REPORT by JOHN DUTHIE on FISHERIES, to Mr J. MUNRO MACKENZIE, Chamberlain of Lewis, from 1848 to 1854.
In answer to your questions as regards the fishermen generally on the Aberdeen coast, and here in particular.
1. Fishers do not have land further than what is attached to their houses, which are fbus or leases of 99 years, about ¼ acre, and used as kitchen garden.
2. They do not keep cows nor horses. All their time, when not actually engaged in fishing, is required in making lines and mending nets, and their material used in fishing. They let the farmer have the cows and horses, and stick to their boat.
3. Generally two boats are used on this coast—one for the haddock fishing, length of keel 22 to 28 feet, termed a 'Garibaldi boat' the other the herring or deep-sea fishing boat, 44 to 46 feet of keel. The crew for haddock boat is six men. They must be all practical fishers ; every man requires a practical knowledge of his work in all its forms, unpractical or green hands not being employed. The larger boat, seven to eight men in the crew, same remarks apply, when engaged at line fishing. When engaged at herring fishing two or three practical fishermen can, with the assistance of hired hands, accomplish the work.
4. The cost of the larger boat is from £200 to £250, fitted for sea without fishing material. A new net costs about, at present time, £ 3 , 5s. to € 3 , 10s. The average value of a fleet of say seventy nets, with buoys, & c , would be about £200, that is new and old as used.
5. The lesser boat as used would cost from £45 to £50 ready for sea. Each fisherman, when equiped for the haddock fishing, requires at least four lines, costing about 25s. each up to 30s.; and for cod and ling fishing, as prosecuted by men here, each man 2000 fathoms length of line, with 500 hooks attached. The value of lines for each man would be about £6.
6. We begin herring fishing on this coast about first week in July. A boat's crew in a good season would have about £40 profit, say for about 200 crans of herrings.
7. For upwards of forty years I have fished at different parts of the West Islands, from Cape Wrath round by Lewis to Coll Island and Barra, and for the five months' work from 1st February to end of June have had as much as 17 tons cured and dried ling and as little as 6 to 7 tons, and got as much as £31, 10s. per ton and as low as £15. We leave here for west coast cod and ling fishing in February. Stop fishing middle of June, just in time to get our fish to market, and begin herring fishing. An average fishing of ling I consider about 10 tons ; it does not pay under that.
Your 8th and last question. I have been engaged at lobster nshing, cod, ling, and herring nshing, in the West Highlands, but only at one of these at one time. No fisherman can to any advantage prosecute at same time more than one branch. He must give his whole attention, and do as much work as possible. He cannot, in the short day in March, do as much work as later in May. As the day lengthens so his work increases, by adding to length of line daily in use.
I add a few general remarks:—
Generally speaking, the fisherman here is his own proprietor ; he holds his house under feu charter at so much per pole rent per annum, or under lease of 99 years. Formerly fishing towns along the coast were, as it was termed, sit and pay ; they had no title, but that has become obsolete, and now mostly all hold as above, and the general size of holdings are about ¼ acre. I do not say the same could be carried out in the Highlands, as climate and circumstances differ ; but as regards fishing, it is the best ling fishing banks in the world, and with pushing native fishermen, they could make a very good job of it. It is a great expense to us to leave house and families at home. If it did not pay us to go, we would not do so. When I went to fish at first in the Highlands,
they were as bad as the Irish to us,—threatened to kill us, destroyed lobster creels at night and stole them, and became so bold as to take possession of our boat, and threatened to kill us, took a gun we had, &c. We were obliged to call in the help of the law, and a few of these men were taken to Domoch, tried, and punished. We had treatment similar, but not so bad, at several other places. Other crews were treated similarly, but all is now changed. They have benefited by our visits, and we are now made welcome, and it pays us to go. If they do not push, they get no share of the harvest; but to be a farmer and fisherman at same time will never do. He must give up one of them. If he has too many irons in the fire he will get burned.