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fish are now fast increasing. If, however, a river be barricaded against the progress of the salmon in their migrations from the sea, by a fishery weir, no pass can be formed, unless the owner of such weir gets compensation.
Many persons who have closely studied the natural history and habits of salmon, and whose opinions on fishery questions deserve attention, say that certain baronies should be taxed in order to raise funds for the construction of fish-passes. The tax, in almost every case, would be very light on each landholder, and such a way of providing money for the above-named purposes is certainly worthy of consideration.
We have been hearing all our lives of the unfairness of meddling with what are called vested rights, and fully admit the principle; but we protest against contorting this cry into an excuse for monopoly. We exclaim against the injustice of not allowing the upper heritors to get a share of the fish which the Great Giver of all good intended they should have ; and we have no hesitation in saying, that whenever sufficient funds for the purpose are collected, passes for the migration of fish should be constructed over fishery as well as mill-weirs. It should not be considered that the erection of a salmon-weir, without an open pass for fish, even though that erection may have taken place more than twenty years ago, should confer a vested right; but it should be thought and felt that it was an usurpation, and that a great wrong had been done to those who were prevented from enjoying those benefits which nature and the ancient fishery laws intended for them. Until fishery and millweirs are placed in the same category, the law will be imperfect, and in many cases a mere dead letter.
We have for years given every attention to the subject of our inland fisheries, and it appears quite clear to us that so long as salmon are prevented from migrating freely at all seasons, all legislation is an utter absurdity. Year after year some of the upper proprietors of rivers closely watch, during the winter months, the few fish which, when there was a deluge, have (after desperate attempts) managed to surmount the perpendicular weir. We can only apply to these men the following words :
“ Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes.”
Very few of the fry of those salmon, when grown to maturity, will escape the cruives and nets. We know a fishery owner who some years ago was building a weir. On being asked why he was constructing it perpendicular at the lower side, he answered with charming ingenuousness—" If I sloped it, the fish could run up the river, and of course get away.” We heard also of an owner of a salmon fishery who stated, some little time ago, that it would pay him well now and then to fish his nets weekly during the close time, as the value of the salmon killed illegally would far exceed the amount of the sum he would be fined.
The old fishery laws laid it down as a basis to start from, that in every case where a weir was erected across a river, a pass for salmon should be left in the deepest portion of the stream-thus providing for the wants of the upper proprietors, and the perpetuation of the salmon race. The curse of absenteeism, however, stepped in : proprietors of land neglected their duties and their interests, and the owners of the fisheries gradually encroached upon their rights, until the passage of the fish to the upper waters was entirely debarred before the commencement of close time.
The question now is, Are the ancient rights of the proprietors of the land to be considered forfeited, because they have unwittingly allowed the stealthy ursurpations of the lessees of the fisheries to exist beyond a certain number of years ? Is the existence of a great national interest to be perilled, in order to swell for a short period the pockets of one class of men, for the most part interlopers ?
We say temporarily, because it is scarcely to be expected that the upper proprietors will long continue to protect the spawning-beds if debarred the rights that the ancient statutes, which were dictated alike by nature and common sense, secured for them. Once let the exasperated landowners decide that if they are not permitted to enjoy their just rights, so neither shall the tidal proprietors fill their purses, and the race of salmon will cease to exist.
Nor is this combination to be deemed improbable--coming events cast their shadows before ; and even now, to those whose ears are attuned to such things, the growth of a mighty tempest may be heard in the distance. Can we not then effect some compromise before exasperation has worked destruction? For instance, might it not be rendered imperative to open the rivers at 6 o'clock on Friday morning instead of Saturday, as at present, in all cases where the ancient fish-pass does not exist, fixing the minimum penalty for evasion of this rule not less than £50; for it is a well-known fact, that in many rivers the proprietors of the cruives will, on the smallest pretext, keep in their boxes during the prescribed time, trusting to favour or the chapter of accidents to escape with a light fine, whilst filling their pockets with a heavy take.
Salmon are destroyed in great numbers in mill-courses, at all stages of their growth, especially during the droughts of summer, when nearly all the water of the river is turned on the mill-course. Then are the small fry caught in thousands in nets and baskets, more especially in the smaller rivers, where the mill-luts are narrow; and the spent salmon, that have hitherto escaped the poacher's spear, are there cut to pieces by the mill-wheel, or enclosed in the miller's scoop-net.
Unfortunately, it is most difficult to devise any mode of preventing this, as no fence to stop them can be erected in the water above the mill that will not, at least, give the miller an excuse to say that it inflicts an injury on his milling power; and, in fact, there is no doubt that it would do so, by collecting weeds and dirt, unless he exercised a supervision, and employed an amount of attendance, that could scarcely be expected from him. But this is by no means all the damage done by mills---for when running from the sea, more especially in the larger rivers, the salmon are apt to collect in the mill-course below the wheel, partly attracted by the particles of food that are found there, and partly, no doubt, as a resting place before they shoot the weir. To drop a net across the lower end of the course, and turn the water off the wheel, are the work of a few minutes; and some idea of the extent of the destruction thus occasioned may be formed when we state,
that, on one occasion last year, á miller on the Shannon captured no less than thirty prime fish.
Now, this is an evil that may be obviated without damaging the milling powers : an iron or wooden rail is still inadmissible, as, for the reason before given, it would, unless daily cleared, throw back water on the wheel. There are, however, more ways of killing a cat than hanging him ; and so in this case, although a rail cannot be erected, yet the suspension of a long purse-net at the end of the mill-stream, with an opening at the lower end sufficient to allow the glotson and getson of the river a ready exit, could not damage the milling powers, and would, at the same time, by its swagging in the stream, frighten the ascending fish, and cause them to seek, if not a more comfortable, at least a safer, resting-place.
The cause of the decrease of grouse on the Scottish moors has been largely discussed of late, and we think, along with others, that it is to be attributed to over-shooting. Comparing fish with fowl, it is clear that, in very many cases, the reason salmon have diminished in number is that they have been over-netted. Too many fish have been destroyed in the open season, and enough have not been left for breed. All fixed engines, such as stake-nets, cruives, &c., should be made illegal. Numbers of salmon could be captured by means of draught-nets, and the markets might be well supplied by their use alone. At present the mesh of the nets is far too small
. The clause respecting the size of the mesh is so ridiculous, that we cannot refrain from quoting part of it. It states, “That the size of the mesh, as prescribed by the first-recited Act, is too large, and permits the escape of great quantities of valuable fish, and that it should therefore be made smaller.” We suppose, in alluding to the escape of quantities of valuable fish, it is meant that they are suffered to pass to their rightful owners, the up-water proprietors. We confess that we are surprised the Fishery Commissioners do not try to get this most absurd and unfair clause altered. No salmon or sea-trout under four pounds should be captured in nets, for we hold it to be a great mistake not to allow as many of the grilse as possible to migrate and to deposit their spawn. The grilse, as it is well known, are more numerous than the large fish, and if they were not destroyed in such great numbers, they would form a large accession to the breeding-fish. If we killed nearly all our calves and lambs, there would soon be a scarcity of cows and sheep.
Again, in small rivers, salmon and sea-trout are taken during the night in nets, for in the summer, when the water is low and clear, fish only run between the hours of sunset and sunrise. By watching the shallows at this time, the ripple of the fish can be seen as it swims up the stream, and a net is run out above the salmon, and in a minute he is enclosed. It will be clear from this, that net-fishing should be prohibited in small rivers between the hours of sunset and sunrise, as scarcely any
staff of bailiffs could prevent such a practice of capturing fish as has been just described. Indeed, we doubt if the Commissioners of Fisheries should not be empowered to make net-fishing by night illegal in rivers under a certain size.
There has been a great outcry raised against cross-fishing, and we are no advocates for this mode of fishing, but we must say its destructiveness has been grossly exaggerated. It would be absurd and unjust to prohibit cross-fishing, so long as net-fishing in the fresh-water portions of rivers is lawful. Every one is aware that more salmon are taken by nets and cruives during one week of the summer, than by all the cross and single fishers in the whole season. We hope, therefore, that the senseless cry against cross-fishing will be no longer heard while nets are not prohibited. Anglers, as Mr. Stoddart truly says, are the best preservers of salmon, for they are so frequently on the banks of rivers, that they are brought at times in contact with all kinds of poaching, and they have it in their power to do much to prevent the fish from being killed unfairly.
From the middle of summer until the season closes, the angler will not unfrequently kill salmon of a brown hue. Those are fish which came into the fresh water in the spring. Many of those salmon, which have lost that bright silvery appearance which is one of the characteristics of a clean-run fish, are excellent when boiled in the ordinary manner, but they are all admirable if kippered. We strongly recommend our angling readers, when next they take such a salmon as we have just described, to kipper him according to Mr. Stoddart's first receipt, and if the fish, when cooked, is not pronounced ne plus ultra, we are greatly mistaken.
Considering the present position of the angler, we are for extending the open season for angling until the 1st of November on most rivers. Certainly a few fish, which are not in prime condition, will be taken by the rod; but what are a few among the large number which should be suffered to escape the cruives and nets ? On nearly all rivers a very small quantity of salmon are captured by the rod during the summer. The weather then gets too fine and bright; and the water gets low. After May the angler only enjoys a day's sport now and then, when the weather breaks. At the
time when the rod-fisher is obliged to cease from his favourite amusement, the net-owner is taking hundreds of fish. The angler should then certainly be allowed a month's open time more than the fishery owner. He will repay any supposed injury he has done by the detection and prevention of poaching. We were informed by a noted black fisher, that he once killed (with a gaff) twenty fish in one night on their spawning-beds. They who exclaim against giving the rod-fisher even one month's more open season than the fishery owner, would be horror-stricken if they knew the deeds of poaching which have come under our notice in former days, and which have been mainly put down by the watchfulness of the angler.
Some salmon-fishers, in their zeal for their sport, think that trout should, in a great measure, be destroyed in salmon rivers, as they devour quantities of roe and young fry. That trout do feed to a great extent on salmon-roe there is no doubt. Persons who have speared salmon when depositing their spawn, can tell of the vast numbers of trout which are eagerly watching for the ova as fast as they are shed by the female fish. We saw, no later than last season, a trout of less than a pound, out of the stomach of which nearly a score of small fish about an inch in length each were taken. After examining them closely, we came to the conclusion that they were certainly young salmon. We have ourselves frequently captured trout which were gorged with salmonroe; but notwithstanding all the proofs that trout are injurious in salmon rivers, it must, at the same time, be remembered that many persons prefer trout to salmon fishing, and that they enjoy their amusement fully as much as he who loves the nobler sport. It would not be fair, then, to destruy trout in salmon streams, because they do some injury. Trout-fishing should be lawful until the end of October. The angler would kill many large trout during that month. They certainly would not be in very good condition, but they would afford excellent sport, and, while amusing himself, the trout-fisher would at the same time be doing a service to the salmon river, by killing numbers of fish which would take neither Ay nor worm during the hot summer months. We confess that we derived true satisfaction in days gone by, when, after the heats of summer were over, we were allowed to angle the whole of that most delightful of months, namely, October. We always look back to those days with pleasure ; others, too, probably will experience the same feeling.
Let us now say a few words respecting the artificial propagation of salmon. We are of opinion that in cases when fish have nearly been exterminated, it may be necessary to breed them artificially; but wherever they have a free passage at all seasons, we think that there will be a sufficient number to keep up a good stock without resorting to artificial means. If salmon are prevented by weirs or other obstructions from migrating, we see no manner of use in attempting to propagate them in the way just mentioned; for, after the fry are permitted to escape and proceed to the sea, they will, when grown to the size of grilse, try and return to the fresh water, but coming to a weir their further progress will be stayed. What object, then, would be gained in this case by allowing a number of fry to migrate to the sea, when they could never return to the fresh water in order to spawn?
It is evident that no artificial mode of increasing salmon, that no protection during the close months, will avail so long as weirs are existing without passages being formed over or through them. We hear continually of Conservators being elected for such and such rivers ; under the present system their office is a nullity, for what efforts will be of use while there are walls which effectually hinder the fish from proceeding to their spawning-beds.
The policy, too, is as short-sighted as it is selfish; for the fishery owner in many cases, when his takes of fish are getting smaller and smaller by degrees, thinks that the close time is too long, and that too many salmon escape from him. It never enters his mind that he has captured for a series of years, during the open season, far too great a number of them, and that a sufficient quantity are not left to breed.
We hope ere long to see a Fishery Bill passed which will remedy the weir nuisance. The angler's and the up-water proprietor's interest mustat length be attended to, and no one class must be suffered to monopolize nearly all the fish. It will be seen by looking over the lists of the