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Chapter 15. - Fisheries

Fish are caught off all our Scottish coasts, but the east is far more important than the west, partly because the North Sea is one of the finest fishing grounds in the world, and partly owing to the remoteness from markets of the north-western and Hebridean ports. The relative importance of the coasts in the fishing industry for 1910 will be seen from the following figures:—

East Coast—total value of all fish landed £2,225,170
Orkney and Shetland „ „ 606,442
West Coast „ „ 338,535
Grand total £3,170,147

The value of the shell fish caught on the West Coast exceeded, however, that on the East by £13,617.

Under the Fishery Board of Scotland the whole country is divided into a number of districts, each under the supervision of a fishery officer. Each district includes a number of “creeks” or subsidiary ports. The “creeks” of Forfarshire and a few in Kincardineshire are in the Montrose district, those in our county being Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Westhaven, Easthaven, Arbroath, Auchmithie, Usan, Ferryden, and Montrose. The chief kinds of fish landed in Forfarshire in 1910 arranged in order of market value were haddock, cod, herring, sole, plaice, whiting, mussels, turbot, crabs, which, with less important varieties, reached a total value of £71,382.

Forfarshire fishermen prosecute their calling in the Firth of Tay, where salmon, sprats, sparling, etc. are taken; on the ocean foreshore; but chiefly far out at sea, where operations are carried on from 16 to 80 miles in a south-easterly direction, the principal fishing-grounds being from 40 to 60 miles off shore.

In 1910 Dundee showed an increase of over £5000 in the value of fish landed by trawlers, the chief kinds of fish brought into the port being haddocks, codlings, whitings, flat-fish, and sprats. Though not the headquarters of the Forfarshire fisheries, Dundee receives half of the entire “take” of the Montrose district.

The value of shell-fish landed at Broughty Ferry far exceeded that of other ports in the district, but in 1900 for the first time in living memory no boats were fitted out for the summer herring fishing. The fishermen of Westhaven and Easthaven are chiefly engaged in the capture of salmon, lobsters, and crabs. Arbroath occupies the third place amongst the fishing stations of Forfarshire, and Montrose the second, although the two ports taken together land only one half as many fish as are brought into Dundee.

While the fishing industry of Scotland increases year by year, some significant changes are taking place in the number of vessels engaged and in the methods of capture adopted. In 1908 the entire fishing fleet consisted of 11,576 craft of all kinds with a value of £2,029,384; but in 1910, when the latest report was issued, the number of boats had diminished to 9724, while their value had increased to £5,439,857. The reason is that smaller vessels propelled by sail or oar are rapidly giving place to larger and more valuable ships with steam or motor power. Nevertheless, 83 per cent, of fishing boats are still of the older type.

Though these changes are fraught with good to the whole community, there are certain aspects of them that are disadvantageous. Year by year it is becoming harder for owners of the small kinds of craft to compete with larger, more expensive, and more effective vessels owned by wealthy companies; and, moreover, relatively fewer men can now find employment. The result is a tendency for unemployed fishermen to leave the picturesque fishing village with its brown sails and its yellow sands, and seek work in the larger fishing ports or in great centres of population, where they but increase the industrial pressure. Hence there is a movement on foot to obtain state aid for fishermen that will enable them to acquire motor boats and so compete with mechanically propelled vessels of greater bulk.

Occupations ancillary to the fisheries are chiefly those in connection with the curing and packing of herrings and certain kinds of white fish. There is employment for a whole army of curers, coopers, gutters, packers, clerks, labourers, carters, and hawkers. In 1910, 2525 people were engaged in the fishery district of Montrose.

In addition to the estuarine and inshore capture of salmon, the North Esk and the South Esk have valuable stations near their mouths. Both salmon and sea trout are caught further up these rivers, while their upper reaches and the numerous other streams and the lochs of the county afford ample sport to the angler for trout and char.

Dundee has long been distinguished as the headquarters in the country of the whale and seal fishing which used to be prosecuted chiefly in the waters of Greenland. In the earlier days of the industry, whale fishing was carried on in sailing vessels, and about nine of these left the port annually for the Arctic regions. An important advance took place in 1858, when steamers were employed. At first only five steamships sailed from Dundee, but ten years later their number had increased to eleven. The most prosperous year in the history of the Dundee seal and whale fishing was 1874, when eleven vessels captured 44,087 seals and 190 whales, yielding 1420 tons of oil and 1436 cwts. of whalebone, the whole valued at £106,500.

Seal fishing is now regarded as unprofitable, and whaling (with far less satisfactory results than formerly) has been continued only on account of the high price obtained for whalebone. In 1874 this commodity was worth £750 (Per ton) but as much as £2900 per ton has been paid for it, while the price, which fluctuates according to supply and demand, ranges from £1400 to £2500.

Whale oil, which used to fetch £50 per ton, has fallen to £20, owing to the introduction and ever-increasing use of mineral oils.

The Dundee whaling fleet has in consequence of these changes diminished to eight vessels. The gradual extinction of the whale and the difficulty experienced in capturing a sufficient number to pay expenses will no doubt in time cause the trade to die out altogether.

The preparation of oil and the tanning and dressing of sealskins are industries proper to Dundee in connection with these fisheries.

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