Lessons From the Scottish Fishing Industry.

from Fishing News 14th November 1953

The report on the paper which was read at the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization Congress in Paris 1953.

By George Bergius

AFTER surveying early developments of Scottish inshore fishing boats from open types to half-decked and then full-decked boats, Mr. E. George Bergius said that the number of steam drifters and liners and steam trawlers steadily rose during the last 25 years of the 19th century and by 1900 there were 70 steam drifters in operation. By 1914 this figure had, risen to something like 1,000 drifters and liners but since then there had been a steady decline until today less than than 50 such vessels fished regularly.

Fifty Years Ago
    In 1900 the Scottish fleet comprised some 11,275 vessels of all sizes and of this total 97 per cent were sailing craft, 2 per cent were steam trawlers and 1 per cent were steam drifters and liners. Nearly two thirds of the catch of 5,369,000 cwt. worth £2,326,000 consisted of herring. Of the 90,000 people in the industry, 35,000 were fishermen.

   The success of steam drifters impressed itself on fishermen and there was a steam drifter boom which alarmed the Fishery Board and. in fact, the poor herring season of 1908 left fishermen in an unparalleled state of indebtedness, unable to meet their commitments for the new boats. The Board investigated engines suitable for installation in existing types of sailing boats and while the experiment conducted was not in itself a success, it did point the way to fishermen of a cheaper means of powering boats compared with buying a new steam drifter.

Then Came the Engine
   In 1905 the first engine installation in a Scottish commercial fishing vessel, for which some details were available, took place at Anstruther when a 25 h.p. engine was put in a 70ft. boat. From that time on engine installation gained in popularity.

   After the 1914-18 war the industry faced many difficulties. From 1920 to 1930 the steam drifter fleet remained the same in numbers while, after a set back from 1922 to 1925. the number of motor vessels rose. In 1926 the total building for the Scottish fleet was 49 vessels—41 of them motor vessels, the other eight being small sailing craft. It was also the first year in which was recorded the installation of a semi-diesel in a Scottish boat and the year when there were successful installations of capstans driven by belts off the engine flywheel for hauling the herring seine nets.

Next the Diesel
   By 1938 the diesel was firmly established and most vessels built were fitted with such engines. Up to 1939 there was a notable development in ,the building of multi-purpose motor boats, useable for herring fishing or for seine netting of white fish.

   "Since the war ended in 1945," said Mr. Bergius. " there has been a steady rise in the numbers of the largest class of motor vessels, of 45 keel length and over. There has been a marked rise in the numbers of the smallest class of boats, under 18ft. keel length. These latter have almost doubled in ten years."

   The advent of power in Scottish boats had a marked effect on the catch. For example, the quantity of fish landed in 1900 was about 5.4 million cwt. ; by 1914 this had risen to 7.4 million cwt. The percentage of the catch landed by motor fishing boats nearly doubled in that time, from 4 per cent in 1910 to 7 per cent in 1914. By 1944, motor vessels were catching more than half the total herring yield and by 1952 they were catching 78 per cent of fish landed.

   The majority of boats being built today are between 65 and 75ft.. said Mr. Bergius. and are fitted with engines of 88 to 150 h.p. He went on to describe Scottish engine installation, and concluded by saying : The Scottish inshore fishing fleet is today probably one of the most modern and most efficient in the world. The knowledge gained by the industry has been learnt the hard way. Foreign fleets about to become mechanised and in the process of mechanisation would do well to study the evolution of the Scottish industry.

The Lessons to be Learned
   " The main lesson to be learned ... is that a start should be made in I a modest way and every endeavour I made to encourage the fishermen to build up slowly and surely, and so I retain his independence. Large and I expensive vessels are all very well in ! prosperous times, but during hard times it is the smaller boats that | usually manage to keep going because ! of their low overheads. When fish are scarce the smaller boat has at least an equally good chance of obtaining a modest catch as compared with the larger boat. This means, of course, that the smaller boat has often a far better chance of meeting expenses than the large boat. This is perhaps the most important lesson we have learned in the last 5O years of Scottish fishing.

   The Scottish industry now employed far fewer people than in 1900—only 14,000 fishermen and 24,000 in auxiliary occupations, but was on sound basis.