in the trade ; and the mussels are distributed within a radius of about a hundred miles of Esnandes, more than thirty thousand journeys being made in the service. In addition to this land-carrying, forty or fifty barques are in the habit of visiting the port, to bear away the mussels to still greater distances, making in all about seven hundred and fifty voyages per annum.

Does the mussel-farm pay? will, of course, be asked by practical people. Yes, it pays. I have obtained the following figures to show that mussel-farming pays very well, not to speak of what is obtained by the round and flat fish which are daily captured through the peculiar construction of the bouchots. Every bouchot will yield a load of mussels for each metre of its length ; and this load is of the value of six francs ; and the whole farm at Esnandes is said to yield an annual revenue of about a million and a quarter of francs, or, to speak roundly, upwards of fifty-two thousand pounds per annum ; and when it is taken into account that this large sum of money is, as nearly as possible, a gift from nature to the inhabitants, as there is no rent to pay for the farm, no seed -as is the case at the Whitstable oyster-farm-to provide, no manure to buy-only the labour necessary for cultivation to be given, British fishermen will easily comprehend the advantages to be derived from mussel-farming.

[Since my visit to Esnandes several changes have been made at the mussel-farm-more especially in the disposition of the Bouchots-but there is no difference in the mode of culture.]


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