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considered as useful, and protected, which in other estuaries are regarded as injurious, and prohibited. Poaching is universally practised to an immense extent, in opposition to many laws, which the magistrates do not seem to understand, or feel great difficulty in applying.
In the midst of so many legal inconsistencies, the fruitful source of expensive litigations, there were individuals who sought redress, by petitioning parliament to revise the laws regulating the Salmon Fisheries, and to frame statutes more scientific in their principle, and more equal in their application, than those which had been found so generally defective. As was to be expected, the British senate listened to these petitions, and appointed a committee of its members to make the necessary inquiries. This committee began its more public labours on the 5th May, 1824, and terminated its inquiries on the 28th May, 1827. During these three years, a variety of opinions and documents were obtained, well calculated to throw much light on the important subject. The witnesses examined were principally the tenants of the fisheries, acquainted with the practical details of the trade, as Messrs. Little, Halliday, Johnston, Hogarth, Steavenson, and Wilson. A few proprietors of fisheries, and others interested in the national bearings of the subject, were likewise interrogated, as Lord Clive, Lord Forbes, and Mr. Spring Rice. Only one naturalist, the Reverend Dr. Fleming, of Flisk, was called upon to give an opinion-whose examination appears to have been conducted in a systematical form. The results of these investigations, together with many important communications from various individuals, constitute the Reports of the committee. Besides these official documents, a variety of valuable remarks have appeared in pamphlets, journals, and newspapers, so that our senators, as well as the public, may now be supposed qualified to judge in so intricate a question. The delay, however, which has taken place in the preparation and introduction of a bill into parliament, intimates, too plainly, the existence of some difficulties which yet remain to be overcome.
The nature of the testimony given by the witnesses practically engaged in the fisheries, as stated in the reports, is so various and contradictory, that it cannot fail to bewilder, in no inconsiderable degree, those who are strangers to the truths of ichthyology, and lead them to form an unsuitable estimate of its value. We do not, in fact, consider these reports as having made many or important additions to our knowledge of the natural history of the salmon, beyond what was previously recorded; their main value is, that they throw great light on the bearings of the fisheries, as a neglected, or rather ill-regulated source of our national wealth.
And even here we must acknowledge, with regret, that the reports appear to us to be deficient in that very department where we reasonably expected to find the information most completethe extent of the salmon fishery in the scale of our national wealth. We shall look in vain to these reports for the amount of the salmon caught in any one year, legally, in the united kingdom; the rent paid for the fisheries; the capital engaged in the trade; or the number of individuals employed. And what may probably appear equally surprising, we are left in ignorance as to the price of the article in the market in different years, and the fluctuations to which it is subject throughout the different months of each year. Leaving, however, details of this kind, and abstaining from all further criticism on the general character of the evidence, we propose to exhibit such a plain view of the bearings of this important subject, equally in reference to its scientific and practical relations, as shall qualify the general reader for comprehending what we have no hesitation in denominating a national question of vital importance.
Fishes appear to execute annually two great migrations. By one of these shiftings, they forsake the deep water for a time, and approach the shallow shores; and by the other, they return to their more concealed haunts. These movements are connected with the purposes of spawning, the fry requiring to come into life, and to spend a certain portion of their youth in situations different from those which are suited to the period of maturity. It is in obedience to these arrangements that the cod and haddock, the mackerel and herring, annually leave the deeper and less accessible parts of the ocean, the region of the zoophytic tribes, and deposit their spawn within that zone of marine vegetation which fringes our coasts, extending from near the high-water mark of neap-tides, to a short distance beyond the low-water mark of spring tides. Amidst the shelter in this region, afforded by the groves of arborescent fuci, the young fish were wont, in comfort, to spend their infancy; but since these plants have been so frequently cut down to procure materials for the manufacture of kelp, and the requisite protection withdrawn, the fisheries have suffered in consequence. Even the finny tribes inhabiting lakes, as the gwinead and other species, periodically leave the deep water, and, in obedience to a similar law, approach towards the margin, and deposit their spawn. We may add that in the shallow water, in both cases, the numerous small animals reside, which constitute the most suitable food for the tender fry.
Many species of fish, as the salmon, smelt, and others, in forsaking the deep water, and approaching a suitable spawning station, leave the sea altogether, for a time, ascend the rivers and
their tributary streams, and having deposited their eggs, return again to their usual haunts. Even certain species of fish, inhabiting lakes, as the roach, betake themselves to the tributary streams, as the most suitable places for spawning.
In executing these periodical movements, all the individuals of a species do not migrate at the same period. There is, however, a particular season in which the individuals of a species shift their place in the greatest numbers, extending over days, weeks, or even months. Before and after this period, stragglers will likewise appear in variable numbers. Even during the height of the migrating season, the movements of the individuals are of a very desultory character, sometimes executed singly, at other times in such companies as to induce the fishermen to term them schools.
We have little doubt that some of our readers, in their anxiety to generalize, from the premises which have now been stated, may be ready to express an opinion, that the fishing of each species should be confined to the deep water, and no captures allowed during the period that the fish are approaching to, or retiring from their spawning ground. This view of the subject is theoretically correct, but it would be inexpedient in practice, as we are not as yet acquainted with the deep-water haunts of many species, as the salmon, the herring, and the pilchard. Their haunts, however, may yet be discovered, and suitable hooks and baits may yet be employed. In the meantime, we may take shame to ourselves, as a nation, that no expedition has, as yet, been fitted out to explore these retreats, and to ascertain the extent of our submarine wealth, but that nearly all our knowledge of the productions of the deeper sea-banks is confined to the obscure intimations given by the mud which adheres to the sounding lead.
Previous to the approach of the spawning season, there is a preparation necessary to enable the body to undergo the fatigues and the fastings by which it is accompanied. The muscles acquire size and strength, especially those connected with the tail, the principal organ of progressive motion, so that the body behind appears plump and round. A great deal of fat is deposited between the muscles, but especially on the belly, the flesh of which at this time is of considerable thickness. As the spawn advances to maturity, the fat is withdrawn for its nourishment, the belly becomes little else than skin, and while the deluded epicure, upon seeing the large roe, imagines that his fish is in the best condition, it has actually reached the very maximum of its worthlessness. When the business of spawning is over, the leanness of the fish then becomes apparent, and the extraordinary
muscular exhaustion which it has undergone is marked by the leanness of its head and the lankness of its tail.
The same love of generalization already noticed is probably again inducing the reader to condemn the capture of all kinds of fish whenever the eggs in the roe acquire such a size as to require, for their growth, a rapid absorption of the fat previously treasured up. In spite of a few practical difficulties, we feel inclined to join in the censure, and earnestly to hope that the period is not far distant when there will be a fence season for every species in use, and when the large and ripe roe of our white fish will no longer be exhibited on the stalls, as a glaring proof of the defects of our municipal regulations.
Keeping these preliminary observations in view, let us now trace more particularly the movements of salmon and their fry, in order to establish those general principles founded on the habits of the fish, by which all legislative enactments connected with the fishery should be regulated.
We have already stated, that the deep water, or submarine haunts of the salmon are unknown; those retreats to which they betake themselves in their debilitated condition, after spawning, and from which they issue forth in their highest vigour. They begin to approach the coast and enter the rivers, as stragglers, about February, increasing in numbers towards May and June; when the drought and heat of summer render the streams unfit for their reception. At this period they crowd, in shoals, towards the coast, and roam about in the estuaries, until the autumnal floods again entice them to enter the rivers. While thus detained on the coast, and in the estuaries, they are pursued and preyed upon by numerous herds of seals and grampuses, which consume many more than fall to the lot of the fisherman. The early run fish are in good condition, the roe being still small, and they seem to be destined to mount towards the higher and more distant branches of the river. Towards August and September, the roe has acquired such a size as to render the fish nearly useless as food, and greatly to limit the extent of its migrations. Having arrived at suitable spawning ground, salmon pair, and proceed to the shallow, gravelly fords at the top and bottom of pools, and there, in company, make their spawning bed, which sometimes reaches from twelve feet in length to ten in breadth. This bed is furrowed by the parent fish working up against the stream, and the spawn is deposited and covered at the same time. This This process frequently occupies more than a week; during which the eggs deposited by a single fish sometimes amount to the astonishing number of twenty thousand! This spawning season extends
from the end of October to the beginning of February, and, according to very satisfactory evidence, it occurs nearly about the same time throughout all the rivers of the United Kingdom. This coincidence is by no means remarkable in the physical distribution of aquatic animals, protected as they are, to a considerable extent, from the influence of climate, by the medium in which they reside. The parent fish having thus accomplished the important purposes of their migration into the river, now retire into the deeper pools, whence, after remaining for a considerable time, they direct their course towards the sea, chiefly during the months of February, March, and April-the male fish appearing to migrate earlier than the females.
The eggs of the salmon remain in the gravel for several months, exposed to the influence of running water. In the course of the month of March, and nearly about the same period in all our rivers, the fry are evolved. When newly hatched, they are scarcely an inch in length, of the most delicate structure, and, for awhile, connected with the egg. Upon leaving the spawning bed, the fry betake themselves to the neighbouring pools, where they speedily increase to two or three inches in length. In April, May, and June, they migrate towards the sea, keeping near the margin, or still water, in the river, and when they reach the estuary, they betake themselves to a deeper and more sheltered course, and escape to the unknown haunts of their race, to return shortly after as grilses, along with the more aged individuals. All these seaward migrations of the parent fish and the fry are influenced and greatly accelerated by the occurrence of floods in the rivers.
The concurrent testimony of all the witnesses, and the other documents contained in the reports, having established the fact of the season of spawning, and the migration of the spawned fish to the sea, the hatching of the eggs, and the descent of the samlets to the same quarter being nearly the same throughout the rivers of England, Ireland, and Scotland; it will not now be a difficult matter for us to determine the fence months which would best accord with the habits of the salmon, and the engines which seem most suited to the different kinds of fishings.
In entering upon this important branch of the inquiry, it will scarcely be demanded of us to point out the necessity of protecting the fisheries by the establishment of some fence months, because, on this important point, there does not appear to be any difference of opinion. Yet, though the times and the seasons' of the fish indicate a very remarkable degree of regularity and uniformity, we have seen that the fence months, appointed by parliament, vary throughout a considerable range. This circumstance is so favourable to the poacher, that though he may have 2 A drawn
VOL. XXXVII. NO. LXXIV.