Imágenes de páginas

and perpetual food, and augment the wealth of the nation annually twenty millions of pounds." But we willingly yield our assent to the more moderate expectations of the members who form the committee of the Fish Association,' that, by the removal of certain obstacles to a more general use of fish in this country, sustenance may be provided for a great additional population, employment afforded for a numerous class of courageous and adventurous individuals, provision made for unfailing nufseries of seamen for our navy; and a considerable increase to the trade of the United Kingdom.

That the mine we have to work upon is in reality inexhaustible, a transient inspection will be sufficient to satisfy the most sceptical inquirer. We now know that travellers do not exaggerate, when they tell us of swarms of locusts obscuring the light of the sun; of flights of white ants filling the whole horizon like a snow shower; of herds of antelopes scouring the plains in thousands; neither are fishermen disbelieved when they speak of shoals of herrings, occupying, in close array, many millions of acres near the surface of the sea; nor when they tell us that, on the coast of Norway, in passing through the narrow inlets, they move in such deep columns, that they are known by the name of herring mountains. The cod, hake, ling, mackerel, pilchard, and salmon, though not quite so numerous as the herring, are all of them gregarious, and probably migrating animals. In thus ordaining that the most numerous of the finny tribe should be those which afford the most wholesome food for man, we acknowledge the benevolent intentions of an all-wise and good Providence.

We are yet imperfectly acquainted with the natural history of the herring. Its winter habitation has generally been supposed within the arctic circle, under the vast fields of ice which float on the northern ocean, where it fattens on the swarms of shrimps and other marine insects which are said to be most abundant in those seas. On the return of the sun from the southern tropic towards the equator, the multitudinous host issues forth in numbers that exceed the power of imagination. Separating about Iceland into two grand divisions, the one proceeds to the westward, filling, in its progress, every bay and creek on the coast of America, from the Straits of Bellisle to Cape Hatteras: the other, proceeding easterly in a number of distinct columns of five or six miles in length, and three or four in breadth, till they reach the Shetland islands, which they generally do about the end of April, is there subdivided into a number of smaller columns, some of which taking the eastern coast of Great Britain, fill every creek and inlet in succession from the Orkneys down to the British Channel; and others, branching off to the westward, surround the coasts of the Hebrides, and pene



trate into the numerous firths and lochs on the western shores of Scotland. Another shoal, pursuing the route to Ireland, separates on the north of that island into two divisions, one of which, passing down the Irish Channel, surrounds the Isle of Man, the other pours its vast multitudes into the bays and inlets of the western coast of Ireland. The whole of this grand army, which the word herring emphatically expresses, disappears, on the arrival of the several divisions on the southern coasts of England and Ireland, about the end of October, to which period, from its first appearance in April, it invites the attack of a variety of enemies, besides the fishermen, in every point of its route. In their own element the herrings furnish food for the whale, the shark, the grampus, the cod, and almost all the larger kind of tishes; and they are followed in the air by flocks of gulls, gannets, and other marine birds, which continually hover about them, and announce their approach to the expectant fisherman.

To keep up this abundant supply and to provide against all the drains which were intended to be made upon it, nature has bestowed on the herring a corresponding fecundity, the spawn of each female comprehending from thirty to forty thousand eggs. Whether these eggs are deposited in the soft and oozy banks of the deep sea, abounding with marine worms and insects and affording food for winter's consumption, or whether they lie within the arctic circle amidst unremitting frost and six months perpetual darkness, is yet a doubtful point; but the former will probably be considered as the less objectionable conjecture.

The esculent fish, next of importance to the herring in a national point of view, is the codfish, which is also considered among the number of those which migrate from the north, in a southerly direction, to nearly the same degree of latitude as the herring. But there is reason to believe that its constant residence is on the rough and stony banks of the deep sea, and that it is rarely found beyond the arctic circle, and there only sparingly and in the summer months. On the great bank of Newfoundland, on the coasts of Iceland, Norway, Shetland, and the Orkney islands, on the Wellbank, the Dogger-bank, the Broad Forties, on the northern, western, and southern coasts of Ireland, the cod is most abundant and of the best quality: in some or other of these situations the tisheries may be carried on with certain success and to great advantage from November to Midsummer. On the western coasts of Scotland and Ireland all the different species of the cod genus, usually known under the name of white fish, are plentifully dispersed. Every bank is, in fact, an inexhaustible fishery, for, with fewer enemies than the herring to prey upon it, the cod is at least a hundred times more productive. The fecundity of this

[ocr errors]

fish, indeed, so far exceeds credibility, that had it not been ascertained by actual experiment, and on the best possible authority, it would have been considered as fabulous to assign to the female cod, from three to four millions of eggs."

Not only the hake, sometimes known by the name of poor John,' but more commonly by that of stock-fish, and the ling, are to be reckoned among the valuable products of the British fisheries, especially as articles of foreign consumption, but we may also include the haddock, which is another species of cod, as equally important for the supply of the home market. Haddocks assemble in vast shoals during the winter months in every part of the northern ocean, and bend their course generally to the southward, proceeding beyond the limits of the cod and the herring; but it is remarked that they neither enter the Baltic nor the Mediterranean, The two dark spots a little behind its head, are supposed to have gained the haddock, in days of superstition, the credit of being the ish which St. Peter caught with the tribute money in its mouth, in proof of which the impression of the Saint's finger and thumb has been entailed on the whole race of haddocks ever since. Unfortunately, however, for the tradition, the haddock is not a Mediterranean fish, nor can we suppose it to have belonged to the lake of Tiberias. The truth is the Italians consider a very different fish as that which was sanctified by the Apostle, and which after him they honour with the name of il janitore, a name that we have converted into Johnny Dory with the same happy ingenuity that has twisted the girasole or turnsol into a Jerusalem artichoke.

Several other kinds of white fish, as turbot, plaice, sole, and whitings are plentifully dispersed over various parts of the British seas, so as to afford an ample supply for the home market, the whole year round, without the smallest danger of that supply being exhausted or diminished.

The mackerel fishery in the English Channel continues about four months in the year, commencing in April or May. This too is a fish of passage, but, contrary to the course of the herring, is supposed to visit the British seas in large shoals from the southward. The mackerel is chiefly caught for immediate consumption, but is sometimes pickled for winter use. Its fecundity is very great, each female depositing, at least, half a million of eggs,

The pilchard, like the herring, of which it is a species, is a fish of passage. It makes its appearance, in vast shoals, on the coasts of Devonshire and Cornwall, and in the neighbourhood of the Scilly islands, from July to September. About the time that the pilchards are expected on the coast, a number of men called huers

Philosophical Transactions, vol. 57, p. 280.
$ 3


post themselves on the heights to look out for their approach, which is indicated by a change in the colour of the water. The boats in the mean while, with their nets prepared, are held in momentary readiness to push forth in the direction pointed out to them by the huers. On the coast of Cornwall alone, fifty or sixty thousand hogsheads of this fish are annually salted for foreign consumption.

But of all others the salmon may, perhaps, be considered as the king of fishes; and no part of Europe is more bountifully supplied with it than the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. At certain seasons of the year, whole shoals of this noble fish approach to the mouths of rivers, which they ascend to considerable distances, surmounting every obstacle in order to find a safe and convenient spot to deposit their spawn. From January to September they are in high season, but in some part or other of the coast are fit for use every month in the year. The salmon fishery is of great value, whether for home consumption or exportation. Prodigious quantities are consumed fresh in the London market, and in almost all the sea-port towns in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; but a far greater quantity is salted, dried, or pickled in vinegar. The lochs and friths of Scotland and Ireland are visited by salmon in such copious shoals that more than a thousand fish have sometimes been taken at a single draught. The two most productive fisheries are that of the Tweed near Berwick, and of the Bann near Coleraine; at the latter of which, Mr. Young says, 1450 salmon have been taken at one drag of a single net. The salmon also frequents the coasts of Norway and Iceland in the summer months in prodigious quantities. Hooker describes the salmon fishery in the river Lax Elbe on the latter island, where women, as well as men, took with their hands, in a few hours, 2200 salmon.*

The banks of the North sea, the rocky coasts of the Orkneys, and the eastern shores of Britain, afford, in abundance, two articles of luxury for the London market, though but sparingly drawn from those sources: we allude to the turbot and lobster. For a supply, however, of the former we have always had recourse to the Dutch, to whom we paid about £80,000 a-year; and for about a million of the latter, taken on the coast of Norway, the Danes drew from us about £15,000 a-year; for eels we gave the Dutch about £5000 a-year. These fisheries are calculated to give employment to not less than 10,000 seamen.

Even the oyster fishery supplies the market of the metropolis with an article of nutricious food for eight months in the year; and if cultivated with the same care in the neighbourhood of Chichester, Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth, the coasts of Wales,

* Journal of a Tour in Iceland, by W J. Hooker.


and among the Hebrides, as at Colchester, Milton, Feversham, &c., there is not a town in Great Britain which might not be as abundantly supplied with oysters as the London market.




Notwithstanding this never-failing harvest of food within our immediate reach, the neglect of the fisheries has never ceased to be a subject of unavailing complaint from the days of Queen Elizabeth to the present time. It maketh much to the ignominie and shame of our English nation,' (says the learned Keeper of the Tower Records, above quoted,) that God and nature, offering us so great a treasure, even at our own doores, wee doe, notwithstanding, neglect the benefit thereof, and by paying money to strangers for the fish of our own seas, impoverish ourselves to make them rich and he complains that Yarmouth which, from a bed of sand, had risen to an opulent town, solely by the fishery, with the Cinque ports and other towns and villages to the number of 225, were, in his time, decayed and reduced to extreame poverty,' whilst those of Holland and Zealand were flourishing from the riches collected on our own coasts, where not less than 400 of their vessels were constantly employed to supply England alone with fish caught on its own shores. As a contrast to our indolence or indifference, a lively picture is drawn of the bustle and activity which the Dutch herring buss fishery communicated to the various tradesmen and artisans, labourers, salters, packers, dressers, &c. and of the numbers of poor women and children to which it gave employment.* On the coasts of Holland and in its bays and inlets 3000 boats of various kinds were constantly occupied; on those of England and Scotland, in the cod and ling fishery only, they had 800 vessels, from 60 to 150 tons burden, fully employed; and each of these was attended by another vessel for supplying it with salt and carrying back the cured fish. From Bougoness to the mouth of the Thames, a fleet of 1600 busses were actively engaged in the herring fishery, to every one of which might be reckoned three others, some employed in importing foreign salt, some in conveying it to the fishing vessels, and others in carrying the cured fish to a foreign market. Thus the total number of shipping engaged in, and connected with, the herring fishery amounted to 6400 vessels, giving employment on the water alone, to 112,000 mariners and fishermen. At that time Hollaud could boast of 10,000 sail of shipping, and 168,000 mariners, although their country itselfe affords them neither materials or victuall or merchandize to be accounted of towards their setting forth.' It

[ocr errors]

* In a pamphlet entitled England's Path to Wealth and Honour, in a Dialogue between an Englishman and a Dutchman,' which abounds with information on the subject of the fisheries, the whole alphabet is employed, in regular order, to enumerate the various trades-people, artisans, &c. who subsist by the herring fishery.

$ 4


« AnteriorContinuar »