[from Manx Notes & Queries, 1904]

[244]

THE HERRING AND ITS HABITAT.

Yn skedda glass ayns shoalyn chiu close
As cowrey lieen trooid ooilley y coamrey roie.

(The pale-blue herring in thick " bushes plays
And marks of netting on'ts robe displays.) [Pargys Caillit lines 1287/8]

My previous notes have been principally devoted to a cursory discussion of the origin and growth of the Manx herring fishery and its peculiar influence on the economical and sociological development of the Island. I intend now to speak of the herring itself, its habitat, and distribution in the Manx waters.

The herring, clupea harengus, is a gregarious fish, and divided into different local splits, or types, composed of distinctly differentiated hereditary types, of which each never leaves its more or less circumscribed area, or haunting ground. We have the pelagic, or high sea, and the littoral, or coast herring.

The female has two roes, containing between 20,000 to 50,000 eggs. The male has two milts of an oblong shape, and of whitish appearance, while the roe looks much darker.

After remaining on the coast for a certain number of weeks, the herring deposits its spawn on plants and hard rocky or gravelly ground, before leaving the bays or estuaries where it resorts. The shoals generally fix in one locality for deposition, and immediately after spawning proceed to sea.

The egg beds grasp firmly the stones, rocks, or seaweed, the young being thus protected from the effects of storms and currents, and, to a certain extent, from being devoured by fishes, and firmly fixed in a suitable feeding ground (1).

For fourteen days, or perhaps three weeks, the young are seen in great abundance near the shore, of a very small size; in six or seven weeks more they are observed to be about three inches in length, and move about in large shoals in winter and spring, in the various coasts, and in the rivers and bays generally resorted to by the herring shoals, and it is likely that they attain full size and maturity in about 18 months (2).

The full-grown herring visiting the British coasts, varies from 8 to 12 inches in length.

Mitchell gives detailed measurements of the various sizes of the herring (3)

From ...West Coast of East Coast of Britain. Ireland. Britain.

Total length 9J 10 101 in.

Greatest height 2J 2J 2J

Young herring from five to six inches in length are called fry, or sill; here the milt and roe are exceedingly minute.

Maties are between 6 to 13 inches, and contain in them a large quantity of fat around the stomach and intestines; both roe and milt are of small size, and never fill the abdominal cavity, in herrings under 10 inches these rarely exceed two or three inches in length.

While in the " matie" condition the herring feeds voraciously, and distend their stomach with crustacea and sand eels, in a more or less digested condition, and become so fat that they will not cure well.

Full herring have their milt and roe completely developed, so as to occupy the whole of the abdominal cavity; in this condition the fat about the abdominal canal has been absorbed.

Spent or skotten herring have lost all their milt or roe, and are in a very poor condition, having no fat about their intesines (4).

The spent herring, then, it is most probable, rapidly leave the coast and retire into deeper water, where they remain for a time and then return as maties to the shallows, and develop their reproductive organs, becoming full herring in the course of three or four months; the full herring appearing at first only scattered here and there among the shoals, but generally increasing in number, until they largely preponderate over the maties, or almost entirely constitute the shoal.

How many times a herring may run through the change from the condition of matie to full herring, and from full to spent, and from spent to matie, it is impossible to tell, but the Commissioners hold that the enemies of the fish are too numerous and too active to allow us to suppose the existence of any one individual to be prolonged beyond two or three reproductive epochs (5).

The herring advances through the water by means of the tail, which is moved in rapid elastic flexures. When it swims near the surface, if it is calm weather, the sound of their motion* is distinctly heard at a small distance (6).

In dark nights and in mild weather it swims nearest the surface, in moonlight and in cold weather it swims nearest the bottom. When the weather is clear and dry, in common seasons, the herring keeps at a distance from the nets, or at the bottom.t

Light and heat appear to have also very considerable influence upon the motion of the herring; for instance, when the spring or summer has been unusually clear and warm, it does not come so near our coasts as in ordinary seasons. In such weather they keep on the banks more distant from our shores and in deeper water than in ordinary seasons (7).

The effect of wind, likewise, seems to be very considerable on the visits of the herring, particularly in the winter. In that season the herring come nearer our shores, and in greater abundance when the wind blows for any length of time towards the coast (8)

The summer herring spawns from the end of September to beginning or middle of October, the winter herring in February and March.

The teeth of the herring are extremely minute and delicate. There are a few teeth in the upper jaw, there is a perfect tiny brush of teeth in four rows in the tongue, in the shape of transparent spikes, turned inwards slantingly, a few in the upper portion of the mouth and at the throat, and again four or five small teeth on each side of the lower jaw.

The aperture of the mouth for swallowing is comparatively large, and the distance between the upper and lower jaw, at the full opening out of the mouth, I have, on measuring, found to be 'i to 9' inch, wide enough, therefore, to gulp down fry, small fish, and sand-eels.

The plaice, when about 2 inch long, lives on plankton, when about 2å to 3 inches it eats small crustacea ; when about 6 inches and upwards it feeds chiefly on molluscs and annelids.

The herring, no doubt, subsists also on a large variation of diet. as it grows and advances; not only so, but to some extent varies or changes its feeding ground in the sea, accordingly with its gradual development to maturity.

The small herring fry or sill will be satisfied with plankton, that is, copepods, or water fleas: little free-swimming crustacea, which are exceedingly abundant in the sea. It has been shown that under each square metre of the surface of the Baltic there are one million copepods. These act as the scavengers of the sea, and live on the products of decomposition, or drainage matter.

In addition to copepods, the herring feeds on larval forms of the higher crustacea, such as the edible crab, larval worms, medtrsoids; besides. on its own ova, portions of spawned milt and roe, young fry, shrimps, and sand launces.

The quality and quantity of the distribution of plankton varies in the Irish sea, and is no less striking at Port Erin Bay (9). How far it affects the movements of the herring in its quest for its food dainties has yet to be ascertained: the herring, no doubt, goes nibbling from habitual ground to ground, for pastures new. It is now accepted that the herring inhabits the seas adjacent to the respective coasts, bays, or rivers, where they flock to for the purpose of spawning, after which they return to sea in the neighbourhood, where they continue and where they feed until the spawning season again draws near, while the fry, on being vivified, continues near the spawning ground until it is of sufficient size (10)..(1) See The Herring, its natural history and natural importance, by T. M. Michell. Edinburgh, 1864. ; pp. 29-30.(2) See Mitchell, p. 30, ibidem.

(3) See Mitchell, p. 46.

(4) The Herring and Herring Fisheries, Westminster Review, October, 1864, p. 382-3.(5) The Herring and Herring Fisheries, Westminster Review, p. 383.

(6) Mitchell, p. 31.

*Through a shoal of herring. Quite recently the mail steamer Nord, of Calais, while crossing the channel, ploughed her way right through an immense shoal of herring ;swimming down channel, While the steamer's search-light was being used, the man on watch noticed a pecular agitation of the sea just ahead. The shoal was so thick that it affected the progress of the steamer, and thousands were churned up and killed with her great paddle-wheel (see Daily Mail, 30/11/1908).

tDuring the night the position of the herring in the water, or its distance from the surface, is much connected with the lightness or darkness of the night, and with the coldness and warmth of the atmosphere (Mitchell, p. 28).

(7) Mitchell, p. 32.

(8) Do. p.28.(9) See 15th Report of the Liverpool Marine Biological Committee, 1901, pp. 22 and 64.

(10) Mitchell, p. 84.

HYDROGRAPHICAL AND PHYSICAL FEATURES.

I have to notice the flow of the tides round Mau, and will shortly allude to it. At Contrary Head, or Kione Roauyr, the stream of tides divides. It strikes off here in two opposite directions. One stream takes its course south, running round the Calf, passing thence along Langness, on to Douglas, and up Maughold Head. Near the Calf the spring tides, when strongest, run 6 miles an hour, near Langness Point 5 miles, near Douglas Head 4 miles. Neap-tides near these heads run from two to one mile an hour. At Maughold Head these tides run off at a tangent out to sea. At Ramsey the stream runs nine hours northwards.

The other stream of tides flows up Peel northwards, and is here scarcely sensible; rounding Jurby Point it continues to Point of Ayre. running over Strunakile Bank Past Whitestone Bank and the Bahama Banks, off shore and out to sea south; it meets the stream running up at Maughold. At Point of Ayre the spring tides, when strongest, run about 4z miles an hour; neaptides, l mile.

On its whole western side, Man faces the North Channel; and longitudinally, between Ireland and the Isle, we have a long, deep, steep, ncrrow, and irregular trough, which, -,it a distance of about 11 miles from the Manx coast, quickly descends from 50 to a depth of 76 fathoms; while on the Irish side the plateau-like sea bottom, indicated by the 20-50 fathom contour-line, stretches out about double the distance before it drops sharply down into the trough.

 

The greater part of the coast-line is marked by a fringe of precipitous, rocky cliffs and headlands of schists; past Ballaugh, up Jurby, and from Kirk Bride to Ramsey, the Island exhibits a bold brow of boulderclay, while the Point of Ayre rolls out before you, a plain made up of sand and shingle beds. The middle part of the southern coastline is formed of carboniferous limestone strata, which are finally lost in the sea, and thickly grown over with sea weeds.

The larger bays sweep in extensive and graceful curves, a few sluggish and small, partly estuarine rivulets carry their offscour from the uplands, as mud, sand, gravel, and shingle, towards and into the sea. The marine basin, facing the Lancashire side, is very shallow, and of great range, not exceeding 16 fathoms in depth, with large wastes of sand banks and stretches of mud and silt, vrhile the much narrower sea floor which separates Ireland and Man is comparatively extremely steep, sinking down at its lowest point in the centre to 76 fathoms, with a highly muddy and oozy bottom. For all these matters in detail I must refer the reader to Prof. Herdman's Chart of the Irish Sea.

In order to gain a clearer idea of the habitat of the various races, or individual shoals of herring which haunt the basin of the Irish sea, in which Mann is almost centrally nestling, it will be instructive to take a general survey of the surrounding coasts, visited by the herring, in the enumeration of which I will follow T. M. Mitchell

Firth of Clyde, Arran. Off the west end of this island, and in the adjacent Sound, there is generally a good fishing from July to end of November.

Loch Fyne, Loch Long. Frequently caught near the coast in June-July, and they appear sometimes in abundance in the Clyde; in Loch Fyne they may be caught all the year round.

Ayrshire Coast. Frequently caught near the coast in June-July, even in considerable quantities, off Irvine and Troon, as early as May.

The fishery upon the Ballantrae Bank (1) is of exceptional interest. The bank is about 12 or 14 fathoms deep, with a rough bottom ; the herring taken here from the end of January up to March were partly maiden fish, and partly fish with roe: the only instance for full and spent herring, at that time of the year.

Solway Firth. Herring of small size, but good quality, appear here in considerable quantities, usual fishing time about September.

Liverpool Bay. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) the herring fishery was rather extensively carried on, and strangers engaged in it were required to leave as soon as the fishing was over (2). Even within recent times herring has been caught in stake nets at the estuary of the Mersey, near Egremont.

Arklow. ; Onward to Arklow herring appear at different localities from August to December. At Arklow the fishing was formerly considerable from June to August, but now it begins about the the 1st October. The Arklow herring are similar in size to the Loch Fyne herring.

On the Wicklow coast there are sometimes considerable shoals from September to Christmas, and until within these few years there was a summer fishing in June and July,

Carlingford. At the Lough of Carlingford the herring was at one time fished abundantly, but the Irish Channel herring fishery is now considered the most advantageous, it lasts from. June to November, and the fishing is pursued less or more by the fishermen at. Newcastle, Dundrum Bay, etc.*

Ardglass is a very considerable herring station, followed by the Pensance, Mans, and Irish boats.

Carrickfergus. The visits of the herring shoals are generally very regn lar at different parts of this coast, from Ardglass to Carrickfergus, from June to November, and herring in considerable shoals are said to enter Belfast Lough to spawn in September and October.

Larne andFairhead. Herring of superior quality are caught from May to September between both places, but not in considerable quantities.

North Coast, Lough Foyle, etc. From Lough Foyle to Lough Swilley there are two herring seasons, viz., in July-August, and from the middle of November to beginning of February.

The harvest herring are larger and finer than the winter berring-as is the case everywhere.

Haverford West (Cardiganshire). In 1752t herring seems to have abounded and gone down to Cardigan Bay. 18 busses then took in November, 9,000 barrels.

I have purposely entered more fully into the description of these topographical particulars as they may become useful for possibly tracing the routes and movements of some of the shoals of herring which are found in the Irish Sea, as well as to define the habitat of some of the apparently mixed races which visit the feeding areas between Ireland and the West of Man. After these preliminaries, I proceed to speak first of the Manx herring fishing in the Irish waters.

The shoal, which was followed, appears in May, off the South of Ireland; it works north, and seems to break into patches or bodies of herrings here and there, off the Irish and Mans coasts, many miles apart. Thirty years ago (1870) the Mans fishermen started from Cape Clear on May the 12th. or as near that date as possible; they fished all along the Irish coast to the Tuscar, from that down to Rockabill, then between that and the Calf of Man, to St. John's Point, in Dundrum Bay, finisking up about the end of August.

When the Mans boats drew near to Arklow the fishermen of that port would enquire of them- "What sign is there P "; if told that herring had been caught lower down the coast the past night, the Arklow men-Tommy Artlars-would expect the herring to appear off their port the following night.

This shoal of herring, which enters the St. George's Channel from the South in the month of May, in which both the Cornishmen, Manx, and Irish participate, and joined in by the Arklow men, proceeds slowly to Ardglass.

It furnishes a second or minter fishery at Arklow in November. The Arklow fishermen state that the herring meshes with their heads always

To the north in the summer fisherv, and to the south in the winter season.*

At the end of the Douglas " back " fishing, the Manx boats were rigged and fitted up again at the beginning of October, to go to the Howth fishing, which was continued off and about there to the end of November.

This Arklow shoal supplies the Howth fishing, once such an important one with the Manx boats. As far as they are concerned, it has dwindled almost away, but there are signs of its being revived once more, for last year several Manx boats which risked it again did fairly well, and more boats will probably go to the place this autumn (1903). Howth fishing, like that of Peel, is surface fishing.

North Channel.-The best part of the Peel fishing about 40 years ago was done "norrard" between Peel and the Mull of Galloway, and the herring caught came in from the North Channel. Part Noo Moirrey (Port St. Mary) boats, too, at that time fished out "norrard"-which shows, at the same time, that herring were scarcer southward.

Jurby.-There is no remembrance of any fishing off Jurby. It is considered to have been most improbable, for the ground is said to be too rough and the tides too strong there to make it feasible.

Bradda Head Spawning Reef.-An odd reef of coral lies W.N.W. off Bradda Head, and it is said to be the nearest spawning ground to Peel, though there may be bits of reef here and there, elsewhere off the coast.

Port Erin.-The Manks Advertiser writes:

1802,

July 3-A few herring caught off Port Erin.
July 10-Large take off Port Erin.
July 17-Very successful during the week, the largest draughts caught in shallow water, near the shore.
July 24 -The largest take on Monday.
July 31-The herring fishery is a success, and continues.
August7-Unusually plenty, and are caught on all coasts round the Island.

1803.

July 2-Some few herring caught off Port Erin on Monday night.
July 16-The fleet is not successful,

The .Shoulder or South Corner Fishing,-The Shoulder, Geayli-n yn Clioloo, is a corner of the Calf of Man. The well-known fishing ground, the Shoulder, is off this, say about 6 miles W.S.W. :

Make out towards the Shoulder, West at the Hen, out at the Clet. (Moore's Manx Ballads, p. 177.) In former times, when there were two lights on the Calf, the biggest shots would be made by getting these two lights in one, either opening out geaylin trvoaie (=two lights in one to the north), or geayli,a jiass (=two lights in one to the south).

The best of all herring caught by Manx boats is the shoulder herring, taken midway between the Shoulder and Carlingford. About forty years ago, no matter how plentiful and close to hand the Peel herring might be, the men would not catch them, but preferred going further south, for this South Corner herring. They knew that the Peel and the Wart small herring would lower the market once it was put on, so it paid them better to go the extra distance and catch the bigger herring south, and thus keep the price up as long as possible.

There is a great similarity between the Douglas, Big Bay, and the Shoulder or South Corner herring.

The Manks Advertiser informs us 1805.

June 22-Some fresh fish caught oft the Calf.
August 10-The herring fishery successful the last three weeks off Peel.

For the Peel fishing, the nets are sunk about 22 fathoms.

Formerly herring that floated light-small stuff near the surface-was never thought of, and the nets would be given a long strap to escape it. The nets being about 8 fathoms deep, and with 4 fathoms or so of strap added, the whole sling of the net would be about 12 fathoms down in the water, and the surface fish would thus be missed. When deep fishing got scarcer, floating nets were made to catch this light fish.

* Mitchell, p. 72, written 1864.

(1) See Fish Cultivation, by John Fell, Barrow Nat. Field Club, vol. 3,1878-9, p. 73.

(2) See Rise and Progress of Liverpool, by Jas. M. Walthew, Liverpool, 1865, p. 15.

* There is a well-known spawning ground very close to Carlingford ; the men know of no other place on the East coast of Ireland where spawn herring may be caught, but think it probable that there maybe spots here and there in some of the Loughs.

See Chapters on the Manx Herring Fishery (1751-1765).

* See also Report of the Committee of the Insular Legislature on the herring fishery on the coast, 1827. It is to be noticed that according to some very experienced Manx fishermen the fish are meshed in the nets according to the ebb and flow of the tides. Many a night two shots in the nets, herring are meshed first one side, and then another, but this remark would not apply here.

PEEL FISHING.

Son y Feaill-Eoin
Bee mayd goll roin
Dy yeeaghyn son warpyn skeddan
Heear'sy chione roauyr
Lesh yurnaa liauyr
-Goaill neose nyn shiaull fo'n Carrron
-As hie shin son y Gheaylin.

(By St. John's feast day
We shall be away

To look for the warps of herring
West at Contrary Head
With a long journey
-Furling our sails under Carron
And we made for the Shoulder.) Manx Ballad

Formerly no boat went out to this fishing before June 18th ; now, however, the nobbies make a start about May 18th, and it is continued till the Douglas back fishing is on.

The Peel fishing ground is a larger and more extensive one than that off Douglas, and extends right across the channel and down to the Calf.

As to the distance from Peel, and the depth at whi--h they catch the herring, it is taken from 2 miles off the shore to right across the channel; the general fishing, however, is about 8 miles off, in about 20 to 30 fathoms water.

Herrings caught off Peel are of three qualities

(1) An average small-sized herring, known as Wart herring, hence the old couplet: Skeddan beg er y Wart. Best herring ever caught.

If an imaginary line was drawn between Peel and the Mull, it would pass over the Wart about two miles off Peel in a northerly direction. The fishing mark for the Wart was the top of Greeba mountain. The herring has disappeared off the Wart for some years past. The fishing on the Peel Wart is now confined to the nobbies, the nets of the luggers and nickeys being too deep to fish there. The Wart bank lies in about 9 fathoms of water and was noted for the abundance of small, sweet herring on it.

(2) The Peel herring of a greenish colour ; not two of the same size.

(3) The Big Bay herring-the fishing should be spoken about in the past tense; it is that stretch of water which lies between the Niarbyl Point and Bradda Hill. For stock purposes, herring caught in the Big Bay were reckoned excellent.

A particular and characteristic feature of the Peel fishery is that the herring may be had all over this ground; it is what the Manx call a reeayllagh (=a scattering of the herring shoal), that is, scattered all over the area right across the channel and down to the Calf; while, on the other hand, in the Douglas ground there is not such a thing as a reeayllagh, for the herring comes there in thick bushes (=clustering, or closing) and if boats do not get in the thick of them, they are dead empty for that night.

Peel herring are considered of a finer flavour than those caught elsewhere.

The Big Bay (No. 3) herring are said to work in and out with the tides, and are supposed to come from the South Corner.

When coming round to Peel from Douglas back fishing, Peel herring has again been caught in the Big Bay, and off Peel. It is supposed, therefore, that the Peel shoal lies off Peel all the year round, coming in and out of the channel.

The Wart, near Spanish Head.-This is not much of a bank, and it lies low (close to land) and in about 7 to 8 fathom of water.

Strandhall (Castletown). - Mr W. J. Clague, of Ballabeg, informs me that about 35 years ago, when bathing at that place, an enormous shoal of young fry, about I-' inches å in length, was met with by him, and cartloads of them, which were thrown on the shore, could be noticed. This was either in August or September. The same fact has been noticed before.

DOUGLAS BACK FISHING.

In former times Maughold Head was the first place where the fishermen looked for fish. The statutes define in 1613 that the boats " bring the Custome Heyrings and deliver them

From and betwixt St. Maughold Head and Douglas, at Douglas.
Between Douglas and the Calf of Man, at Castletonne.
Such as fish on the North Parte of the Isle, at Peeletonne."

The first represents the "back fishing" the second the South fishing proper; and the third the Big bay and Peel fishing.

Maughold Head, therefore, appears to have taken the lead, and the fleet probably collected and proceeded from Ramsey Bay for the east fishing. It seems that the herring shoal, at that time, had their spawning ground spread out much further north than we find in our present times,

When they extend more between Laxey and Clay Head, a strip of coast line now particularly abundant in "coral banks." There is evidence tbat formerly RamseyBay* yielded good crops of herring. The Blanks Advertiser, at the beginning of last century, informs us

1802 -August 7th: A great quantity of herring taken in Ramsey Bay.
1805-November 23rd: Considerable quantities of herring continue to be taken at Ramsey.

Mackenzie's Hydrographical Survey of 1775 marks a " coral " bank off Port Lewaigue, at Tableland Point, in 5'4 and 6 fathoms water; and higher up, east off Kirk Bride, it delineates three "coral" banks in 3, 5, and 7 fathoms of water.

Douglas apparently was anciently but of secondary importance, and the Manx Ballad tells us

Yn chiagtoo lax jeh'n vee September
Hie shin er shiaulley ass baie Rumsaa
Kiarail dy gheddyn dys geaylin Vaughold
Dy akin caslys lane vie traa.

The seventh day of September month
We sailed out of Ramsey Bay
Intending to get to Maughold Shoulder
To see a sign there in good time.

Now, the fish seem only to work off there, on and off, during the Douglas back fishing, and I have no doubt that the constant shifting of the extensive sand banks at the Point of Ayre, as the Strunakile Bank, the Whitestone Bank, and the Big or Bahama Bank, and particularly the Great Bank, east off Maughold Head,} the former variously in 4i to 8 fathoms of water, and the latter in fully 8 to 10 fathoms, all of which have considerably moved, even since first surveyed by Mackenzie, rolling and spreading increasingly over a marine floor, at those points of an average depth of 12 fathoms of water, and thus probably dislodging and burying some old important feeding grounds, then habitually resorted to by the herring-I say I believe that these factors have doubtlessly contributed in a very great measure to shunt and drive off the fish from these, their former more chosen pasture grounds.

At the end of August, the fishermen following the Peel herring went around to Douglas, and worked that place till the end of September. This (1903) year the boats were engaged from August 27th to October 7th, and the fishing only ceased then because the weather broke. When it is time for Douglas " hack " the boats put back to harbour to deepen their nets by more strap (longer thow), for Douglas herring lie lower down among the " coral beds," and the nets must be sunk down much deeper to catch them.

The Douglas back fishing is generally in about 20 fathoms of water, and the herring come within 3 to 4 miles off the land, and sometimes lower.

It travels in a tremendous body off Douglas, and with no scattering of the shoal as in Peel. Many a time the Douglas shoal moves about 2 to 3 miles square, many a time it may not be a mile square. If a boat misses the bush, or impact body of fish, by any very short distance, they are out of it, and will put back to port empty.

For the back fishing they fish as far out east as 12 miles off Douglas Head; if south. east they go about 8 miles, and if S.S.W. from 8 to 10 miles.

This is merely an average, as they are never confined to one spot, but fish off the coast from Maughold Head to Languess Point, sometimes going as far as Bahama Ship.

If it is east fishing in Douglas, as this September (1903), that is fishing from Maughold Head to Clay Head, and from thence to Douglas, the shoal going to Douglas for spawning is supposed to he that one which lies somewhat midway between Lancashire and Douglas during the summer. Men on the steamers can always tell the Manx fishermen the progress of this shoal to Douglas waters by the signs of the herring gulls, gannets, perkins, and the like. Sometimes they may report it to be 20 miles away; it was said to be 12 miles away a fortnight ago (27th June), and now 11th July) from 3 to 4 miles.

If it is south fishng the shoal is supposed to be South corner fish, which always went to east from the Calf.

The Inspector sent over to prove the herring for curing, said that the Douglas fish at the first of the season were second in quality and size only to Loch Fyne herring.

Mr Nicholls thinks with most fishermen that the Peel herring does not go round to Douglas. He affirms that Peel and Douglas herring are of two distinct qualities, and never come from the same feeding ground, as a Douglas herring would make two Peel herring, with both size, colouring, and shape alike differing.

He thinks, likewise, that the back fishing this season comes in from the south-west, viz., the Welsh and Laneashire Coasts, and that if the men fisked higher out channel herring might be caught all the summer off Douglas.

He therefore advises the men

To start a month sooner next year, and go further out channel to meet the shoal coming in to spawn, and thinks that they ought to have been on the ground in the first week of August, for herring are then prime, and worth 2 a cran.

I hope the experiment will be made, for its result, let it be whatever it may,either adverse or favourable to these speculations, will prove of the greatest possible importance in its practical and economical bearing. It is not good enough in our times to be satisfied merely to take out the boats as formerly, on the mere chance, and to discuss the eventful out-turn, or lament the decay of the fishery when expectations have been frustrated.

Let us recollect at this point the remarkable catches of

1667-When an immense shoal visited the shores, such as had never been witnessed before.
1754-When at Douglas, within six weeks, more had been taken than in 6 years before, and upwards of 500 tons were salted and exported alone.
1765-The greatest take of herrings that has been known for many years past, so that upwards of 20,000 barrels were exported to foreign parts.
1789-18,515 barrels alone were exported to foreign parts, so that Townley could write on the 28th September: "The fishermen would not move to their employment, their pockets being still lined "; and on the 17th September " The number of boats, besides the smacks and other craft lying here for the purpose of purchasing fish ! The whole number of people busily engaged this day in and about that business may be fairly computed at 5,000. It is computed that the abominable indolence of the fishermen for two nights past has been a loss to the public of more than 4,000."$
1803-October 8th, the herring brought into Douglas Harbour on Wednesday are estimated at 9,000, and the two following nights even no less productive. -(Manks Advertiser).
1846 - 80,000 mazes, value 72,000, were taken.
1860-44,120 barrels were cured.
1876-The value of herring caught amounted to 40,000.
1883-It increased in this year to 42,460. But in the past, how many fine seasons have been lost by the recklessness and indifference of the men after a rich herring harvest and money flowing in profusely, in addition to shortness of boats to follow on the success!

Speaking of the quality of the herring, Laughton writes (1842) in his guide, p. 63: Their peculiar delicacy causes them to be greatly in demand among the manufacturers of anchovy sauce and pastes, by whom a single keg of Gorgona Anchovies is multiplied into 10 or 12; a very lucrative speculation, and contributing greatly to the commerce of the Island, if not to the reputation of the sauce-makers.

About 100 years ago Ramsey and Laxey had their fishing fleets, as well as Peel and Port St. Mary. Ten years later or thereabouts the fishing declined to such a degree that the Ramsey and Laxey boats were sold to pay their debts, and only Peel and Port St. Mary kept boats going to sea.

+ See also M. Mackenzie, Senior'.=, Hydrographical Survey of Isle of Man, made 9th December, 1775; and Professor Herdman's Chart of the Irish Sea, prepared for th British Association, Liverpool Meeting, 1895

$ The herring was so abundant that they were caught with the hand on the beach; after being sold at 4d a hundred, until purchasers could not be found, they were carted off for manure.

THE GREAT SPAWNING GROUND ON THE EAST SHORE OF THE ISLAND.

From a very remote period, which is almost impossible to define, but certainly even historically traceable to some 400 to 500 years ago, an immense herring shoal, in densely closed rank and file, has ploughed its way, with occasional interruption and sometimes of greater or lesser magnitude, to the shallow waters which lave the east shore of the Island. They slowly make their way, in constantly increasing numbers, towards early autumn, to the well-known and intensely important spawning floor which at one time seems to have almost uninterruptedly extended from the Whitestone Bark, south of the Point of Ayre, right down Ramsey Bay and Lewaigue to Laxey, and Clay Head to a little beyond that spot.

At present the northern grounds, which seem to have undergone a great change, destructive to the vitality of the spawning beds, are apparently but little visited, and the area favoured by the fish for the grand business of depositing their spawn is principally confined to the long strip of floor which stretches from about Dhoon and Laxey to Clay Head onwards.

Mackenzie's Old Chart of 1775 shows the old reefs and marks, eight of them in number, One east off Dhoon, in 15 fathoms; another a little N.E. off Laxey, in 15 fathoms; one in line with Ballabeg, in 7 fathoms; and another a bit further out in15fathoms; and 4 about Clay Hep-d, 2 in 11 fathoms, one in 13, and another in 16 fathoms; extending from 3/8to 1¾ miles from the shore, all of them of lesser or greater dimension. Some other beds lie about 5 miles S.E. off Douglas Head. The fishermen called these spawning grounds "coral" reefs, banks, or beds indiscriminately, and they are of white and red colour.

They are popularly called "coral" in consequence of their apparent similitude to them in their general appearance, but of course belong to the Red Sea weeds (Rhodophyceae) of the Corollina family, and refer more specially to the species of the Lithotkamnion,* perhaps L. varians, investiens, orbioulatum, tophijõrme.* See The Norwegian Forms of Lithothamnion, by M. Foslie, Trondhjem (1895), pp. 3, 85-86, 125,132,143.

The Lithotbamnia generally grow gregarious, in great masses sometimes, most often only 1 or 2 species; sometimes, however, more club together. They form widely extended banks, even as far as about 2 miles in length, composed of millionsof individuals. They are found fastened to one and the same substratum, covering each other, or one fastened to and growing over the other, on sandy and shingly bottoms. They are sublittoral, descending to 10 or more fathoms; preferring somewhat sheltered places. They are always attacked by animals, and the numerous passages made by worms, serpulae, &c., destroy and permeate the lower parts of the crust. Often they are covered witb fustra. They barbour an immense lot of animalcula-. This so called coral is very bard and rough. When the boats fish, low (close to land) or drive over the banks, the nets invariably become studded with it. It is a destruction of the nets, for it fastens into them like bons of ling, and can only be got rid of by stretching the net over a board and pounding and crushing the coral out with a heavy weight; it is apt, moreover, to tear the bands badly when the nets are being pulled on board.

When the fishermen fish low, they try to avoid the coral by giving less straps to the nets, so that they may thus be missed; but the tides often pack the nets and the whole bite will then drop down on the coral, and then is the mischief to play with them. (Nets are said to be packed when two corks drift together, and this causes the sling of the nets, the bite, between the corks to fall down into deep water).

Herring multiply by millions on these coral beds, millions of meases (if spawn were allowed to come to maturity) are destroyed by trawlers dragging their nets over these beds, breaking the coral and thus scattering the spawn; millions more are destroyed by the bock (a species of shark), and the gobbag (dog fish), for these fish hover closely around the beds, spawnfeeding, and if nets drift over the beds they are up like an army of soldiers to pick the berring out, and in doing this destroy the nets to a very great extent; in addition, they are preyed upon by the cod, ling, perkin, gannets, gulls, &c., to whom the ground is a paradise.

The herring delights at this season in these coral beds, as they afford barbourage for a great quantity of crustacea.

It is of paramount importance for the Island that these precious beds are jealously and properly protected from damage or decay, that the spawn is left undisturbed, and not suffered to be raked up from the ground while the incubation and hatching is in course of operation. I have been told that often enough it is brought up by the nets in vast masses; in that case it should be carefully replaced.

That trawling has occasionally done much harm, if it reaches these beds, or is carried across them, is fully acknowledged by all the fishermen. In fact, only recently I have been informed that the trawling has done vital injury in various spots.

TRAWLERS.

The fishermen grumble that everywhere where trawlers go the herring and big fish disappear off that ground.

They think that trawling frightens the herring out higher channel, and near to the Welsh coast, and that the big fish and fry are both caught and destroyed.

Many places are instanced by the fishermen where big takes might be depended upon, and which were the order of the night before trawling came in vogue. 20 to 30 years ago, great quantities of hake and herring could be caught in a night, close in to land about The Calf, and it was no unusual thing for Peel men to come home from Purt le Muirrey 7 or 8 Saturday nights in the season.

Then the trawlers came and found that place so very suitable for trawling on account of its hard sea bed (Douglas Bay is not liked, the ground is too soft) that they made that bit of the coast line their favourite headquarters. So, seldom or never now can a fisherman catch a hake there, where once he caught a hundred, and the herring are far a-sea.

MAXIMA AND MINIMA.

Good years. Bad years.

1648-Of late years not half the herring.
1667-Enormous catch.
1693-4 - The herring begins to fail, lasting up to 1711.
1717-19-Bad.
1721-28-Bad.
1735-38-Bad.
1754-Splendid year, in 6 weeks more than in the 6 years before.
1765 - Another red-letter year.
1789-Annus mirabilis.
1827-Failure.
1803 -A very successful year.
1840-Good.
1860-Good.
1876-Good.
1883-Good.
1886-Bad.
1892-Bad.
1897-Lowest.
1903-Again improving.

I have prepared a short table to show the years and periods of great plenty and scarcity of the herring " takes," as far as the insular records go. These returns are extremely meagre, and anything but satisfactory for any definite conclusions. In future we require o1cial and separate returns for the number of messes caught, both at Peel and at Douglas, and the same for cod, ling, &c.; men and number of boats employed, price of fish, and amount realized; and when the season begins there should he a regular daily record in the Peel, Douglas, and Ramsey papers to show the progress of the fishing from day to day, along with the daily takes, state of the weather and sky, temperature of the sea, &c., until the season closes. It would be also of great value to have a special column devoted to record any piscatorial observations obtained or obtainable from the fishermen, about items of special interest, such as the appearance of any shoals of fry or fish, and if mature, full or spent, and date and locality where seen ; exact date of the first appearance of the fish at Peel, Big Bay, the Shoulder, Douglas, &c., and if mature, full, or spent; and particularly the occurrence at anyplace round the coast of the herring between November to June, and if fry, mature, or full and spent, that is, after the season is over; and all observations made by captains to and from the Island with regard to any shoals seen during the passage, date, and whereabouts.

Returning to the above returns: 1648 was apparently comparatively bad; 19 years later we notice an enormous catch; 27 years later the herring begins to fail, lasting for some 18 years; 17 years later is another bad crap; 6 years later there is a fresh bad period, lasting about 11 years; after 7 years we have again 3 bad years; after 16 years there is another splendid year; so again 11 years after, and again 14 years after that, and in 13 years again, a very successful year; 25 years after a great failure; a good season 13 years after this, in 1810; again 20 years after, 1860, and 16 years after, 1876; followed in 1886, 10 years after, 1892, 6 years between, by bad years, and the lowest, 5 years after, in 1897; with a revival in 1903, 6 years subsequently.

It has often been said that the herring disappears for years suddenly from large sea areas, known to be frequented by it for years consecutively and in vast shoals, by a freak, and apparently Without rhyme or reason, and that it has been found suddenly forming up "in seas" abandoned by fishermen as hopelessly unproductive. (1).

Many instances are on record. We have the sudden reappearance at Gothenburg, of immense shoals of herring off the Swedish coast, after an absence of several years. The bulk of the eastern fishery centres about the Firth of Tay, the Moray Firth, and the Firth of Forth. Many years ago this fishing was found to be decreasing to some extent. It appeared as if the fish was leaving the coast entirely, it occurred however, to a carer at Montrose to recommend fishing some distance from land. This was done, and 20 or 30 miles from the shore they found the fish larger and in more abundance. (2)

We see from the insular returns that on an average, during the last 250 years, there has been a failure every 13 years, while we notice there was a catastrophe lasting for some 18 years, and another for about 11 years. We also find that after an enormous sea-crop of herring, the following years have turned out rather tame, which looks almost as if it might be greatly due to over-fishing. Such a belief is reasonable.

But, of course, the greater and the more extensive and bulky the shoal turns out, the greater in proportion the havoc that is going on in its destruction. The inroads made by the cod and ling alone, and the gulls, gannets, and other sea birds, and dog fish, who accompany and chase the herring shoal, are simply enormous.

It has been stated that these enemies destroy 100th of 1,000th more than 96,000 fishermen could catch in a year, and that man does not destroy one herring for every 50 destroyed by other enemies. The late Lord Playfair expressed the opinion that migration was traceable possibly to the destruction of their natural food, small crustaceans, &c., or to the movements of their natural enemies, cod, ling, dog fish, &c.

We may well conceive that these facts can account to some degree for the disappearance, or lesser or even scarcer numbers of fish in the next few years subsequently. But when we have to deal with periods, persisting for, as in our case, 18 and 13 years, the causes must be of a different nature.

Not sufficient thought has been given to the mighty and silent changes which are going on from year to year, and sometimes quite suddenly, and more or less destructively, on the marine floor itself, often extending over vast areas, which vitally affect the habitat of the fish and marine life in general, both of plants and animals, due to sudden or slow depression or elevation of the coast line, and the marine bottom itself, brought about by complicated earth movements, earth luakes, &c.; not to reckon the filling and silting up of feeding and spawning grounds, caused by the deposition, and spreading out of estuaries and rivers into the sea basin, intensely charged with fine mud, sand, gravel, and other matter; and the consequent change of old channels and levels, which bring about, into the bargain, an inset of new conditions, such as, for instance, the formation of new currents and change of temperature of the various strata of water, &c.

And this powerful incessant work goes on day after day, year after year, and century after century.

It seems to me quite plain that these great factors affect to a large extent the sudden or slow shifting, for long periods, of the herring from their old habitual grounds to new areas, often far away from the original banks visited by them; as their food resources being cut off, and the spawning banks covered or destroyed, necessitate to look elsewhere for fresh pasturages. For the same reason they return sometimes, when things have assumed a favourable turn, to their old grounds which become again available and yield them fresh food.

To speak therefore of "freaks " of the fish is absurd, for it is of no use to visit any longer grounds which are " dead." We would do likewise. When the herring begins to show signs of deserting its old grounds something is physically wrong on the ground, and it is the business of the fishermen, as in Moray Firth, &c., to try and find and look out for any new areas likely the fish has gone to, in the search of which the biological marine zoologist may assist him.

It will be of interest and assist us also to re-state some conclusions arrived at by Cleghorn, of Wick, about the herring and its habitat:

(1.) The herring is a native of the water in which it is found, and never (if not forced) migrates. It is more local than it is fancied.

(2.) Distinct races of it exist at different places.

(3.) There were fishing stations some years ago which are now exhausted, a steady increase having taken place in their produce up to a certain point, then followed by a violent fluctuation and final extinction,

(4.) In districts where the tides are rapid, as among islands and in lochs where the fishinggroundsarecircumscribed, the fishings are precarious and brief, while on the other hand: Extensive sea-boards having slack tides with little accommodation for boats, are surer and of longer continuance as fishing stations.

(5.) The extinction of districts attributable to over-fishing.

(6.) He also recommends not to disturb the spawning grounds and their fry and spawn by the destructive trawling for flat fish, or by other means to drive away the shoal, such as fishing during the day.

We come now to the more difficult and delicate question of tracing and fixing the particular areas of the Irish Sea to which the variety of herring to be found round the coasts of the Isle of Man are addicted to, in search of food, for purposes of spawning; and the grounds occupied by the young herring, or herring fry. This task which I approach now tentatively, becomes the more precarious because we have practically no official records or observations of any shape or kind to facilitate such an enquiry. The Manx fishermen have been content hitherto with hauling their catches during the season when the fish have made their appearance near the shores, indicated by the contemporaneous advent of the herring's great enemies, the gull, gannet, cormorant, and the divers, but gvItat becomes of the spent herring, after the fishing is closed; bow the fry thrives, and where it travels to after it is fully hatched, until it grows to maturity, are points upon which we are still in complete uncertainty, if not darkness.

It is, however, sufficiently clear that we have to deal with but a few perfectly distinct types of herring within the more proximate radius of the Isle of Man. I Shall begin with the North Channel kerriny This shoal used to visit the North-West side of Mann, and Peel tradition still speaks of it. Even 40 years ago the best part of Peel fishing was done Norrard, that is, between Peel and the Mull of Galloway, and the herrings caught came from the North Channel. This herring was of a uniform size and colour, and, as stated before, so much alike are they, that out of a basketful no difference will be detected between any of the herrings in it-all being large in size and of a whitish colour.

It would seem that this herring moved in the deeper marine floor which extends north of Isle of Man, and then skirts the Mull of Galloway in a southerly direction, sweeping on to Solway Firth, thence descending south to King William's Banks, then creeping up, sharply projecting to the N.W. off Point of Ayr, and finally swinging round in a curved line down to Peel. This area lies in between 20 to 37 fathoms of water, more or less covered with mud. It seems to be a big feeding area. The Scotch fishermen assert that the herring caught by them in the Firth of Solway comes down from the North Channel.

It appears therefore that this Peel North Channel herring and the Solway visitor haunt the same basin together. Why it has deserted in more recent times the more southerly part (N.W. of Man) has not been ascertained.

The Peel herring proper. -Formerly no boat went out before June 18th. The fish was caught from 2 miles off the shore, but generally about 8 miles off in about 20/30 fathoms of water, and the nets were let down to 2½ fathoms deep.

Herring, exactly the same as the Peel herring, is caught in the spawning season between Ailsa and the land, and some of the Peel fishermen believe that the Peel herring go to spawn there. The fishermen stake their nets on this spawning ground.

Another fish peculiar to Peel is the Wart Bank herring, found about 2 miles off the town in a northerly direction in about 9 fathoms of water. It is a very sweet fish, and only found on that bank. Lately it also has become rather rare.

The two kinds are full fish, smaller and weaker than the Big Bay, Shoulder, and Douglas fish, and of a brighter green in colour. Professor Herdman marks down here a coral and gravel bed, it may, therefore, not unlikely turn out to have been once a much larger local (although now rather small) spawning and nursery spot. (1)

Before proceeding further it is important to point out at this stage a circumstance which may have or prove of a great bearing on the distribution of the various range of the particular types of herring found on the southern and northern side of the line of meeting of the tides extending across from Dundrum Bay, off St. John's Point, to Contrary Head (Kione Rouayr), a few miles south of Peel.

Any sort of fish, more especially herring, is thought better fed and of sweeter eating caught S.W. of Contrary Head, than N.E. of it. It also seems that the herring south of this demarcation does not invade or enter the Peel or northern side of this line, and thus may act as a barrier in their progress either north or southward of it.

The Big Bay herring, between Niarbyl Bay and Bradda Head, is not found north of the meeting of the tide, viz., at Peel. Like the Shoulder fish it is of big size, with big gills and black eyes, and of darker colour, and bigger and stronger every way. It is full, and before spending, next to Loch Fyne herring in quality. It is said to work in and out with the tides, and supposed to come from the South Corner.

At Fleshwick, about the end of August, for a few days only, jnet before the Spring tide, a bush may often be seen run into; when the spring tides come it shifts south. There is an odd reef or "coral" W.N.W. off Bradda Head, where in former times there was abundant spawning.

Tradition has it that in remoter times, on the west side, from Peel to Port Erin, the herring shoal used to come very close to land, and to enter the bays and shallows quite regularly. This fact has been also attested to me again by some very old men, within the last 20 years, and it is fully borne out by the Manks Advertiser, who speaks in 1802:

July 10th, of a large take off Port Erin.
July 17th-The largest draught caught in shallow water, near the shore.

It is my belief that in past centuries the spawning grounds, now either buried up or left in a few scattered patches, must have been pretty extensive on the west side of the Island within the narrow strip of the 5 to 10 fathom line which runs parallel with the shore from Peel to Port Erin, and that only in later times in consequence of their gradual decaying, the fish left these grounds for the extensive and more sheltered "coral" banks east of Douglas.

CONCLUSION.

The Shoulder Herring.-The ground, as mentioned before, lies 6 miles W.S.W. of the Shoulder of the Calf of Man. According to the tides the fish works out and in on the ground from 2 to 3 miles up to 15 miles, and spring tides send them out further, that is, midway between the Calf and Carlingford. It is of excellent quality, and, when full, said to be equal to Loch Fyne fish. They range here in between 20 to 50 fathoms of water, and the sea abounds in mud and ooze.

The fish is caught here from June and July until the back fishing begins.

It is significant that fish has been caught off the Calf at unexpected times. One skipper took over 900 fine herring in February (they have been taken oft Carlingford in March) and according to the Hanks Advertiser, on November 13th, 1802:

Great quantities of herring were caught within the last fortnight off Port St. Mary, and so successful that several boats were refitted for sea-after the " back " fishing had terminated.

The conclusion would be that the herring is always on the ground, and never goes far away from its habitual haunts, and that if weather permitted and if in season, herring might be caught all the year round off Man.

It appears when the great period of spawning draws near, the shoals from Big Bay and the Shoulder, which up to then freely range over the great south-western feeding ground of Man, draw more closely together in serried and ever-increasing numbers to form the enormous and closely united general aboal which picks up the straggling battalions on its way during their gradual and slow march to the breeding banks, off Douglas Bay, keeping on their course thither, within the 20 fathom line south-east of the Island. How long it takes them to reach their destination we don't know.

Before that great process they roam, broker. up, in smaller swarms over the great south-western feeding ground, as a reeayllagh of herring, scattered and spread, but when the time of spawning is up, they unite then into the bush (=closing in), on their customary track or route to the spawning ground, which, as we have seen, is east of

Douglas. After the spawning is over they disband and go back to their old quarters. Their movements off Douglas seem to extend to a radius of 20/25 miles, from south to north, for feeding purposes, up to Bahama Banks in the deeper ground, circumscribed by the 20 fathoms line, where they probably rove and linger on for some time to recoup their strength.

The fry which is left behind does probably not go far away from the"coral beds" before it has reached a certain size. Their subsequent local movements have not been ascertained, and we want careful observations on this point to settle this matter.

I am also inclined to think that the Carlingford or Arklow herring adhere in their movements to the Irish side of the channel, without invading the western coast line of Man, or intermixing with the Peel, Big Bay, or Shoulder herring; and the same bolds good with the Manx herring, both, no doubt, move within their own habitual zones roughly defined by the deep longitudinal trough, midway between Ireland and Man.

The Douglas herring is so much alike the Shoulder and Big Bay herring that apparently they are identical. The Douglas side being the shallow part of the sea basin, and of a more sheltered nature, forms an excellent and extensive breeding ground and nursery, while the deeper floor, characteristic of the southern and western part of Man, is par excellence, and remains the great feeding ground of the Manx herring.

The herring, which was abundant in the 16th century in Liverpool Bay, has since almost entirely disappeared, due no doubt to the encroachment of the estuarine deposits tf the Mersey and the Ribble; probably it migrated to Manx waters.

As far as the herring from St. George's Channel, up Cardigan Bay, is concerned, I don't think it ever reached the spur of the Calf, at least we have no records, and it is not very likely.

In addition, I may remark that specimens of all the various types of herring found round the Manx water and in the Irish Sea at large, should be kept and preserved as standards for comparison, with full description of colour, weight, dimension, and any particular features, time of capture, and locality where taken, and contents of the stomach, so that gradually we may. be able to learn more about its habits, movements, and lifehistory. And many may help in this and thus assist any future labours of the Biological Station at Port Erin.

(1) See Toilers of the Sea, vol. 17, 1903 p. 35, Migration of the Herring.

(2) See Fish Culture, by John Fell, Barrow Natural Field Club, vol. 3, 1818-9, pp. 73-74.(1) See Prof. Herdman's Chart of the Irish Sea. R

[245].

DIALECT WORDS.

Two eyed steak or Purt ny Inshy beefsteak was a slang used for the Peel herring, also Peel duck.

Clean herring was applied in contradistinction to the fray herring or skeddan fray.

Ymmyr corraa (=the butt of spawn herring =the bush of spawn.

Creeping-After being shot an hour or two the nets were proved to see, ae the fishermen say, if they are creeping.

Bumming yawls-Buyers' boats.

The earnest-A shilling or a bottle of rum passed between fish buyer and seller to clench the bargain.

Tailley-An account, particularly of fish which is kept by notching a stick. Every fifth notch crossed the other four; This cross denoted a mease.

Scoltey - A boat's supper. This was formerly held either on Old St. Stephen's, or Old New Year's nights.

God's money-When crews settled balance accounts, at the end of the season, any odd shillings or pence was put aside for the poor. In old times Manx folk thought that the right time to cure herring for winter stock was between the two Lammas Days-the old and new.

Mr Holmes, who died in 1852, cured herring for the Royal Navy.


 

Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2004