1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fisheries

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FISHERIES,[1] a general term for the various operations engaged in for the capture of such aquatic creatures as are useful to man. From time immemorial fish have been captured by various forms of spears, nets, hooks and more elaborate apparatus, and a historical description of the methods and appliances that have been used would comprise a considerable portion of a treatise on the history of man. For the most part the operations of fishing have been comparable with those of primitive hunting rather than with agriculture; they have taken the least possible account of considerations affecting the supply; when one locality has been fished out, another has been resorted to. The increasing pressure on every source of food, and the enormous improvements in the catching power of the engines involved, has made some kind of regulation and control inevitable, with the result that in practically every civilized country there exists some authority for the investigation and regulation of fisheries.

The annexed table shows the department of state and the approximate expenditure on fisheries in some of the chief countries of the world. The figures are only approximate and are based on the expenditure for 1907. In the case of England and Wales the expenditure is not complete, as under the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act of 1888 the whole of the coast of England and Wales could be placed under local fisheries committees with power to levy rates for fishery purposes, and in a certain number of districts advantage has been taken of this act. But even with this addition, British expenditure on fisheries is less than that undertaken by most of the countries of northern Europe, although British fisheries are much more valuable than those of all the rest of Europe together.

Administration of Fisheries.
Norway. Sweden. Denmark. Germany. Holland. Belgium.
Department of State Trade and
Industry and
Agriculture.
Agriculture. Agriculture. Imperial
Department
of Interior.
Agriculture. Agriculture
and Woods
and Forests.
Approximate Annual Expenditure—
1. Administration £15,000 £5,500 £10,200 Conducted
by Maritime
States
£12,500 . .
2. Scientific Fishery Research 5,000 4,500 6,300 £27,750 2,500 £1,000
Canada. U.S. America. England and Wales. Scotland. Ireland.
Department of State Marine and
Fisheries.
Bureau of Fisheries
under Commerce
and Labour.
Agriculture and
Fisheries.
Fishery Board. Agriculture and
Technical
Instruction.
Approximate Annual Expenditure—
1. Administration £159,000 Conducted by
Coastal States
£8,000 £13,000 £10,000
2. Scientific Fishery Research 48,000 £141,000 14,000
(expended through
agents)
800 . .

The early years of the 20th century witnessed another great expansion of the sea fisheries of the United Kingdom. The herring fishery has been revolutionized partly by the successful introduction of steam drifters, which have markedly increased the aggregate catching power, and partly by the prosecution of the fishery on one part or other of the British coasts during the greater part of the year. The crews of many Scottish vessels which formerly worked at the herring and line fisheries in alternate seasons of the year now devote their energies almost entirely to the herring fishery, which they pursue in nomad fleets around all the coasts of Great Britain. The East Anglian drifters carry on their operations at different seasons of the year from Shetland in the north (for herrings) to Newlyn in the west (for mackerel). In Scotland the value of the nets employed on steam drifters has increased from £3000 in 1899 to £61,000 in 1906, and the average annual catch of herrings has increased from about four to about five million cwts. during the past ten years. In England also the annual catch of herrings, which reached a total of two million cwts. for the first time in 1899, has exceeded three millions in each year from 1902 to 1905.

In steam trawling also great enterprise has been shown. In 1906 Messrs Hellyer of Hull launched a new steam trawling fleet of 50 vessels for working the North Sea grounds, and the delivery of new steam trawlers at Grimsby was greater than at any previous period, these vessels being designed more especially to exploit the distant fishing grounds, the range of which has been extended from Morocco to the White Sea. About 100 vessels were added to the Grimsby fleet in the course of twelve months. These new vessels measure about 140 ft. in length and over 20 ft. in beam, and exceed 250 tons gross tonnage, the accommodation both for fish and crews being considerably in excess of that provided in vessels of this class hitherto.

Returns of the steam trawlers registered in 1907 in the chief European countries show the expanse of this industry, and the enormous preponderance of Great Britain. The numbers are as follows:—

Belgium
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
23
Denmark
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
5
France
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
224
Germany
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
239
Netherlands
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
81
Norway
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
20
Portugal
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
13
Spain
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
12
–18
Sweden
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
11
Scotland
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
292
Ireland
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
6
England and Wales
....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
1317

A simultaneous development of the sea fisheries has been manifested in other maritime countries of Europe, particularly in Germany and Holland, but the total number of steam trawlers belonging to those countries in 1905 scarcely exceeded the mere additions to the British fishing fleet in 1906.

The relative magnitude of British fisheries may best be gauged by a comparison with the proceeds of the chief fisheries of other European countries. The following table is based upon official returns and mainly derived from the Bulletin Statistique of the International Council for the Study of the Sea. It represents in pounds sterling the value of the produce of the various national fisheries during the year 1904, except in the case of France, for which country the latest available figures are those for 1902.

Values in Thousands of £.
Herring. Cod. Plaice. Other
Fish.
Total.
British Isles 1870 1015 1100 5496 9,481,000
Norway 352 834 . . 443 1,629,000
Denmark 117 60 171 223 571,000
Germany 220 64[2] 40[2] 512[2] 836,000
Holland 575 53 58 311 997,000
France (1902) 635 851[3] . . 3562 5,048,000

The total value of the sea fisheries in the three chief subdivisions of the British Isles in the year 1905, according to the official returns, was as follows:

Fish landed in Excluding
Shellfish.
Including
Shellfish.
England and Wales £7,200,644 £7,502,768
Scotland 2,649,148 2,719,810
Ireland 360,577 414,364
Total £10,210,369 £10,636,942

These figures show an increase of £1,000,000 as compared with the total value in 1900, and of more than £3,000,000 as compared with 1895 (cf. Table I. at end).

In England and Wales the trawl fisheries for cod, haddock, and flat fish yielded about three-quarters of the total, and the drift fisheries for herring and mackerel nearly the whole of the remaining quarter. The line fisheries in England and Wales are now relatively insignificant and yield only about one-fortieth of the total (cf. Table VIII. at end).

In Scotland, on the other hand, there is not so much difference in the relative importance of the three chief fisheries. In 1905 herrings and other net-caught fish yielded rather more than one-half of the total, the trawl fisheries nearly three-eighths, and the line fisheries one-eighth (cf. Table X.).

In Ireland the mackerel and herring fisheries provide nearly three-quarters of the total yield, the mackerel forming the chief item in the south and west, and the herring on the north and east coasts. The remaining quarter is mainly derived from the trawl fisheries, the headquarters of which are at Dublin, Howth and Balbriggan on the east, and at Galway and Dingle on the west coast.

The value of the fishing boats and gear employed in the Scottish fisheries during 1905 is returned as nearly £4,120,000. Upon a moderate estimate, the total value of the boats and gear employed in the fisheries of Great Britain and Ireland cannot be less than £12,000,000.

The relative yield and value of the various fisheries on the separate coasts of the British Isles is illustrated in the table of landings from the latest data available.

Fishery. Trawl and Line. Drift and Stake-nets. Shellfish.
Thousands
of cwt.
Thousands
of £.
Thousands
of cwt.
Thousands
of £.
Thousands
of £.
England and Wales, 1905—
East Coast 6017 4713 3042 1145 202
South Coast 303 245 728 268 64
West Coast 1002 720 219 111 36
Scotland, 1906—
East Coast 2296 1202 2709 819 25
Orkney and Shetland 114 42 1735 642 10
West Coast 148 62 591 210 38
Ireland, 1905—
North Coast 9 5 177 70 7
East Coast 79 70 110 32 18
South and West Coast 46 35 577 148 28

From these figures it is manifest that the yield and value of the east coast fisheries of England and Scotland preponderate enormously over those of the western coasts, whether attention be paid to the drift-net fisheries for surface fish or to the fisheries for bottom fish with trawls and lines.

The preceding statistics and remarks, as well as the supplementary tables at the end of this article, indicate that the British fishing industry has enjoyed a period of unexampled prosperity. The community at large has benefited by the more plentiful supply, and the merchant by the general lowering of prices at the ports of landing (see Tables I.-IV. at end). But it is to be noted that this wave of prosperity, as on previous occasions, has been attained by the application of increased and more powerful means of capture and by the exploitation of new fishing grounds in distant waters, and not by any increase, natural or artificial, in the productivity of the home waters,—unless perhaps the abundance of herrings is to be ascribed to the destruction of their enemies by trawling. British fisheries are still pursued as a form of hunting rather than of husbandry. In 1892 the Iceland and Bay of Biscay trawling banks were discovered, in 1898 the Faroe banks, in 1905 rich plaice grounds in the White Sea. In 1905 one-half of the cod and a quarter of the haddock and plaice landed at east coast ports of England were caught in waters beyond the North Sea.

Table showing, in Thousands of Cwt., the Quantity of Fish landed by Steam Trawlers on the East Coast of England from Fishing Grounds within and beyond the North Sea respectively.
Year. Within the North Sea. Beyond the North Sea.
Cod. Haddock. Plaice. All Kinds. Cod. Haddock. Plaice. All Kinds.
1903 729 2301 812 4776 470 389 114 1189
1904 637 2032 658 4228 447 429 284 1389
1905 640 1560 621 3739 603 518 244 1682

The statistics of the English Board of Agriculture and Fisheries have distinguished since 1903 between the catch of fish within and beyond the North Sea, and between the catch of trawlers and liners. Neglecting the catch of the liners as relatively insignificant, and of the sailing trawlers as relatively small and practically constant during the three years in question we see from the board's figures (see table above) that the total catch of English steam trawlers within the North Sea during 1904 and 1905 was in each year 500,000 cwt. less than in the year before, amounting to a gross decrease of more than 25% in 1905 as compared with 1903, and, in relation to the catching power employed, to an average decrease of 2½ cwt. per boat per diem. This decrease may be largely explained by the occurrence in 1903 of one of those periodic “floods” of small cod and haddock which take place in the North Sea from time to time; but the steady decline in the number of North Sea voyages by English steam trawlers—from 29,300 in 1903 to 26,700 in 1905—affords a clear indication of the fact that many of our trawling skippers are deserting the North Sea for more profitable fishing grounds. The number of Scottish steam trawlers “employed” at Scottish North Sea ports has also declined during the same period from 240 in 1903 to 228 in 1905.

The following table shows the number of British and foreign steam trawlers registered at North Sea ports, and for English vessels the number of fishing voyages made within and beyond the North Sea respectively:—

Year. Boats
Registered.
English Steam Trawlers.
Voyages.[4]
Scottish.
Employed.
German,
Dutch and
Belgian.
Registered.
Within
North Sea.
Beyond
North Sea.
1903
1904
1905
1060
1049
1064
29,328
28,589
26,670
1822
2120
2671
240
233
228
181
199
228

Unfortunately the North Sea gains no rest from this withdrawal of British trawlers, since the place of the latter is filled year after year by increasing numbers of continental fishing boats. The number of fishing steamers (practically all trawlers) registered at North Sea ports in Germany and Holland was 159 in 1903, 177 in 1904, 205 in 1905, and 330 in 1907.

It is satisfactory under these circumstances to note the increased attention which has been paid in recent years to the acquisition of more exact knowledge upon the actual state of the fisheries and upon the biological and other factors which influence the supply.

A comprehensive programme of co-operative investigations, both scientific and statistical, was put into execution in the course of 1902 under the International Council for the Study of the Sea (see below). The Fishery Board for Scotland and the Marine Biological Association for England were commissioned to carry out the work at sea allotted to Great Britain, and the English fishery department was equipped soon afterwards with the means for collecting more adequate statistics.

Trawling investigations and the quantitative collection of fish eggs have located important spawning grounds of cod, haddock, plaice, sole, eel, &c.; marking experiments with cod, plaice and eel have thrown much light upon the migrations of these fishes; and the rate of growth of plaice, cod and herring has been elucidated in different localities. The percentage of marked plaice annually recaptured in the North Sea has been found to be remarkably high (from 25 to 50%), and throws a significant light on the intensity of fishing under modern conditions. It seems probable that the impoverishment of the stock of plaice on the central grounds of the North Sea is mainly attributable to the excessive rate of capture of plaice during their annual off-shore migrations from the coast. On the other hand, it has been shown that the growth-rate of plaice on the Dogger Bank is constantly and markedly greater (five- or six-fold in weight) than on the coastal grounds where these fish are reared,—facts which open up the possibility of increasing the permanent supply of plaice from the North Sea by the adoption of some plan of commercial transplantation (see Pisciculture).

History.—A brief review may now be given of the history of the administration of British sea-fisheries since 1860, and of the steps which have been taken for the attainment of scientific and statistical information in relation thereto.

In 1860 a royal commission, consisting of Professor Huxley, Mr (afterwards Sir) John Caird, and Mr G. Shaw-Lefevre (afterwards Lord Eversley), was appointed to inquire into the condition of the British sea-fisheries, the harmfulness or otherwise of existing methods of fishing, and the necessity or otherwise of the existing legislation. The important report of this commission, issued in 1866, embodied the following main conclusions and recommendations:—(1) the total supply of fish obtained upon the British coasts is increasing and admits of further augmentation; (2) beam-trawling in the open sea is not a wastefully destructive mode of fishing; (3) all acts of parliament which profess to regulate or restrict the modes of fishing pursued in the open sea should be repealed and “unrestricted freedom of fishing be permitted hereafter”; (4) all fishing boats should be lettered and numbered as a condition of registration and licence.

In 1868 full effect was given to these recommendations by the passing of the Sea Fisheries Act. Regulations for the registration of fishing boats were issued by order in council in the following year. (New regulations were introduced in 1902.)

In 1878 a commission was given to Messrs Buckland and Walpole to inquire into the alleged destruction of the spawn and fry of sea fish, especially by the use of the beam-trawl and ground seine. Their report is an excellent summary of the condition of the sea fisheries at the time, and shows how little was then known with regard to the eggs and spawning habits of our marine food fishes.

In 1882 the former Board of British White Herring was dissolved and the Fishery Board for Scotland instituted, the latter being empowered to take such measures for the improvement of the fisheries as the funds under their administration might admit of. Arrangements were made in the following year with Professor M'Intosh of St Andrews which enabled the latter to fit up a small marine laboratory and to begin a series of studies on the eggs and larvae of sea fishes, which have contributed greatly to the development of more exact knowledge concerning the reproduction of fishes. Under the Sea Fisheries (Scotland) Amendment Act of 1885 the board closed the Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay against trawlers as an experiment for the purpose of ascertaining the result of such prohibition on the supply of fish on the grounds so protected. The treasury also, by a further grant of £3000, enabled the board to purchase the steam-yacht “Garland” as a means of carrying out regular experimental trawlings over the protected grounds. Reports on the results of these experiments have been annually published, and were summarized at the end of ten years' closure in the board's report for 1895. Dr Fulton's summary showed that “no very marked change took place in the abundance of food-fishes generally, either in the closed or open waters of the Firth of Forth or St Andrews Bay,” as a consequence of the prohibition of trawling. Nevertheless, among flat fishes, plaice and lemon soles, which spawn off-shore, were reported to have decreased in numbers in all the areas investigated, whether closed or open, while dabs and long rough dabs showed a preponderating, if not quite universal, increase.

The results of this classical experiment point strongly to the presumptions (1) that trawling operations in the open sea have now exceeded the point at which their effect on the supply of eggs and fry for the upkeep of the flat fisheries is inappreciable; and (2) that protection of in-shore areas alone is insufficient to check the impoverishment caused by over-fishing off-shore. (For critical examinations of Dr Fulton's account see M'Intosh, Resources of the Sea, London, 1889; Garstang, “The Impoverishment of the Sea,” Journ. Mar. Biol. Ass. vol. vi., 1900; and Archer, Report of Ichthyological Committee, Cd. 1312, 1902.)

A laboratory and sea-fish hatchery were subsequently established by the board at Dunbar in 1893, but removed to Aberdeen in 1900.

In 1883 a royal commission, under the chairmanship of the late earl of Dalhousie, was appointed to inquire into complaints against the practice of beam-trawling on the part of line and drift-net fishermen. A small sum of money (£200) was granted to the commission for the purpose of scientific trawling experiments, which were carried out by Professor M'Intosh.

The report of this commission was an important one, and its recommendations resulted in the institution of fishery statistics for England, Scotland and Ireland (1885–1887).

In 1884 the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom was founded for the scientific study of marine zoology and botany, especially as bearing upon the food, habits and life-conditions of British food-fishes, crustacea and molluscs. Professor Huxley was its first president, and Professor Ray Lankester, who initiated the movement, succeeded him. A large and well-equipped laboratory was erected at Plymouth, and formally opened for work in 1888. The work of the association has been maintained by annual grants of £400 from the Fishmongers' Company and £1000 from H. M. treasury, and by the subscriptions of the members. The association publishes a half-yearly journal recording the results of its investigations.

In 1886 a fishery department of the Board of Trade was organized under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act of that year. The department publishes annually a return of statistics of sea-fish landed, a report on salmon fisheries (transferred from the home office), and a report on sea fisheries. It consists of several inspectors under an assistant secretary of the board; it has no power to make scientific investigations or bye-laws and regulations affecting the sea-fisheries. In 1894 the administration of the acts relating to the registration of fishing vessels, &c., was transferred to the fisheries department.

In 1888 the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act provided for the constitution (by provisional order of the Board of Trade) of local fisheries committees having, within defined limits, powers for the regulation of coast fisheries in England and Wales. The powers of district committees were extended under Part II. of the Fisheries Act 1891, and again under the Fisheries (Shell Fish) Regulation Act 1894. Sea-fisheries districts have now been created round nearly the whole coast of England and Wales. Under bye-laws of these committees steam-trawling has been prohibited in nearly all the territorial waters of England and Wales, and trawling by smaller boats has been placed under a variety of restrictions. Local scientific investigations have been initiated under several of the committees, especially in Lancashire by Professor Herdman of Liverpool and his assistants.

In 1890 an important survey of the fishing grounds off the west coast of Ireland was undertaken by the Royal Dublin Society, with assistance from the government, and in the hands of Mr E. W. L. Holt led to the acquisition of much valuable information concerning the spawning habits of fishes and the distribution of fish on the Atlantic seaboard.

In 1892, under powers conferred by the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act of 1889, the Fishery Board for Scotland closed the whole of the Moray Firth—including a large tract of extra-territorial waters—against trawling, in order to test experimentally the effect of protecting certain spawning grounds in the outer parts of the firth. The closure has given rise to a succession of protests from the leaders of the trawling industry in Aberdeen and England. It seems that the difficulty of policing so large an area, as well as the absence of any power to enforce the restriction on foreign vessels, have defeated the original intention; and the bye-law appears to be now retained mainly in deference to the wishes of the local line-fishermen, the decadence of whose industry—from economic causes which have been alluded to above—is manifest from the figures in Table X. below. The controversy has had the effect of causing the transference of a number of English trawlers to foreign flags, especially the Norwegian.

Statistics.—The following tables summarize the official statistics of fish landed on the coasts of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and give some information relative to the numbers of fishing-boats and fishermen in the three countries.

Table I.—Summary of Statistics of Fish landed, imported and exported for the United Kingdom.
Year. Fish landed
(excluding Shell-fish).
Net
Imports.
Exports of
British Fish.

1890
1895
1900
1905
Cwt.
12,774,010
14,068,641
14,671,070
20,164,276

£6,361,487
7,168,025
9,242,491
10,210,369

£2,315,572
2,453,676
2,937,486
2,250,259

£1,795,267
2,282,406
3,000,852
4,164,869

Note.—Imported fish afterwards re-exported (consisting chiefly of salted or cured fish to the value of over £900,000 in 1905) are not included in the above values of imports and exports. The exports consist mainly of herrings.

Table II.—Quantity and Average Landing Value of Flat Fishes landed on the Coasts of England and Wales (all caught with Trawl-nets, except Halibut in part)
Year. Quantity
(in Thousands of Cwt.).
Average Price (per Cwt.).
Sole. Turbot. Brill. Plaice. Halibut. Sole. Turbot. Brill. Plaice. Halibut.

1890
1895
1900
1905

72.1
82.8
75.3
80.1

51.9
77.9
60.7
89.5

15.4
19.0
20.7
22.4

623
789
752
1074

95
114
136
120
£. s.
6 17
6 16
7 11
5 18
£. s.
3 13
3 17
4 13
3 11
£. s.
2 18
2 11
2 14
2 11
£. s.
0 19
1 11
1 14
0 19
£. s.
1 10
1 15
1 14
1 17

Table III.—Quantity and Average Landing Value of Round Fishes, caught with Trawls and Lines, landed on the Coasts of England and Wales.
Year. Quantity
(in Thousands of Cwt.).
Average Price (per Cwt.).
Cod. Haddock. Hake. Ling. Sundries. Cod. Haddock. Hake. Ling. Sundries.

1890
1895
1900
1905

363
496
589
1423

1585
2433
2487
2148

. .
132
233
484

96
114
100
165

1151
1013
1190
1425
s. d.
13 10
12 15
14 18
12 14
s. d.
9 17
9 19
13 18
12 15
s. d.
. .
16 12
15 10
13 14
s. d.
14 13
11 18
12 10
11 13
s. d.
14 10
13 17
14 10
9 18

Table IV.—Quantity and Average Landing Value of Surface Fishes landed on the Coasts of England and Wales (caught with Drift-, Seine-, and Stow-nets).
Year. Quantity
(in Thousands of Cwt.).
Average Price (per Cwt.).
Mackerel. Herring. Pilchard. Sprat. Mackerel. Herring. Pilchard. Sprat.

1890
1895
1900
1905

509
375
321
682

1332
1437
2425
3062

61
65
106
169

99
91
73
75
s. d.
15 15
16 13
15 19
8 11
s. d.
7 12
5 10
7 18
7 17
s. d.
5 10
5 13
4 16
5 10
s. d.
3 10
3 11
4 11
3 16

Table V.—Quantity and Average Landing Value of Shell-fish landed on the Coasts of England and Wales.
Year. Number. Average Price.
Thousands. Mills. Thousands
of Cwt.
Per Hundred. Per Cwt.
Crabs. Lobsters. Oysters. Sundries. Crabs. Lobsters. Oysters. Sundries.

1890
1895
1900
1905

4808
4501
5177
5106

922
677
654
503

47.6
25.3
37.8
35.4

505
590
539
423
£. s.
1 14
1 14
1 12
1 13
£. s.
4 18
4 18
4 17
4 15
s. d.
6 11
6 12
7 10
5 19
s. d.
5 10
4 11
5 18
5 16

Table VI.—Total Quantity of the more important Fishes and Shell-fish landed in Scotland.
Year. In Thousands of Cwt. Cwt. Number
(Thousands).
Herring. Lemon
Sole.
Flounder,
Plaice,
and Brill.
Halibut. Cod. Ling. Haddock. Whiting. Skale. Mussels. Crabs. Lobsters. Oysters.
1890
1895
1900
1905
3980
4077
3520
5343
17
19
21
31
81
80
102
56[5]
20
20
26
36
449
459
434
677
170
165
157
151
754
1001
761
932
75
43
75
184
54
59
72
100
181
194
143
103
2882
2548
3128
1990
643
610
680
760
350
239
796
218
Table VII.—Total Quantity of the more important Fishes and Shell-fish returned as landed on the Irish Coasts.
Year. In Thousands of Cwt. Number
(Thousands).
Mackerel. Herring. Sole. Turbot. Cod. Ling. Haddock. Whiting. Hake. Oysters. Crabs. Lobsters.
1890
1895
1900
1905
502
339
278
505
85
171
284
354
4.5
1.8
3.1
3.5
1.4
1.0
1.5
0.8
39.6
43.6
33.6
18.6
14.8
29.7
11.9
9.1
16.4
30.9
12.4
11.3
13.5
11.9
11.9
18.3
25.3
18.7
16.3
7.1
576
563
236
348
228
240
202
175
238
276
286
236

Note.—The Irish statistics of shell-fish are very incomplete, owing to the inadequate means at the disposal of the authorities for collecting statistics over large sections of the coast.

Table VIII.—Classified List of British Fishing Boats on the Register for 1905, omitting 2nd Class Steamers and Vessels under 18 Ft. Keel or Navigated by Oars only and Vessels unemployed.
Mode of
Fishing.
England and Wales. Scotland. Ireland.
Steamers. Sailing. Steamers. Sailing. Steamers. Sailing.
1st Cl. 1st Cl. 2nd Cl. 1st Cl. 1st Cl. 2nd Cl. 1st Cl. 1st Cl. 2nd Cl.
Trawling
Drift-nets
Lines
Various
1173
263
56
21
904
562
29
215
586
539
685
2277
244
. . 
209
. . 
. . 
. . 
3403
. . 
68
. . 
2910
. . 
10
. . 
. . 
. . 
142
. . 
229
. . 
283
. . 
2776
. . 
Total 1513 1710 4087 453 3403 2978 10 371 3059

Note.—1st class = steamers of at least 15 tons gross tonnage, and other boats of at least 15 tons registered tonnage (in Scotland exceeding 30 ft. keel).

2nd class = less than 15 tons tonnage, or from 18 to 30 ft. keel.

Table IX.—Number (A) of Men and Boys constantly employed and (B) of other Persons occasionally employed in Fishing.
Year. England and
Wales.
Scotland. Ireland. United
Kingdom.
A. B. A. B. A. B. A. B.
1890
1895
1900
1995
32,503
32,229
31,589
34,318
9312
8995
7994
8132
34,319
31,044
27,288
29,064
20,829
12,329
10,288
10,487
10,121
8,692
8,677
8,744
13,981
18,218
18,982
17,079
78,450
73,090
68,708
73,293
46,337
41,230
37,814
36,131

Table X.—Catch and Value of Line-caught and Trawled Fish landed in Scotland.
Year. Line-caught Fish. Trawled Fish.

1890
1895
1900
1905
Cwt.
1,577,299
1,479,654
757,416
735,654

£591,059
548,629
371,173
348,610
Cwt.
291,812
531,695
1,077,082
1,745,431

£203,620
291,165
793,427
948,117

In 1893 a select committee of the House of Commons took evidence as to the expediency of adopting measures for the preservation of the sea-fisheries in the seas around the British Islands, with especial reference to the alleged wasteful destruction of under-sized fish. They recommended the adoption of a size-limit of 8 in. for soles and plaice, and 10 in. for turbot and brill, below which the sale of these fishes should be prohibited, on the ground that these limits would approximate to those already adopted by foreign countries.

In 1899 the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act transferred the powers and duties of the inspectors of Irish fisheries to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland. The department is provided with a steam cruiser, the “Helga,” 375 tons, fully equipped for fishery research, as well as with a floating marine laboratory. Mr Holt, formerly of the Marine Biological Association, was appointed to take charge of the scientific work.

In 1900 another select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider and take evidence on the proposals of the Sea Fisheries Bill, which had been framed in accordance with the recommendations of the select committee of 1893, but had failed to pass in several sessions of parliament. Owing to marked divergencies of opinion on the question whether the low size-limits proposed would be effectual in keeping the trawlers from working on the grounds where small fish congregated, the committee reported against the bill, and urged the immediate equipment of the government departments with means for undertaking the necessary scientific investigations.

In 1901 an international conference of representatives of all the countries bordering upon the North and Baltic Seas met at Christiania to revise proposals which had been drafted at Stockholm in 1899 for a scientific exploration of these waters in the interest of the fisheries, to be undertaken concurrently by all the participating countries. The British government was represented by Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff, K.C.M G., with Professor D'Arcy W. Thompson, Mr (afterwards Professor) W. Garstang and Dr H. R. Mill as advisers. The proposals were subsequently accepted, with some restrictions, and an international council of management was appointed by the participating governments. The Fishery Board for Scotland and the Marine Biological Association from England were commissioned in 1902 to carry out the work at sea allotted to Great Britain, and a special grant of £5500 per annum was made to each body by the Treasury for this purpose. Two steamers, the “Huxley” and the “Goldseeker,” were chartered for the investigations and began work in 1902 and 1903 from Lowestoft and Aberdeen respectively. Reports on the work of the first five years were published in 1909.

In 1901 the Board of Trade appointed a committee (the Committee on Ichthyological Research) to inquire and report as to the best means by which scientific fishery research could be organized and assisted in relation to the state or local authorities. The committee consisted of Sir Herbert Maxwell, M.P. (chairman), Mr W. F. Archer, Mr Donald Crawford, Rev. W. S. Green, Professor W. A. Herdman, Hon. T. H. W. Pelham, Mr S. E. Spring Rice and Professor J. A. Thomson. Sir Herbert Maxwell resigned his chairmanship before the report was drawn up (September 1902), and was succeeded by Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff. The committee recommended the provision of more complete statistics; the provision and maintenance of five special steamers (where not already existing) to work in connexion with as many marine laboratories, viz. one for each of the three coasts of England and Wales, and one each for Scotland and Ireland; the provision of three biological assistants at each laboratory; the grant of statutory powers to local sea-fisheries committees to expend money on fishery research; the constitution of a fishery council for England and Wales, and of a conference of representatives of the central authorities in England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1903 the fishery department of the Board of Trade was transferred to the Board of Agriculture, Mr W. E. Archer, chief inspector of fisheries, becoming an assistant secretary of the new Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In 1907 a departmental treasury committee was appointed to inquire into the scientific and statistical investigations carried on in relation to the fishing industry of the United Kingdom. The committee consisted of Mr H. J. Tennant, M.P. (chairman), Lord Nunburnholme, Sir Reginald MacLeod, Mr N. W. Helms, M.P., Mr A. Williamson, M.P., Dr P. Chalmers Mitchell, F.R.S., Mr J. S. Gardiner, F.R.S., the Rev. W. S. Green, Mr R. H. Rew and Mr L. S. Hewby. This committee reviewed the work that had already been done and urged its continuation and extension under the direction of a central council composed of representatives of the government departments concerned with fishery matters in England, Scotland and Ireland, with a scientific chairman and director, and further insisted on the need of international co-operation in the investigations.

United States Fisheries.—The administration of the fisheries of the United States of America is under the control of the several coastal states, but the Bureau of Fisheries at Washington, which reports to the secretary of commerce and labour, conducts a vast amount of scientific fishery investigation, issues admirable statistical and biological reports, and conducts on a very large scale work on the replenishment of the fishing stations by artificial means (see Pisciculture). Although in recent years Canada has given an increasing amount of state support to the investigation, control and assistance of her fisheries, an amount actually and relatively far exceeding that given in Great Britain, the fishing industry of the United States still far exceeds that of Canada. A considerable bulk of fish, taken by American ships from the Newfoundland coasts and from those of other British provinces, is landed at American ports, but as the following recent table shows, it is much less than that taken from American waters.

Quantities and Values of Fish landed by American Vessels at Boston and Gloucester, Mass., in 1905.
Quantities Value
(a) From fishing grounds off U.S. coasts

(b) From fishing grounds off Newfoundland

(c) From fishing grounds off other British provinces

152,241,139

17,165,083

32,608,343

£669,640

103,145

192,517

The fisheries of the United States show a substantial increase from year to year. There has been a decline in some important branches owing to indiscreet fishing and to the inevitable effects of civilization on certain kinds of animal life and in certain restricted areas. Such diminution has been more than compensated for by growth resulting from the invasion of new fishing grounds made possible by increase in the sea-going capacity of the vessels employed, by improvement in the preservation and handling of the catch, and by the greater utilization of products which until comparatively recently were disregarded or considered without economic value. The annual value of the water products taken and sold by the United States fishermen now amounts to over £11,000,000, and this sum does not include the very large quantities taken by the fishermen for home consumption or captured by sportsmen and amateurs. Between two and three hundred thousand persons make livelihood by the industry, and the capital involved exceeds £16,000,000.

The oyster is the most valuable single product, and the output of the United States industry exceeds the combined output of all other countries in the world. The most notable feature of this fishery is that nearly half the total yield now comes from cultivated grounds, so that the business is being placed on a secure basis. Virginia has now taken the first rank as an oyster-producing state, oyster farming being now highly developed with an annual yield of nearly nine million bushels.

The high-sea fisheries for cod, haddock, hake, halibut, mackerel, herring, and so forth are on the whole not increasing in prosperity, the annual value being between one and two million pounds. The lobster fishery shows a markedly diminishing yield, the diminution having been progressive since about 1890, and being attributed to over-fishing and violation of the restrictive regulations. At present a large part of the lobsters consumed in the United States comes from Nova Scotia, but there is evidence of useful results coming from the extensive cultural operations now being carried out.

The whale fishery, at one time the leading fishing industry of the country, is now conducted chiefly in the North Pacific and Arctic oceans, but is decaying, being now expensive, uncertain and often unremunerative. The annual value of the take is now under £200,000.

The important group of anadromous fishes (those like salmon, shad, alewife, striped bass and sea perches, which ascend the rivers from the ocean) has continued to provide an increasing source of income to fishermen, the combined value or the catch on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards now amounting to over £3,000,000 annually. The fisheries of the Great Lakes yield about £600,000 annually.  (W. Ga.; P. C. M.) 

  1. For fisheries in the cases of Coral, Oyster, Pearl, Salmon, Sponges and Whale, see these articles; for fishing as a sport see Angling.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Estimated as regards about one-third of the total.
  3. Including the Newfoundland fishery.
  4. Excluding the voyages of the fleeting trawlers which supply London by means of carriers.
  5. Plaice only.