Tarbert, Argyll, 26 December 1883 - John Macmillan

JOHN MACMILLAN, Fisherman (53)—examined.

46421. Professor Mackinnon.
—You have heard what Mr Carmichael said ?

46422. Do you agree with the representation he gave of the fishing of the place?

46423. Is there anything you wish to add yourself in the way of explanation ?
—No, not a great deal.

46424. Have you always been a fisherman yourself ?

46425. Were your people at the fishing too, or did your father have land?
—Yes, he had land.

46426. Was it on your father's land you were brought up?

46427. And you remember very well the time when the people used to fish and have crofts ?

46428. There was not so much fish caught then at Tarbert as there is now?
—No, not so much; there was no trawling at that time.

46429. The trawling has increased the amount of fish that is caught?

46430. Do you agree with Mr Carmichael that in Loch Fyne—in Tarbert at least—the fishing is quite sufficient during the season for any man to attend to ?

46431. And not to spend his time between fishing and working land?
—We have plenty to do to work at the fishing itself, only there are some people here who have crofts and attend the trawling as well.

46432. Are they able to do as much as those who give their whole time to the fishing?
—Yes. In the case of a small croft, I do not think it would do any harm to any one. I do not think it would keep a man back in the least if it could be got at a reasonable price.

46433. But there is no croft here to be had ?
—No, there is not a great deal.

46434. And it would be only a very small bit that one could work ?
—Yes, a cow's grass, or a piece of potato ground, or the like of that

46435. Where were you brought up ?
—About two and a half miles from here on the Kiutyre side.

46436. On the Loch Fyne side or West Loch Tarbert side?
—On the West Loch Tarbert side.

46437. All the fishermen here have a share in their boats ?

46438. There is really no curer to speak of ashore; the fishermen send the fish away daily ?
—They do cure when it comes on in the year, when there are more herring coming in than they can send fresh to market. The great bulk are sent fresh to market, but there is a little cured at the end of the season.

46439. Do the fishermen pay for their boats when they get them, or do they purchase them on credit, and pay for them in so many years ?
—They very often pay them when they get them.

46440. They just club together and buy the boat?

46441. And buy a new one when the old one is done?

46442. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How long does a boat last?
—Generally about eight or nine years. They get weaker then, and need repairs.

46443. Do you sell the old ones ?

46444. Who buy them?
—Some north country people buy them, and Loch Fyne men, and so on.

46445. People who cannot afford perhaps to buy new ones so easily ?
—Yes. The boats are good enough, though they are getting a little frail.

46446. But not good for the hard work they have to undergo with you ?

46447. Where do your people get their nets ?
—They buy the nets in the village very often, from the shopkeepers. There are plenty to be had in the village.

46448. And there are plenty of shops ?
—Plenty of shops.

46449. There is nothing here of what we found in the north and other places, of people contracted to a curer to whom the boats sometimes belong, and to whom the nets belong ?
—No ; nothing of that sort.

46450. You fish for whomsoever you please ?
—For whomsoever will give the best price.

46451. And you buy in any shop you please?
—Yes, there is no compulsion as to that.

46452. Of course, your system of trawling herring here is quite different from the bottom trawling that is carried on at the white fishing?
—It is not the same at all; it is on a different scale altogether.

46453. The fact is that so far as we know the habits of the herring, that system would not suit ?

46454. You might trawl the whole day and not get a herring at all?
—You might trawl for a year and not get a herring at all with the big trawl, although we do trawl on the ground whiles.

46455. When you come to shallow water?

46456. Your mode of trawling is not so popular away in the north?
—No, they have a sort of superstition against it.

46457. But so far as your experience goes, it does not injure the fishing ground ?
—I do not believe it does.

46458. And I suppose the Loch Fyne fishers think that instead of people objecting to this system, it would be better if they would accept it for themselves ?
—The upper Loch Fyne fishermen used to be against it too, but they are now at it as well as we.

46459. Instead of the long drift net which is used by the big boats on the east coast, and out on the ocean on the west shore, do you think, if it could be done, a shorter trawl net would take as much fish on board—in the ocean too ?
—It would need good calm weather. I do not think it would work very well.

46460. Of course, you could only work it with a light boat ?
—Yes, and then if you took a circle in a heavy sea you would smash your boats together. I do not think it would do very well.

46461. The boats require to be so close when you haul in that you would require to have more or less calm sea, or you would injure the boats and perhaps the men ?

46462. In any case, it would require to be a boat that could be handled with the oars ?

46463. You cannot work your system by sailing alone ?

46464. You cannot make your circle ?
—We could make a circle, but we could not go about it altogether with the sail.

46465. You just go about the loch, and when you find a place where to all appearance there are fish you sweep it with the net?
—Yes, just circle the net about, and draw it in towards the boat again till we have them as in a bag.

46466. Of course the screws, the buyers, are more numerous every year ?

46467. Do you remember the time when there was more delay in sending off fish ?
—Yes, there were only the luggage boats.

46468. And you could not send the fish then so fresh?
—No, they might go fresh enough, but they would not be so early in the market.

46469. And you did not get near so much for them?
—No, we did not get so much for them.

46470. So the reason for the success of the fishing in recent years is just that you take more fish ashore and get more money for them?
—Yes, although I have seen us take in as much fish in former times.

46471. How long is it since you commenced trawling?
—About thirtytwo years.

46472. But it was not legalised ?
—There was a stop put to it since that time.

46473. But now for the last sixteen years you have been allowed to trawl ?

46474. But for some years before that you did not trawl except at the risk of your liberty ?
—Yes, we were prohibited.

46475. The Chairman.
—The previous witness said there were more herring brought on to the shore than were lifted out in the sea; is it the case in your opinion that there are more drawn to the shore than are taken out into your boat?
—There are more drawn to the shore. In drawing to the shore we get more of them when we get to the shallow water.

46476. But is the net not more liable to be injured when drawn to the shore than when drawn in deep water ?
—Yes, but we generally lift them out where they hardly catch the ground.

46477. Is the whole of the shore along here quite clear for the fishermen Can they draw where they like?
—No, there are some rocks and foul ground that they cannot get near.

46478. But I mean is there any restriction on the part of the proprietor, or does he allow you to draw wherever you like ?
—Yes. I may say there is nothing to stop us here; there is no restriction.

46479. Are there any stake nets for salmon along the shore?
—Yes, there are some.

46480. How do you manage with them ?
—We do not go near them. They are inside of where we draw. We work outside the stake.

46481. But when you draw on the beach?
—We do not draw so near in as the stake boats.

46482. In fact, there is no difficulty about stake nets ?
—None at all.

46483. Do you ever catch salmon in the herring nets?

46484. You never catch salmon by accident?
—Well, we will see one at an odd time, but very seldom. A man may be working all his days and never see a salmon in a trawl net.

46485. There are a great number of boats in the loch, and they come from different quarters; is there any kind of understanding or arrangement that the boats from one place shall take one part of the loch and the boats from another place shall take another, or does everybody go where he likes ?
—Just where he likes. There are boats from Ardrishaig, and we draw side by side on the shore; and those coming from Campbeltown do the same.

46486. Is there ever any conflict or quarrel between boats from different places that want to fish on the same spot ?
—There is that among ourselves whiles.

46487. Who regulates that? Who keeps you all in order?
—It very often goes out in smoke. We do not say much about it.

46488. Then there is no practical difficulty about each party finding their ground and taking their fish—no confusion ?
—None in the least.

46489. You said that boats are generally bought by people at once; I suppose a man will sometimes sell a share of a boat to another man?

46490. Is there a good deal of that sort of buying and selling shares of boats ?
—Yes, very often at the hinder end of every year a good deal of it.

46491. Is there any speculation; does the share of the boat rise and fall like the share of the company or mine?
—According to the notion the man has of the boat; if he is going to keep her or give her up. Very often
some are kept up high and some are not.

46492. But does a man ever buy or sell a share of a boat as a speculation?

46493. When he buys a share of a boat he expects to work it?
—He expects to work it.

46494. There is no stock-jobbing or speculation ?
—No; there is not any money-making business in that way.

46495. Are the boats insured ?
—I do not think any of them are insured. I never heard of it.

46496. You never heard of anybody insuring his boat ?
—No. They might have it insured for all I know, but I never heard of it.

46497. Is there any insurance of life; do the men ever insure their own lives?
—I do not believe many of them insure their lives here.

46498. Do you think there is anybody who does it?
—There may be a few, but it is not known if there is.

46499. Has it ever been the practice, with reference to their families, for people to insure their lives in the fishing industry ?
—Well, there are some who have their lives insured, but I think it is the fewest number.

46500. Then, in regard to the loss of boats, is there any system of mutual insurance or mutual assistance by which people who lose a boat at sea can buy another ?
—No, there is nothing of the sort that I am aware of.

46501. Any club?

46502. Then I would like to know is there any loss of boats or loss of life here; are there any widows living in this place of men who lost their lives at the fishing ?
—Yes, there are one or two; there are very few of them. We are very fortunate that way. Two or three years ago there was a sad accident in the loch here, about two or two and a half miles from this place.

46503. Were the boats run down by a steamer?
—No, it was a squall of wind.

46504. But the loss of a boat or life is very rare ?
—-Very rare.

46505. Has the loss of life increased since they have been in the habit of going to the Ayrshire coast ?
—No, I cannot say it has.

46506. Suppose the weather to be extremely bad on the Ayrshire coast, and the water to be in such a state that they could not run into the Ayrshire ports, what do they do ?
—They have to anchor at the mouth of the harbour till the water rises.

46507. They never run down to Galloway?
—They cannot go to Girvan without a bit of tide.

46508. If they had to run in very bad weather, where would be the nearest place of natural shelter, supposing them to be fishing on the spawning beds ?
—Ballantrae is the only place they can run to at all. Sometimes they run to Loch Ryan.

46509. Do they run to Loch Ryan ?
—Yes, if the wind favours them.

46510. But the west wind would not favour them ?

46511. They could not get down?
—No. I believe if there was a right north-west wind and them on the banks, most of them would be ashore. I think they would have to run ashore as a last remedy.

46512. We were told yesterday that they were putting half decks upon their twenty-five feet boats. They are doing that in the fore part?

46513. You draw the net in to the side?
—Into the middle of the boat.

46514. Why should they not have a half deck at each end?
—They have the net in the stern when they take it on board ready for shooting again, and the aft deck would be in the way.

46515. Does the deck in front make the boat any safer, or is it simply for shelter?
—Not a bit safer —just for shslter.

46516. Is there anything that occurs to you that would make the fishing better, or is it just going as well as possible?
—I think it is going on pretty fair, only we would like to get a weekly close time, and boxes of a certain size.

46517. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What is the rig of your boats?
—What is called a lug jib.

46518. With one mast or two masts?
—One mast.

46519. The old fashioned style, the same as the Newhaven boats?
—Not exactly like the Newhaven boats.

46520. What is the difference?
—We have more of a peak.

46521. Have you to haul down the sail every time you tack?
—-No, we do not haul it down the same as the Newhaven boats do.

46522. Are your masts very tall?
—Not so tall as theirs.

46523. There are some boats in other places we saw as we went round the coast in summer which seem to compete with each other in having as tall and heavy masts as possible ?
—Yes, but these boats are bigger than ours, and require higher and taller masts.

46524. You don't carry very heavy spars ?
—No, as light as we can.

46525. There has never been any great disaster to the herring fleet from Loch Fyne and down to Campbeltown ?

46526. Nothing like what has happened on the east coast, in Shetland, at Eyemouth, and other places ?
— Nothing at all. We are in a more sheltered place.

46527. Are your boats all made here?
—There are some that come from Fairlie and Ardrishaig, but the most of them are made here.

46528. Are they as well made here as you can get elsewhere ?
—Yes, as good as we get elsewhere.

46529. As pretty to look at and as good sailers?
—Yes; every bit as good looking and as fast.

46030. And I suppose you pay less for them than you do at Port Glasgow and other places ?
—The price is about the same.

46531. Do you think the rig is as good and as safe a rig as you could have ?
—Yes, I think it is as handy a rig as we could have.

46532. Did you send some men to the Fisheries Exhibition ?
—We had a few there.

46533. They saw great varieties of new rig there ?
—I suppose they did.

46534. Did they see nothing that they thought an improvement ?
—Well, I did not hear.

46535. Did you exhibit anything of your own ?
—I do not think there was anything out of here exhibited.

46536-7. Except herring?
—I suppose they are exhibited everywhere if they can get them at all.

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