« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
however, the class of boat and gear costs more than a young fisherman can save by the time, say, he is thirty or thirty-five, there arises a system of local borrowing on mortgage, which introduces many financial complications and abuses. Pay is entirely by share-a certain share for the boat and gear, and certain shares to the crew. In general, the complete boat and gear belongs to one man, or anyhow to one family; but in some parts, notably West Cornwall, the more co-operative system still lingers of the crew putting nets aboard and taking up net shares as well as body shares. It has the advantage of easing the capital burden on the owner, and of giving each man an additional interest. Its disadvantage is, that there are apt to be too many skippers in one boat.
In most places the fish is sold at the local price to fish-buyers, who forward it, at their own risk and at their own profit, to their customers or to the great central markets for re-sale by auction and distribution. Sometimes the fish is sold to hawkers; sometimes the fisherman avoids the local middlemen and dispatches his fish himself, on commission or on charge, to a salesman in a central market. The local fish-merchant is the business man of many fishing communities, sometimes the moneylender and representative as well. He can thus perform very useful services, for the average fisherman is bad at pen and paper business; and, when there is most to be done ashore, he is most at sea.
The close resemblance between inshore fisheries and small holdings, or the conditions of peasant proprietorship, should now be evident. Fishing villages, indeed, are the modern survivors of the old-time village communities—very close communities into which entry is a privilege. Often it has seemed to me that fishermen would rather be fleeced by one of their own people than benefited by an outsider, at all events until they can say of the outsider, “'Tis like as if you're one of ourselves now. Though they suffer from economic disabilities
' enough, they are their own masters; they do not sell themselves, unless forced to it, for wages; and just as, in consequence, they are markedly men of independence and individuality, seldom asking a favour, never humbling themselves for it, and hating the word charity, so
also each little community has its own spirit and character. Doubtless local conditions are in part responsible, and in part intermarriage. But I may here note, for the benefit of eugenists, that in some of the most inbred villages, where perhaps there are scarcely half-a-dozen surnames to go round, and everybody is related to everybody else, I have noticed that the men are extraordinarily strong and handsome, and idiots are no more numerous than elsewhere. A local merchant, who gives me much help, has remarked to me at one time or another of nearly every fishing village with which we deal: 'Ah, well, you see; they're a funny sort of people there; they're a set to themselves.' And in every case it was true. In certain ports borrowing on mortgage is common; at others, cash is paid for everything. The traveller of a big fishing-gear manufacturer told me during the first weeks of the war, when money was tight, that his fishing customers were paying their accounts if anything better than usual. No better testimony to their general honesty could have cropped up. Where fishermen are apt to go wrong is where the seaside visitor introduces that parasitism which is the curse of watering places. Yet, even there, the old fishing community usually keeps itself somewhat apart, preserving with an admirable tenacity its own broader dialect and its inward scorn of the question-asking land-lubberly visitor.
On seamanship and knowledge of the sea and weather it is needless to enlarge. Without it, fishermen would
. soon enough find themselves in Davy Jones's locker. They are mainly responsible for manning the lifeboats, but many of their most brilliant feats of rescue are done in their own boats. It must never be forgotten, moreover, that, just as the painter said it had taken him all his life to paint a picture actually done in a couple of hours, so the heroic rescues, which thrill the nation for a day or two, are the result not merely of a momentary courage, but of the lifelong experience of men born and bred to the sea. The inshore fisheries have been described as breeding-grounds for the Navy and Naval Reserve; and that they certainly are, though in modern battleships, crammed with scientific machinery, the fishery recruit scarcely holds, in virtue of seamanship alone, the
place which once was his. But, in so far as naval warfare has recently become a matter of submarines, mosquito craft, minelayers and trickery with neutral shipsin so far as Sir Percy Scott was right—the fisherman has again jumped into prominence; for it obviously becomes of prime importance to have around the coasts or on patrol a numerous body of men, continually on the lookout with practised eye, hardened to exposure, able to find their way about in fog without a compass, and familiar from boyhood with every shoal and fairway, every creek, and every tidal current in every wind. Had the smaller fisheries lost their economic value-which is far from being the case-it would still be needful to foster them by all means possible.
If it is difficult to obtain accurate fish statistics from the inshore fisheries, it is still more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain accurate statistical evidence of an inshore fishery's decline the reverse. Certainly nothing is to be gained by the too common elaborate working up into tables and percentages of figures wrong to begin with. At few places, even, is it possible to get an accurate record of the boats and men employed during a course of years. The returns of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen leave out a multitude of small craft, which may or may not be fishing boats within the meaning of the Act, but which nevertheless engage in inshore fishing. Boats, too, may be laid up, or only fitted out when fish are plentiful ; so may men; and both may be employed part time. Two or three bad seasons will cause the local people to say their fishery is gone in; only the steadier hands say: 'Us have see'd it aforetime, and will again!' And then, perhaps, with a few good hauls, the place will be all of a buzz, and laid-up boats will be fitting out as quickly as possible. So tangled are the factors to be taken into account, that one needs to know a fishery not as an enquirer, but, so to speak, as a friend, in order to tell whether it is on the up or down grade, whether it is dead, or only waiting its chance. The two best indications of its real state are probably these: what new boats are being built? and how are the youngsters coming on to the fishing ? Unless better-paid work has cropped up in the neighbourhood, the answer to the first question gives the fishermen's own estimate of their
prospects, and the answer to the second gives the community's own judgment on fishing as a trade.
So judged, the inshore fisheries have undoubtedly been declining very seriously, or at most have been only holding their own; and that impression—especially as to the lack of youngsters coming on to replace the older generation-is abundantly confirmed by a letter from the Royal National Life-Boat Institution, together with reports from its inspectors, printed as an appendix to the Departmental Committee's Report: The Committee of Management
view with grave anxiety the diminution in the number of inshore fishermen, who have, to so large a degree, furnished crews for the lifeboats of the Institution. The Committee of Management have already had to close some stations because crews could no longer be procured. They are substituting motor boats for sailing boats where the conditions are suitable; but the process is costly, and must be gradual. They direct me to add that the use of a motor, while it permits of a slight reduction in the crew of a boat and may in some cases render it feasible to close a neighbouring station without injury to the service, does nothing to diminish the need for hardihood and boating skill in the lifeboat crews.'
Both the more recent Committees of Inquiry—the Devon and Cornwall, and the Departmental-found that the decline was serious and progressive; both expressed their apprehension at the diminution in the number of men having an inherent aptitude for the sea and ships, and the impossibility of recreating such communities once they are allowed to die out. Both Committees, furthermore, expressed their surprise that the inshore fisheries had not declined even more than they have done, and their anger at the conditions under which in some places fishermen have been forced to carry on their work.
•It is due ... to their tenacity and endurance, their genius for “hanging on tough”—that they have continued to follow as cheerfully as may be an industry which offers always the maximum of hardship, and too often the minimum of reward. In some of the fishing stations we have visited the industry is carried on under conditions which are almost incredibly hard. When we find that he (the inshore fisherman) is adopting almost primitive methods of marketing his
fish ; that, except in a few places, he has made no attempt to co-operate with his neighbours for the purpose of doing better business; that in many places he labours under great difficulties in the matter of transport; that he pursues his calling in his own way without the educational facilities accorded to other industries; that he sometimes finds himself deprived of space for boats and gear and provided with insufficient landing facilities—it is a lasting testimony to his character and courage that in many places he has not disappeared altogether.'
But that genius for 'hanging on tough,' as the Cornishmen say, is not a matter of character alone; it has also an economic basis. Better than any university professor could put it, the primary economic fact of fishing is expressed in an old sea song:
The husbandman has rent to pay,
Blow, winds, blow !
Row, boys, row !
No rent is paid for the use of the sea; the fish cultivate themselves; and, nationally speaking, fish food is the one import we do not pay for. As in mining, the invested capital is used not for creating, making or growing the commodity, but only for winning it from the sea; and in addition, unlike mines, a fishery, instead of becoming exhausted, replenishes itself. In consequence, gross and net profits approximate more nearly than in any other industry, and more nearly in the inshore than in the great steam fisheries; for though the steamer, with its wider range and its power of keeping the sea and fishing it, does in fact earn greater profits, on the other hand its outgoings in first cost, interest on capital, depreciation, and working expenses are also far greater; so that what may be termed its fishing profits-those which remain within the fishing community-form a smaller proportion of its gross profits than in the case of inshore craft. Steamer owners may get a good return on their invested capital; an inshore owner may, with reasonable luck,