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The Harvest of the Sea

THE " HARVEST OF THE SEA " has been a great success - not because it has sold so well that a third edition is now called for, or that the critics and reviewers have praised it highly, but because it has led to a continuous discussion of fishery economy ever since the volume was issued from Albemarle Street, and has therefore, in the best sense, fulfilled its "mission." All fishery subjects are now discussed with calmness as well as increased knowledge; and the men who, along with myself, ventured eight years ago to direct attention to what was wrong, will never again be tabooed or written down as visionaries or enthusiasts. Common sense has triumphed, and much in our fishery economy that was wrong has been made right.

The present edition of the work has been thoroughly revised. Much of the matter contained in the previous issues has been excised as being out of date or otherwise unnecessary, and a considerable amount of new, and, I hope, interesting information, gathered at home and abroad since its first, publication, is included in the following pages. Every chapter of the book has been carefully revised, and those chapters thought to be too long have been divided, especially in cases where the natural and economic history of particular fishes admitted of that being done. Recent official statistics of the Scotch and Irish fisheries are included in this edition, and a new chapter on Aquariums and Fishery Exhibitions has been interpolated, as well as new stories of fisher life.

I have told over again in the following pages the story of the herring-fishery - its blunders and mistakes; and have shown how our salmon-fisheries have gradually improved by means of the wise legislation lately entered upon, and prefigured in the first edition of this book. The year just closing has been an extraordinary one, both as regards the capture of salmon and herring; but, despite of the present abundance of these fish, we must not run away with the idea that such plenty will occur year by year as a matter of course. Some persons may be satisfied with the herring harvest of the present year, and it is undoubtedly large, but I would ask regarding it this question----"Is the take of these fish commensurate to the machinery employed in their capture?" The large increase of salmon in the present year [1873] we can understand; it is, as I have said, the fruit of wise legislation, and it is gratifying to think that it is likely to continue. The same cannot, however, be predicted of the herring, but we are entitled to ask what there is to prevent our taking as many herrings every year as we have caught during the season which has just expired. In a matter of such vital importance to a country as the gathering of its herring harvest, which not only contributes largely to the food resources of the nation, but affords as well a large outlet for capital, and the employment of the population, we cannot afford to make a mistake. If there are more herrings for us to capture than we have hitherto been in the habit of taking, let us by all means capture them, but if, on the other hand, we are over-fishing, let it be known. We dare not by mal-economy lay waste an industry so productive as the herring-fishery of Scotland.

It is fortunate that we can obtain reliable statistics of the herring-fishery. To give us these statistics, and to watch over the curing of the fish, is the business of the Scottish Fishery Board, which a few of our radical Members of Parliament would abolish, if they could. It is to be hoped they will never be able to do so: that Board ought not to be abolished; on the contrary, its life ought to be prolonged and its jurisdiction extended; it is one of the most valuable Boards that the modern mania for centralisation has left to Scotland. It is greatly to be regretted that the Fishery Board cannot take cognisance and collect statistics of all the fisheries of Scotland. We cannot obtain sufficient information with regard to the annual progress of our haddock and cod fisheries, and in the face of the repeated assertions which are annually published as to over-fishing, it is only by collecting accurate statistics of the annual catch that we can determine the truth of what is said. It is quite certain that we have a problem set before us, by the correct solution of which we shall find out whether our fisheries are progressing, standing still, or declining. It is not by means of one year's great fishing that we can settle whether or no we have broken upon our capital stock, or are living on its produce.

We ought then, as suggested above, to have consecutive well-planned statistics, systematically gathered every season noting the size of vessels and the extent of their fishing gear, and these might be taken at all the chief ports. In the course of a few years, were this done, we would possess a complete index to the state of our fisheries, and should then be able to know, with exactitude, whether our fish supplies were capable of indefinite extension or not. As regards all fish about which we can obtain statistics, it can at once be seen that man is able to affect the supplies. The salmon-fisheries in particular, gave us a wonderful note of alarm, but the salmon being a proprietary fish of great value, owners of fisheries were quick to scent the danger, and prompt to obtain the necessary remedies; and now, so well is the economy of our salmon rivers understood, that the lower proprietors have actually begun to consider the rights of, and to conciliate, the upper proprietors ! What is a salmon-river without those tributary streams which afford a safe home to the fish at that period of its life when it is most in need of it; and whether the venue be laid in ScotIand or England, it is absolutely necessary that the salmon should have breeding-ground.

We have still much to learn with regard to fishery economy, although it is not easy to devise better modes of fishing than those which now prevail. If we cast our nets into the water, we must accept the fish they capture, whether they be good for food or quite unfit for use. If we use trawl nets we must endure the consequences, and when we cast our lines into the deep sea we cannot dictate to the cod or haddocks as to their inclination to bite; in such circumstances we can take only those fish that offer. But we say all the living fish which are improperly taken, from being too small or in a spawning condition, ought to be again restored to their watery home, and left to be captured at some future date. And what is of still greater importance, in Britain we ought to have a code of logically conceived fishery laws, with proper officers to administer them. In England, at present one department of government superintends the oyster-fisheries, another rules over the herrings, and a third takes charge of the salmon ! In Scotland we have one Board of Fisheries, and in Ireland there is another! but one Board of Fisheries ought to be sufficient; and the sooner we have a Fisheries Reform Bill, the better it will be for those interested in the fishing industries of Great Britain and Ireland.

October 31, 1873.

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