[From A Short History of Irish Sea Herring Fisheries, 1923]



The Manx Industry.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Irish Sea herring fishery seems to have been prosecuted chiefly from the Isle of Man by purely local boats, although a certain amount of herring fishing was also carried on by Irish boats from stations in County Down, but this was only a shore fishery pursued by small craft.

The Manx fishery is an ancient one, and must have been of importance in 1610, for in that year the Legislature passed a law enforcing a close time for herrings, from 1st January till the 5th July, within nine miles of the shore, and prohibiting the shooting of the nets before sunset. This was observed by the local fishermen till about 1823 when boats from other parts of the Kingdom began to exploit the fishery, and their crews, it was declared, broke the law, a proceeding not punishable apparently in the case of fishermen belonging to the United Kingdom, over whom the Manx Legislature had no jurisdiction. The bad example of the Britishers was naturally followed by the Manx fishermen themselves, and the law was allowed to become a dead letter.

The Bounties.

The English Crown took possession of the Island in 1765, after the passing of the Revestment Act and, twenty years later, abolished the duties on herrings imported into Great Britain from the Isle of Man, granting certain bounties on fish cured in the Island. Herrings exported to Great Britain had been subject to a duty of 3s. 4d. per barrel for white, and 1s. 8d. per thousand fish for red herrings, although consignments to the British Colonies were admitted duty free, and the tax on salt, which existed at that time, was not collected if a bond was given that the commodity would be used for curing purposes only.

By the Act 26 Geo. III. c 81(1785) the duties were dropped and bounties of 1s. per barrel were granted on herrings cured white, plus 2s. 8d. per barrel if they were exported to foreign parts either direct from the Island or via Great Britain.

Cured red herrings received a bounty of 1s. 9d. per barrel only when exported, the 1s. home bounty on them having been omitted by mistake, and this error was not rectified till 1801.

At this time a tonnage bounty was paid out of Customs to large decked vessels of from 20 to 80 tons burthen, equipped for, and engaged in the deep sea Herring Fishery, and proceeding thereto from some port in Great Britain. The vessels were required to be at the fishing ground, off the Scottish Coast, by a certain date at the commencement of the fishing season, and to remain for about four months unless they shall have sooner completed their loading of fish.

This tonnage bounty was first paid in 1750 when an Act (23 Geo. II c. 24) authorised the payment of 30s. per ton of the vessel's measurement, to boats fulfilling the requirements laid down. In 1757 the bounty was raised to 50s. per ton, and remained at that figure till 1771 when it was reduced to the original sum of 30s. per ton. Till 1787 this bounty continued to operate, but in that year an alteration was made, and the tonnage rate was fixed at 20s. and a further bounty of 4s. per barrel was granted on the herrings caught, with the proviso that no ship should draw more than 30s. per ton from both bounties except when the take exceeded three barrels per ton, in which case 1s. per barrel was allowed on the excess. The Act 48 Geo. III (1808) increased the tonnage bounty to 60s. per ton but fixed the minimum size of vessel at 60 tons burthen, and the maximum tonnage claimable as 100 tons. This remained in force until 1820 when tonnage bounties were finally abolished.

The Manx boats, of course, did not benefit from this bounty, but in 1787 boat bounties were introduced, and this measure brought the Manx vessels within the scope of the subsidies. Boats under 20 tons burthen (which were debarred from the tonnage bounty) could claim 1s. per barrel on the catch, and this was increased to 2s. per barrel nine years later.

In 1795 an additional 1s. was granted for every barrel of herrings cured, but this was construed as not applying to the Isle of Man, and it was not until 1801 (by the Act 21 Geo. IIIc. 91) that Manx fishermen and. curers were put on the same footing as their compeers in Great Britain.

An Act for the further encouragement and better regulation of the British White Herring Fishery was passed in 1808 (48 Geo. III c. 110), and powers to frame regulations for, and to superintend the fisheries of the Isle of Man were vested in the Commissioners of British Fisheries.

The bounty of 2s. per barrel on all herrings cured was dropped in 1812, and the 2s. 8d. export, bounty in 1815.

Between 1812 and 1820 bounties appear to have ceased altogether in the Isle of Man, and in the latter year the rights which had been exercised by the Commissioners of British Fisheries were transferred to the Scottish Board of British White Herring Fishery, an Authority which continued to administer the Manx Fishery regulations till 1868. After that year the Board became a purely Scottish Authority: it was dissolved in 1882 when the present Board was constituted.

The tonnage bounty was repealed in 1820, but 4s. per barrel on all herrings caught was allowed, and the bounty was extended to the Isle of Man. This was reduced successively to 3s. in 1827, 2s. in 1828, is. in 1829 and finally abolished in 1830 when all fishery bounties finally ceased.

The Fishery at the end of the 18th Century.

Between 1793 and 1798 the number of boats increased greatly in consequence of the boat bounty. Every fishing boat belonging to the Island at this time was supposed to pay annually at the Custom House of Douglas a Due of 11s. Manx (about 9s. 5d. English); the greatest number that paid this custom in the last decade of the eighteenth century was 343, but as the means of collecting the custom is reported not to have been very efficient this number can be put as an absolute minimum. These boats were mostly of 12 tons burthen, and carried a crew of 7 or 8 men, but about this time vessels of 16 and 22 tons were being introduced.

In addition there were 40 or 50 fishing smacks, of 20-50 tons burthen, employed in buying herrings from the fishing boats. Some of them salted the fish down in bulk until the cargo was completed, and carried it into the ports of the Island to be barrelled up, whilst others were employed in carrying the fresh fish to the markets of Liverpool, Dublin, &c.; they carried crews of five men, on an average. Numbers of vessels from other ports, with British fishery salt, also attended the fishery to purchase fresh herrings from the Manx fishing boats and carry them to Great Britain, while others carried them fresh to the Irish and English markets.

The cost of one of the larger Manx fishing boats, with her fishing gear, was about 80 to 100 guineas. The men were paid by share and were evidently not full-time fishermen, for when not employed in the boats they were engaged as farmers, mechanics and labourers. They would be so engaged for eight months of the year, for the herring fishing usually ended in October, and very little other fishing appears to have been practised. The smacks which carried the herrings cost from £100 to £500, and, with their crews, were employed in the coasting trade when the season was over.

The Scottish and Cornish Adventurers.

Till 1823 the fishery was progressive, as many as 600 local boats at times being engaged, and at the end of this period about 400 fishing vessels, giving employment to upwards of 2,000 men, were on the register, in addition to carriers, &c.

The great abundance of the fishery in this year offered for the first time strong inducement to several adventurers from Cornwall and the West of Scotland to try the Manx waters, and they were so successful that they continued annually to prosecute this fishery for many years.

In 1826 the Manx fleet consisted of 250 boats, totalling 7,000 tons and employing 2,500 men, all natives of the Island.

This was exclusive of those employed as carriers for the English and Irish markets, and in the gray fishery (e.g., Cod). The boats had greatly increased in size, and are reported as being about double the tonnage of the Cornish boats from St. Ives, which are spoken of as being beyond all competition the most effective of any that frequent this fishery. A high fixed mast in the Manx boats, together with their greater size, caused them to drive much faster through the water than the Cornish boats. The latter had two smaller masts which could be struck with the greatest facility thus enabling the boat to lay snug with little drag upon the nets. Indeed the whole equipment of the Cornish boats is described as of a superior order, rollers on the gunwales and machinery of the greatest simplicity resulting in much saving of labour and gear in taking in the nets. As proof of the greater efficiency a crew of five men in a Cornish boat worked 450 fathoms of net against 280 fathoms operated by ten men in a Manx boat. The Cornish men were very skillful and experienced fishermen, and when they first came to this fishery were more successful than the natives, owing to their greater knowledge and better equipment. They were full-time fishermen whereas the local men were at that time mostly fishermen-farmers, a combination which was considered by many to be most injurious and unnatural, and suggestions were made to encourage the fishery for cod, &c. to afford employment to fishermen after the herring season. About mid-February the Cornish men would commence fishing for mackerel two or three leagues S.S.W. of the Lizard, and this fishing was prosecuted to within nine leagues of the French shore, continuing till June. It was succeeded by the herring fishery along the British and Irish coasts until the end of August when the Cornish men returned to their own coast for the pilchard fishery, which continued till December. When the pilchard fishery was over, the fishermen were employed on shore at their boats and nets until February- about two months. They all had potato ground allotments, some to the extent of half an acre.

A number of the Manx fishermen were also farmers, and many took small crofts which they manured with sea weed for the year's crop of potatoes. In such cases no rent was paid, the farmers considering the manuring for the succeeding year's crop an equivalent for the use of the ground.

In addition to the 250 Manx fishing boats the number of English, Irish and Scottish craft that frequented this fishery would be about 300, and the carrying trade would employ many more.

The depression of 1835.

In 1835 complaints were general that the fishery had been steadily declining since 1823, and many boats had been turned to the coasting trade while others were laid up. The number of Manx fishing boats was now less than 200. Peel, as regards the herring fishery, was the most important port in the Island and, together with Port Erin, was the resort of numbers of boats from England, Ireland and Scotland. Many of the Skerries and Balbriggan wherries from the Dublin coast were also profitably engaged in carrying fish between the Island and Liverpool, an occupation which they apparently found more lucrative and less precarious than that of taking fish.

One Peel resident, Caesar Corris by name, however, did not subscribe to the general feeling of pessimism with regard to the state of the Industry. He was induced to try a speculation in the fishery, and finding it to pay very fairly, he therefore determined to extend his establishment of boats. He adopted the English mode of fishing, and attributed his greater success to the superiority of his outfit. His boats were carvel-built, half-decked, smack-rigged, and with an outrigger sail abaft. They carried six men and worked 1150 yards of netting, and their number soon increased to four through the success that attended the venture.

The Irish Herring Fishery.

The Irish herring fishery was carried on at this time off the coasts of Counties Down, Louth, Dublin and Wicklow by small boats inshore, and also offshore by some larger boats from Carlingford, principally secondhand Manx vessels. The port of Ardglass in Co. Down was used by Penzance boats which arrived in June and departed at the end of August.

During 1835 about 300 boats frequented this harbour to sell or buy herrings. One third were Penzance fishing boats, and the remainder about evenly divided between Manx and Irish (from Arklow, Skerries, &c.) who were buying or fishing.

In calm weather the sales were made at sea, but when conditions drove the fleet from the fishing ground the rendezvous would be about Killough, Ardglass and Tara Bay. Carlingford was the only other place of safety and was used when the shoals set to the southward.

Scottish dealers came to Ardglass to buy and cure, and 22 wherries and smacks were engaged in carrying herrings from the English luggers to Liverpool and Dublin.

The Manx Revival in the '50s.

The decreasing activities of the Manx herring fleet after 1823 seem to have synchronized with the development of Ardglass as a herring port as a centre of operation for the Cornish luggers. No recovery of the Manx industry appears to have been made before 1850, when the number of Manx herring boats was given as 150-200, although Cornish, Scottish and Irish boats were still coming to the fishery. The end of this period, however, must have marked the commencement of a great revival in the fortunes of the local men, for during the next fourteen years great strides were made, and in 1864 the value of the fleet had increased threefold.

Tribute is paid in the official reports to the character of the men at this time, their industry and sobriety enabling them to obtain better equipment and vastly to increase the capital invested in the boats. Peel, which mainly depended on the fishing, greatly increased in prosperity, and the fishermen began to buy boats and build houses. The men are described as gentlemen in comparison with what they were, and their improved circumstances are held to have arisen primarily from the higher moral standard attained. They had become temperate and more prudent in their habits, and their earnings were invested in a superior class of boat and nets.

Most of the men were now full-time fishermen who followed the herrings to Scotland and Ireland, although some of them still cultivated the land during part of the year. Before the home season commenced a number of the boats proceeded to Stornoway and Lewis, and others moved south to the Irish Spring mackerel fishery. At the close of the Manx herring season many of the boats would go over to the Howth fishing, in October and November, after which they would repair nets, &c., and commence the cod line-fishing at the end of January. The line-fishing was also prosecuted by small boats from Peel, which were put into commission as soon as the herring season was over. Lines would be put aboard and the fishing would be carried on till January, when the small boats would be drawn up and the deep-sea cod-fishing with the larger boats would begin. The small boat operations were called the low-sea fishing.

In 1864 there were 290 greatly improved Manx boats,equipped with an increased number and superior quality of nets, while the number of men who were engaged in the fishing throughout the year had greatly increased, the majority having shares in the boats. Cornish and Scottish boats had also increased in numbers, and there were now nearly 300 of these vessels at work in the Channel, with perhaps 100 Irish boats in addition.

Previous to 1860 the combined fleet operating from Manx ports at times aggregated 600 sail but, later on, Howth in Co. Dublin developed into a herring port, and the Cornish, Scottish and Irish boats found the fishing there so good that they made it the base for their operations and practically left the Manx waters to be worked by the local fleet. This considerably reduced the landings at the ports of the Island, and the greatest number of boats working in 1865 was 320 of which about 290 were Manx, the total crews being 2,240 men and boys. At the close of the season, in October, a great number of the Manx boats also made over to Howth and worked the winter fishery there for a couple of months.

At Peel and Port St. Mary in 1864 smacks from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales still attended the fishery to buy on speculation and convey the herrings to the markets of Liverpool, Whitehaven and Wales principally.

The Irish Industry at the middle of the Century.

The Howth herring fishery off the Dublin coast was small and uncertain before the year 1860, but about that time Cornish and Scottish boats began to operate from the port, and the fishery rapidly became one of great importance, which in 1865 realised the sum of £94,000. A number of Irish boats were fitted out for it and did as well as the Cornish and Scottish vessels, and a good many of the Manx fleet also joined the fishery in October after their own season was ended. In 1862 the united fleet from the Cornish coast, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Arklow that fished out of Howth was seldom under 300 well equipped vessels ; there were also 21 vessels registered at Howth.

...[tables to be inserted]

From two to six steamers, in addition to several buying boats, attended regularly at Ardglass during the year for the purpose of carrying fish to Scotland and England

The Arklow herring fishery was also of some consequence in 1869, for 350 boats landed 70,000 mease during the season. Fifty of the boats were English, Manx or Scottish, and the remainder belonged to Arklow.


The Irish Fishery after 1874.

At Howth the herring fishery began to fall off after 1874. By 1887 it had reached a very low state, and the Manx and Scottish boats practically ceased to visit the port, although a few tried occasionally, as in 1890 when 38 Scottish boats fished there for a short time. The fishery remained in a low condition till about 1902 when improved fishings gave promise of a return to old prosperity.

The highest number of boats engaged each season at the four principal Irish ports during subsequent years was as follows






82 Irish, Cornish,Scottish.

72 mostly strangers.




69 ,, ,,

under 50 "





40 Irish
19 Scottish & Manx


30 (average)


over 30

28 presumably Scottish and Manx.











25 English
10 Scottish
6 other strangers.
Also Irish.

11 English
69 Scottish
3 other strangers.


The Manx Fishery towards the end of the Century.

In 1879 there were reported to be 1,000 boats all told fishing in the Channel between Ireland and the Manx coast, and more capital was going into the trade, the gross amount embarked in the Manx boats alone being estimated at £147,700. The boats were now pursuing the herring and mackerel fishing all the year, and they followed the fishery off Scotland and Ireland as well as in their home waters: the mackerel fishing was a most profitable part of the undertaking. In October they would go to the Howth winter fishery, and in March to Kinsale for mackerel, the boats returning home to commence the herring fishery in the middle of June. The crews totalled 1,800 men, and 200 were employed as packers and carriers of herrings by land and water.

The Manx boats continued to increase in number after 1879, and ten years later 334 were recorded as engaged in the herring fishing, but the abundance of the fishery was now decreasing, and it reached a minimum in 1891 when the season was a failure and the number of boats operating dropped to 208, according to the Report of the Inspector of Sea-Fisheries. These figures however are probably overestimated. After this there was some improvement, although 1897 was a very bad year, and from 1898 the fishings were good till the outbreak of war in 1914.


The state of the Fishery before and after the war.

In the year that hostilities commenced the Manx herring fleet consisted of 57 luggers, and auxiliary motor engines had been installed in about 30 of them. From 30 to 50 sail and motor boats from Belfast, Inverness, Kilkeel, &c , together with about 30 Scottish steam-drifters, were also working from Manx ports. The total crews of the Manx boats numbered about 350, a considerable drop from the 1,800 men engaged in the year 1879. Probably 500 men were working on the boats from other ports, and the exploitation of the fishery was apparently coming more under control of the stranger.

There appears to have been a steady decrease in the number of Manx boats engaged during the last forty years, and in 1922 only 25 boats, carrying 137 men, remained of the once great Fleet. The progressive falling off in the number of Peel boats engaged after 1880 is shown in the following table taken from Moore’s "History of the Isle of Man." The Port St. Mary boats were engaged chiefly away from home, in Irish and Scottish waters, during this period.



No. of Boats.

Total Tonnage.

No. of Men

Value of Boats and Gear.

Value of Catch.












































































































The vessels are now all equipped with motor-engines, which is an advantage in the competition with the steam-drifters. The handicap of sail before the war may have had something to do with the decreasing numbers, for the fishery was steadily improving after 1897, and the catch in 1909 and 1913 was very heavy, particularly in the latter year when 1062 landings were made by steam-drifters at Manx ports.



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