In late September and October,1883 Scarboroughs fishing community was talking about a new Act of Parliament concerning the fishing industry. Yet more regulations had been put down and the fishermen complained of more bureaucracy. Fines were to be imposed for those not following the rules. Skippers had to pass examinations! The fishermen were in uproar - meetings were held and town dignitaries such as Rowntree spoke. The meeting at the Old Town Hall was not characterized by logical and reasoned debate - the fishermen did not come to hear the other mans point of view - instead they took the opportunity to tell anyone whom they disagreed with exactly what they thought of them! It was a never to be forgotten meeting.
Mr Donisthorpe stood up as the chair and appealed for a fair hearing for the speakers and was shouted down -
"How much is he been paid for his job!".
There were several minutes of confusion whilst a 'drunken' fisherman was expelled. Donisthorpe attempted to make a point about the recently held meeting at Sandside saying "The Mercury goes on to tell us that we passed the Resolution because we are a lot of simpletons" to which the crowd responded "You are!" to which the crowd laughed appreciatively. He continued on "Many in this crowd are not fishermen" - the crowd laughed and applauded and one smart fellow shouted "Are You One! Can you take a smack to the Dogger!". He tried to soldier on saying "In four points the bill is tyrannical, the rest is merely jam" to which a fisherman shouted "So are you!" and another "Sit Down!".
Mr Rowntree spoke trying to make a serious point "Some provisions were introduced by the fishermen of Hull" and before he had chance to make his point a fisherman had shouted him down "We don't want Hull, we want Scarborough and we won't have it". During the whole of his speech Mr Rowntree, a prominent Scarborough politician, was cat called and hooted at. "Shut Up!" and "Sit down!" or "stick to the subject" followed by a great laughter. At times nothing could be heard above the din of the crowd. Time and time again Rowntree attempted to address the meeting but the fishermen howled shouting "No! No!" and crowed at him. In defence of the Act of Parliament Mr Rowntree tried to say
"I think there are provisions in the Act which you would like to hear" yet before he seemed to get started his ten minutes was up and the Chairman called "Time!".
Rowntree resumed his seat.
Mr Lyons spoke saying "I do not care for politics in the words of the pope -'For force and Government let fools contest, whatever is best administered is best'". These fine words and poetry were met with a blunt "Thats yer Tit bit!!" and sustained laughter. The crowd continued on with the dignitaries barely able to speak above the din of the crowd.
The officials and civic dignitaries expected a certain amount of respect for their office and their class. There was an expectation of deference from the lower classes - and thats what the lowly fishermen were to them. It was a curious clash of cultures. A debate between professional politicians and fishermen.
George Marshal, a trawler skipper spoke, "I have been a skipper for a long period but never flogged a boy(hear hear from the audience).... I do not love the board of trade officials, they generally come round untimely hours, and call meeting in the middle of the week when many skippers were hundreds of miles away, ... there were many skippers here this evening who had never passed an examination, and could not"(Hear! Hear! from the audience).
The fishermen were upset with the new laws that were coming in. Skippers were to be forced to pass examinations. They would have to record activities on the boats. Partly this was due to boys being abused on boats. There had been a case in the papers recently concerning a boy who had died on a boat. He had been bullied and the culprits pleaded innocence as they had only been following the orders of the skippers. Boys were often bullied - toughened up and forced into doing the worst jobs. In many ways it was like the army with newcomers forced to pass initiation tests. They would later be accepted.
A meeting was held in Filey too at the Victoria Rooms of the Liberty and Peace Defence League, in Murray Street. Amongst those present were John Cammish, Mr Jenkinson Haxby and George Colling. The chairmen began the metting saying "The Act appeared to be one of those meddlesome pieces of legislation that was of no benifit to anyone, exccept those who would receieve large salaries for the work of worrying a lot of hard working fishermen". A resolution was passed stating "That the interference of the Board of Trade with the liberty and freedom of the people ought to be put a stop to".
The politicians saw these men as lowly fishermen but they were hard working businessmen. They were the very foundations of the free market economy - the small businesses working hard. As businessmen they expected respect from the politicians. They expected them to listen to their grievances and spoke very plainly. The politicians did not know what had hit them - they were not used to people shout "Pretty Polly" and "Sit Down!".
This was very much turning point with the industry now being forced to accept regulations. Many of the skippers were uneducated and totally incapable of filling in forms and complying with complicated regulations. The fishermen were not used to this.
Later in that same year a Royal Commision was held into the fishing industry which took in the opinions of many fishermen down the coast notably from Hartlepool and Hull. Here the views of Thomas Wood were heard, he was a Hartlepool fisherman. He said:
"He had been fishing from Hartlepool port for 24 years. They fished in water 20 miles out, and where once they got fifty or sixty stones of haddock per day, they now got 5 or 6 stones. He attributed this denudation of the ground to the actions of the trawlers. Last year he had a net damaged by the a trawler, but he was too far off to see her number, which was generally placed were it could scarely be seen.
He knew the trawler had no business to be within three miles of the shore, but it was no use complaining to the police. His crew consisted of four men and a boy and last herring season they netted £50 where previously they got £150... many have been forced to give up fishing, being unable to make a living from it. Twenty years agoi there were 100 herring boats belonging to this port, now there were just 25 Trawlers had now cleared the in shore and had to fish further out." This evidence was backed up by other Hartlepool fishermen such as Robert Rowntree and William Davison.
The fishing industry was clearly in need of further regulation but it was full of people unwilling to submit to rules and regulations. Many of the fishermen clearly wanted further regulations but only as they applied to other people. The drifters wanted regulations to stop trawlers working close to the shore and destroying their nets. As far as the drifter skippers were concerned the trawlermen clearly needed to be stopped! They were a nuisance destroying the industry.
The meeting held in 1883 very much marked a turning point. Before this year the fishing folk had been left to their own devices. They clearly were plundering the seas of all the fish they could take. The state left them largely alone. They had few regulations and forms to adhere to. In front of them lay a steady increase in regulations and state control. By the 1970's the state involvement in the industry was almost total. Regulations for net sizes, quotas for fish. In the end it involved the complete closure of certain fisheries. The fishing industry had performed as well as the farmers in feeding the nation. Yet the farmers growth in production was sustainable. The ultimate in technology was the factory ships of the Russians and Norwegians. These vacuumed the seas of the fish. It could never be sustainable.
The industry always managed to carry on. It had too many jobs. In Hull in 1883 there were 300-400 first class trawlers and 200-300 smaller vessels. For many years from 1883 the industry largely won the argument. It was critical at that time - but only for the inshore fisheries. Trawlers were emptying these of fish and were having to go further and further out. In the next twenty years even coble boats started to carry trawl nets despite the fact that they had been banned inshore. The politicians were always wary of regulations and laws - they instead were content to allow the fishermen to kill the goose which layed the golden egg.
- Mercury, 28 September 1883.
- Mercury, 14 December 1883.