The steam trawler threatens to make another inroad on the fishing industry. It has practically extinguished the sail boat, by means of which the fishing off the coasts was, till comparatively recent times, extensively and exclusively prosecuted. What is technically termed "white" fishing - fishing that is, for cod, haddock, halibut, soles, plaice, etc. - has now fallen entirely into the hands of the steam trawlers, which, by their ability to go further afield quickly and return speedily, have been able to augment the supplies immensely, and to create what is virtually a new industry, albeit it is but an extension of a very ancient one on modern lines. The pleasant, old fashioned fishing-boats, with their picturesque, brown, weather-beaten sails, and the hardy and equally picturesque fishermen by whom they were manned, were only saved from total effacement by being reserved for the prosecution of the herring fishing. But in the course of time they, too, have become affected by the introduction of steam, and for several years past the herring-fishing has been largely prosecuted by steam propelled vessels known as drifters. Sail-boats and drifters alike are now seriously menaced by the introduction of trawling for herrings by the steam trawlers, which have been exclusively utilised hitherto in taking white fish.
The drifter and the trawler are very definitely differentiated by their respective names. Whereas both are propelled by steam, the drifter prosecutes the fishing by means of drift nets; it is simply the former fishing boat driven by steam, and thus enabled to get more quickly to distant fishing-grounds and to return in time to catch the early morning markets. On the other hand, the trawler uses a trawl-net, which drags the ocean bed and makes its catches at lower depths than drift nets. Herring trawling is very much the result of a happy - or unhappy - accident. Some nine years ago an Aberdeen trawl-skipper, while trawling for cod, discovered herrings in his net instead. The unwanted catch was regarded as a novelty at the time - a novelty accompanied by rather unpleasant incidents, for, on landing his catch at Wick, the skipper was stoned by the local fishermen. In thus violently demonstrating against what they reckoned an invasion of their prescriptive rights, the Wick fishermen may have had some prevision of what would happen if trawlers cultivated the practice of trawling for herring. At any rate, the occasional occurrence of herring catches in the trawl-net since then has not unnaturally suggested the idea that trawling for herring might be regularly prosecuted; and this year has witnessed a very active development of the idea. At Aberdeen - the great scottish centre of the trawling industry - about 1000 crans of trawled herrings were marketed in one week quite recently, although the recognised herring-fishing in Scotland is over for the season; and now that the herring fishing on the English coasts is in full swing trawlers are operating out of various fishing ports, with what has been described as "something like phenomenal success." Not only have big catches been landed at Hull itself and at Grimsby, and also Fleetwood. At Fleetwood, indeed, there is talk of a special herring net being constructed for the use of trawlers.
It seems probable, therefore, that trawling for herrings will become common before long; and in that event it will likely effect as extensive a revolution in the industry as it has already done in the cognate branch of the white fishing. Whatever the ultimate advantages gained, they must involve considerable sacrifices and losses on the part of those engaged in conducting the industry on its present lines. The special merit claimed for trawling is that it has enormously increased the food supply of the country, and, in co-operation with the rapid means of transit afforded by railway companies, has furnished fish in large quantities to the denizens of inland towns formerly denied it. While these are undoubted blessings, they have been attended by serious drawbacks. Numerous little fishing villages all up and down the coast have become practically derelict, and our sturdy and independent fishermen are being driven into other occupations, adding to the already excessive aggregation of population in large centres and augmenting the already intense industrial pressure. One immediate effect of the impending revolution must be to check the movement now on foot to obtain state aid for fishermen to enable them to acquire motor-boats or motor-engines for existing boats, so as to compete with the stream drifters.
In view of all these considerations, it is not surprising that fishermen are actively depreciating the efforts of trawlers to insinuate themselves into the herring fishing. As in the early days of trawl fishing, they are renewing the contention that the trawl eventually will be destructive of the fishing. The Dogger Bank, for instance, is one of the chief resorts of the herring, and it is being urged that if the fishing grounds there are "harried" by trawlers dragging the herrings over the bottom when they are full of milt and roe, "the day will not be far distant when there will be no herrings to catch." Objection is also being taken to herring trawling on the ground of the inferiority of the herrings caught by this means. Herrings, it is asserted, are frequently "drowned" in the trawl net, besides, rubs off the scales, and accordingly obliterates the "silvery sheen" which goes so far to make the herring attractive. In these ways, trawled herrings are said to be not so well adapted for curing as those taken in drift nets , and the continental trade may thus be endangered. The retort , of course, is that augmentation of this kind is purely speculative. At any rate, it will hardly prove strong enough to avert the impending change in the industry. Herring trawling, now it has come, has most probably come to stay.
- The Graphic, November 18th,1911