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mainly by local motor boats, and lasts approximately for the first three months of the year. The height of the season was again reached last year about the middle of February, when the fleet employed numbered 11 steam, 145 motor and 11 sailing vessels, as against 11 steam, 162 motor and 2 sail in 1925. The total quantity of herrings landed for the three months was 62,491 cwts., valued at £33,123, as against 67,633 cwts. and £31,062 in the preceding year. The fishing is not as a rule very remunerative, but it affords occupation to the fishermen at a time when otherwise they might be unemployed. Results off the Berwickshire coast were again poor. In Leith District, which includes the waters westwards from Inchkeith worked by the seine-net crews, the season opened with much promise, but the fishing rapidly fell away. Further out, off the Fife coast and in the neighbourhood of the May Island, where drift nets (or, inshore, set nets) are used, there was practically no catch during January, and the crews reverted to white-fish fishing, but shoals were located in February and a moderately successful fishing was prosecuted until the beginning of April. The herrings taken in all areas were of fairly good quality throughout and met with a satisfactory demand, chiefly for export fresh to Hamburg, and fresh to the home markets.
The attempt to revive a winter fishing off Shetland did not prove successful. Only 9 steam drifters, 6 of them local, were engaged, and few succeeded in clearing their working expenses.
3. SUMMER FISHING.
A lull in the Scottish herring fishery takes place each year about the month of April, although on the West Coast no entire stoppage occurs. The early summer fishing then begins first in Shetland, and gradually further south on the East Coast and also, on a smaller scale, on the West.
In view of the depressing effect on the Continental markets of the export in the early part of the season of large quantities of cured herrings of the inferior quality then often landed a strong effort was again made by curers to secure a voluntary close time, on this occasion to 14th June, but the attempt failed for want of unanimity in Shetland, which has most at stake in the early fishing. With the coal dispute overcasting the situation operations were not begun without misgiving and were carried on throughout the summer under difficulties, but the results were in the circumstances surprisingly good, and except for the heavy expense for coal might have been described as fairly successful. The weather was fine throughout, in fact possibly too fine for the best results to be secured. The shortage of bunker coal, and latterly the very high prices prevailing, handicapped the steam vessels, however, in their movements, confining
fishing for the most part to the grounds nearer port and checking the usual search for the most prolific areas. The herrings secured were, generally speaking, of very good quality, and the average size was better than in 1925, although a scarcity of fish of "La. Full" and "Full" size continued.
The gross earnings of the steam drifters for a season in the majority of cases of 12-13 weeks' duration averaged for most of the chief drifter ports from £1,000 to £1,200, less £650 for expenses, of which perhaps £130 represented the excess cost of coal. On the system of sharing commonly in vogue the nett share per man for his labour would work out at from £20 to £30, probably on the average falling short of £2 per week.
The earnings of men on motor drifters usually compare unfavourably with those of men on steam vessels, but during the summer fishing of last year the position was markedly reversed as a result of the greater freedom of movement of the motor vessels and their much lower expenses for fuel.
The coal dispute probably delayed the arrival of stranger drifters, and in fact appeared to curtail their participation in the Shetland fishery throughout the season; but a commencement was made by a few local vessels on 17th May, while the whole local fleet of 80 vessels was at work by the 24th. These were before long joined by vessels both from the Scottish mainland and from England, and the maximum fleet for the season, consisting of 350 steam, 60 motor and 28 sail vessels, was reached by the middle of June. In the preceding season, when the voluntary close time was partly observed, the maximum fleet of 534 vessels, or about 100 more than in 1926, was not reached till the second week of July. Owing to the general earlier commencement of the fishing the total landings, despite the smaller fleet, were considerably heavier than in 1925, amounting for the six months April to September to 787,385 cwts., valued at £309,580, as against 669,397 cwts. and £333,345 in the preceding year.
As in other recent seasons the chief fishing grounds lay at first in the north-west, off the Ramna Stacks. Except at the beginning of the season, when inferior herrings were landed, the catch was of fairly good quality, and was cured mostly as Matjes, which sold at good prices. This fishing, however, fell off about the second week of June, and the East Side grounds in the vicinity of Lerwick were then tried, and as good results were secured right away the more distant Ramna Stacks grounds were abandoned, and fishing was thereafter practically confined to the grounds stretching from off Baltasound to Fair Isle. The fishing fell off from about the middle of July, and by the end of August all the stranger boats had left. Catches throughout were for the most part light, although with notable exceptions. Until the middle of July the quality of the herrings taken was
spents were present
good; thereafter the fish were thin, and spents in nearly all the catches.
Curing operations were centred chiefly at Lerwick, but five stations were opened on the west side, at Ulsta, Collafirth, Burravoe, Cullivoe and Scalloway, which were especially convenient for vessels working the Ramna Stacks grounds; and three stations were opened at Baltasound and one each at Whalsay and Hoswick. Nearly 90 per cent. of the total landings was cured gutted for export, and most of the balance exported fresh to Altona.
(b) East Coast and Orkney.
The chief Scottish North Sea ports south of Shetland from which herring fishing is prosecuted are Stronsay (Orkney), Wick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. The Moray Firth ports such as Buckie and Lossiemouth, to which a large part of the drifter fleet belong, are of minor importance as ports of landing. On the southern part of the coast, Eyemouth is the only centre of any importance.
The grounds frequented by the fleets based on the four chief ports named extend from the vicinity of Fair Isle to off Buchan Ness, forming a more or less continuous fishing area. Owing to the coal shortage, operations last year were mostly confined, as already remarked, to the nearer grounds, and the area worked lay chiefly within 50 miles north, north-east, and east from the Moray Firth limit line between Duncansby and Rattray Heads.
The Eyemouth fleet operated off the Berwickshire coast and southward to the Farne Islands.
Some Eyemouth motor boats began fishing from North Shields as early as the middle of May, while some Wick boats also began fishing on the North Coast before the end of the month. Generally speaking, however, fishing was not properly under way until near the end of June, while the season did not reach its height until August, by which time a number of vessels had returned from the Shetland fishing. The fishing again closed rather early, not being continued on any considerable scale beyond the end of August except at Wick, where heavy landings were made from grounds close inshore during the last week of that month and the first fortnight of September.
The demand for the herrings landed was at first poor, being largely confined to the freshing and kippering trades, and prices ruled low. After the new season's cured herrings, however, had begun to reach the Continental markets and their excellent quality was realised the demand rapidly improved and prices rose. The catch consisted chiefly of plump, round fish of Matfull" and "Mattie "size; there was a marked absence of the small and thin fish which formed a considerable part of the 1925 landings, but on the other hand fish of the larger ("La. Full" and "Full ") sizes were both scarce and unusually late in appearing. It was observed that larger herrings were got during some of the breezier weather experienced,
The end of the fishing was slightly precipitated by the coal situation, as coal merchants, in order to avoid being left with any large quantity of dear coal on their hands, ceased replenishing their stocks whenever the fishing appeared to be approaching a close.
(c) West Coast.
The summer herring fishing on the West Coast is conducted mainly from the ports of Stornoway, Castlebay, Mallaig and Oban. Kyle, which rose to considerable importance as a railhead port for the supply of the home markets during the war, is now neglected. The fishing is prosecuted chiefly by East Coast vessels, and the grounds worked lie with few exceptions close to the eastern side of the Outer Hebrides. Fishing was heaviest in July, as it had been also in 1925, but the maximum fleet of 246 steam, 84 motor and 48 sail was reached in the middle of June, disappointing results locally and reports of better success in other areas causing a number of the vessels to depart thereafter. The total catch for the six months April to September was 355,804 cwts., valued at £209,111, as against 334,360 cwts. and £293,360 in the corresponding period of 1925. The average price of 11s. 9d. per cwt. realised, although greater than the average of the North Sea ports, was only two-thirds of the average of 17s. 6d. obtained on the West Coast in the previous year. The quality of the herrings taken fell considerably short of the highest standard for the West Coast, and the proportion of "Matjes" included was low...
The season at Stornoway, which was the main centre of operations, was regarded as very disappointing, especially as the success of 1925 had attracted additional fishermen and curers. Besides the general causes operating, fishing was hindered by the presence of dog-fish and also of salps on grounds north of the port. Four curers had staffs at Leverburgh, but owing to a scarcity of herrings locally and the special difficulty of working distant grounds owing to the coal situation, the landings at the port showed a big decrease, amounting to only 6,455 cwts. for the whole year as against 44,081 cwts. in 1925.
4. EAST ANGLIAN AUTUMN FISHING.
Up to the end of the summer fishings the Scottish herring fishermen might be said to have at least held their own. The prospects for the autumn fishing off East Anglia, in which they usually participate with a good measure of success, were regarded as doubtful, owing both to the coal situation and the condition of the herring market. The fishermen, however, decided to follow their customary practice in the hope that they might be justified by events, and a fleet of 796 steam and 145 motor vessels gradually found its way south, as against 795 steam and 158 motor in 1925. The departure of a number of the steam vessels was delayed by the exhaustion of the supply of bunker coals at
some of the drifter ports, and while most of the fleet made the passage before the end of September it was well into October before the last drifter arrived.
Unhappily the fishing proved a failure. The high cost of coals, the price of which at Yarmouth and Lowestoft was from 70s. to 95s. per ton as against 35s. normally, increased the working expenses of the steam vessels despite their restricted operations by about £130 for the season. In addition supplies were often difficult to obtain, and the quality of the coal was in many cases most inferior. The worst handicap of all, however, was the exceedingly stormy weather experienced from the latter part of October onwards. As a result boats found it impossible to work at all regularly, a great many not making more than a dozen trips for the whole season. Their catches were therefore restricted, while at the same time the demand was slack and prices low, and the gross earnings of the 941 Scottish vessels engaged amounted to only £527,950, as against £755,954 for 953 vessels in 1925, and £1,178,681 for 886 vessels in 1924. The Scottish fleet ceased fishing earlier than usual and all the vessels had returned home by the end of November. It is reckoned, however, that 55 per cent. of the total herrings taken at the East Anglian fishing of 1926 was landed by Scottish vessels. The average earnings per labour share for the season in the case of steam drifters were less than £8, which after the deduction of about £6 in respect of food would leave only some £2 for two months' work. Motor drifters were again a little more fortunate. The damage to gear suffered was lighter than usual, but still considerable, and the share of the earnings allocated to nets would be fully required for replacements.
The following tables give particulars of the landings by Scottish fishing vessels at the East Anglian fishing, as well as at other English and Irish fishings in which they participated during the year.
Vessels. Quantity Value. Vessels. Quantity. Value. Vessels. Quantity. Value.