Report - Fisheries and communications

By far the greater number of the crofters and cottars of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are wholly or largely dependent for their subsistence on their earnings as fishermen. Taken as a whole, the population into whose condition we have been making inquiry derive a larger annual income from the sea than they derive from the land. The subject of the fisheries has consequently occupied no inconsiderable portion of our attention.

The importance of this branch of industry as a permanent source of food supply has been, especially of recent years, sufficiently acknowledged. Extensive and valuable investigations are being conducted in other countries, as well as in our own, into the nature and habits of our food fishes. The recent Fisheries Exhibition, held in London, will be of great practical benefit in improving the boats and apparatus at present used in the fishing industry; and by exposing our ignorance of the ways and migrations of the herring and white fish which frequent our shores, it will help to stimulate public interest in these subjects, and to provide such legislation for the extension, development, and protection of our fisheries as may be required. In Scotland, the Fishery Board has recently been reconstructed with enlarged powers. Under its supervision a harbour is being erected in the north end of the Island of Lewis, and a most valuable investigation has already been commenced into the natural history of the herring.

Our inquiries have been limited to the ways and means by which the fishing industry might be improved, with the view specially to the benefit of the crofter and cottar population of the Highlands and Islands. There are two main branches of fishing, as at present carried on in the localities over which our inquiry extended,—the herring fishing ; and white fishing, consisting principally of cod and ling. The herring fishing is being conducted every year farther and farther out in the ocean, and consequently a larger and more expensive class of boats, with a greater number of nets, is required for its successful prosecution. Within recent years, the herring fishing off the northern and western shores of the Long Island, and off the shores of the Shetland Islands, has greatly extended and developed. Fifty years ago the lochs and bays of the north-west Highlands supplied a remunerative herring fishing to the native population. These lochs, with rare exceptions, such, for example, as Loch Hourn during the autumn and early winter, have of late years been comparatively unproductive. In Lochfyne alone, of all the inland lochs of the north and west of Scotland, the herring fishing continues to be prosecuted with uniform success.

The white fishing is most remunerative on the fishing banks in the open sea off Shetland, the north and west of Lewis, and Barra, although it is also pursued for at least a portion of the year on the west of Sutherland, Gairloch, Skye, and Tiree.

Lobster fishing, which used to provide remunerative employment for a considerable number of men on the northern and western shores of Scotland, is declining.

We have been informed that many of the calm lochs and bays of the western shores, both mainland and island, are naturally well adapted for the cultivation of oysters. It would be very desirable that this branch of industry should be encouraged. At the present time oysters do not form an article of export from the Highlands, and before the beds could become remunerative they would require careful preservation.

Inferior descriptions of shell-fish, whether used for bait like mussels, or as an article of food, like whelks, are habitually gathered for local consumption on the shores of the western districts, without interference on the part of proprietors or factors. When collected for sale, the right of purchase has been, in some rare instances, limited to particular agents paying rent to the proprietor for this privilege.

Such are the fisheries upon which the crofters and cottars depend as a source of income for themselves and their families. The people are generally able to add to their own food supply by fishing occasionally with rod or small line along the shore.

The arrangements under which the fishing industry is prosecuted vary in different localities. Few of the crofters and cottars in Shetland and the north-west Highlands and Islands own, in whole or in part, the large and powerful boats now used for prosecuting the herring fishing in the ocean. The Highlanders are generally employed in these boats as hired hands, first at the Stornoway and Barra fishing from the middle of may till the end of June, and afterwards at the East Coast fishing from about the middle of July till the middle of September. In Shetland, where the herring fishing is prosecuted from may to September, it is a common practice for a crew to hire a boat and nets on what is locally known as the half-catch system. Under this arrangement, the owner of the boat, who is usually a fishcurer, provides boat and fishing-gear, and keeps both in good working order. In return he receives the half of the total catch of fish, the crew dividing the other half between them. Sometimes the crew contract to purchase the boat from the owner. In this case they get three years to pay for the boat, and meanwhile they become bound to sell their fish to the curer at a fixed price for each season, and to pay a certain rate of interest for the unpaid portion of the price of the boat and tackle.

A smaller and less expensive boat is generally used for the white fishing. In Shetland and the Long Island many of these boats are the property of fish-curers, who hire them out on certain terms to the fishermen. A n essential part of the contract is that the curer purchases the fish at a price usually agreed upon beforehand. As a rule, he supplies the fisherman and his family with such provisions and clothing as they require during the year, it may well be, at prices higher than those which prevail in the open market. A still smaller class of boat is used for the lobster and shore fishing. These boats are the property of the fishermen themselves.

In Lochfyne alone, in the districts over which our inquiry extended, the invariable practice is for each member of the crew to own a share of the boat and nets. Of recent years, several steamers with herring buyers on board are on the fishing-ground in Lochfyne during the night and early morning, ready to purchase the fish as they are taken out of the net. During the fishing season, Lochfyne herring are in the Glasgow market every morning by eight o'clock. The fishermen in this locality are accordingly able to sell their fish fresh to the highest bidder, and to purchase their supplies in what they consider the cheapest market. The fisheries off the northern and western shores are, we believe, capable of vast extension and development. The evidence we have received on this point is unanimous. At the present time the herring fishing is not prosecuted in the open sea south of Barra It is said that large shoals of herring approach the shores of the outer isles of the Southern Hebrides during the summer months. Captain Thomas A. Swinburne, R.N., of Eilean Shona, who is well acquainted with the west coast and its fishing banks, informs us that ' the fisheries of the west of Scotland, especially those to the west of the Long Island, are practically undeveloped;' and that the fishing-ground extends from Stanton Bank, in lat. 56° 10', to North Rona, in 59° 10', includes St Kilda, the Flannan Islands, &c, and abounds in cod, ling, tusk, and halibut; while turbot, haddock, conger, and skate are caught with herring and mackerel at certain seasons. The same well-informed witness reports that there is good fishing-ground inside of the Long Island, the Shiant Bank, banks of the Sutherland and
Cromarty coasts, and to the south of Skye, off Canna, and to the north and west of the islands of Coll and Tiree.' Others have spoken with equal confidence of the productiveness of the banks off the northern shore of Sutherland.

In order to develop and extend the fisheries, and so to improve the condition of the fishing population, it has been represented to us by the delegates of the people, by fish-curers who have a considerable amount of capital invested in this branch of industry, and by several independent witnesses who have made the matter a subject of study,{and whose opinion we consider entitled to respect:—
(1) That harbours should be formed in suitable localities, piers and landing-places in others ;
(2) That assistance should be given towards providing suitable boats and tackle for fishermen ;
(3) That the postal and telegraphic system should be extended to several outlying fishing-stations and centres, and means of communication with the great markets of consumption improved or created;
(4) That certain alleged grievances should be inquired into and removed.

1. Piers and Harbours.—
The numerous lochs and bays by which piers and the coast of the mainland of Scotland and the Inner Hebrides, from harbours. Loch Inchard in Sutherland to West Loch Tarbert in Argyll, is indented, form a series of natural harbours and shelters along our western shores, which for convenience and safety cannot be surpassed. The same natural advantages are found on the eastern shore of the Long Island from Stornoway to the south of Barra, and on the western shore from Harris to Carloway in Lewis.

The excellent roadstead of Stromness opens on the western shore Orkney, otherwise exposed and wild; while the numerous voes intersect the Shetland coast afford shelter to the fishermen of these parts in stress of weather. On the other hand, the northern shores of Sutherland and Caithness, from Cape Wrath to Duncansbay Head, are accessible only at two places, Loch Eriboll and Scrabster Roads. The whole coast-line, extending from the south of Barra by the west to the north of North Uist, and again from Loch Carloway round the Butt of Lewis to Stornoway, cannot be approached at any point in rough weather. The large, fertile, and populous island of Tiree has no suitable harbour for fishermen, —there is not even a quay for the convenience of the local steam traffic. On the islands of St Kilda, Foula, and Fair Isle, a landing can be effected only when the ocean is at rest. The most productive fishing-grounds, both for herring and white fish, are generally off the most inaccessible shores. It is evident, therefore, that these banks cannot be fished to full advantage unless suitable places of shelter are made, where large boats can run for safety in stormy weather. Further, in several localities where the lochs and arms of the sea form a natural harbour, piers or landing-places are required in order to render them suitable fishing-stations. The circumstances of the country are such, that little or no part of the expense beyond local labour could be contributed in the districts where the works are chiefly needed. If harbours or piers are to be constructed, it must be mainly at the public expense.

The question arises whether it is reasonable that public funds should be applied to such a purpose. It has to be admitted that not only can no considerable portion of the cost be met by the localities concerned, but that even a very small direct return for the outlay in the shape of annual income for the use of such harbours and piers could not in all cases be guaranteed. Nor must it be forgotten that similar experiments in the past can scarcely be said to have realised the anticipations of the promoters. The villages of Tobermory, Stein, Shieldaig, and Ullapool were built in the last century by the British Fishery Society, aided by grants of public money, with the view to develop the fisheries in their respective districts. Tobermory is a thriving village, but its prosperity can hardly be said to depend much upon the fishing industry, while Stein, Shieldaig, and Ullapool have not succeeded as fishing stations or otherwise. Notwithstanding these discouragements, we recommend that, in certain suitable localities, and under certain conditions, Parliament should provide funds for making harbours, and for acquiring ground for fishermen's cottages and other necessary equipments of a fishing-station. The event has proved that the sites of Tobermory, Stein, Shieldaig, and Ullapool as fishing stations were not happily chosen. These villages could be used as stations solely for the inshore and loch fishings of their own immediate neighbourhood. Ullapool could thrive only when there was fishing in Lochbroom. When the fish shifted, as they sometimes did, into any of the numerous and equally sheltered lochs on either side of Ullapool, the fishermen followed and landed the fish where they were caught. And when the herring forsook the loch, as they have now done for years past, the village languished. With the experience of the past to guide us, we would recommend that harbours involving any considerable outlay of money should be formed only in localities within reach of the extensive and productive fishing-grounds of the open sea. We were not able to make a sufficiently minute investigation, nor did we possess the necessary technical skill, to entitle us to recommend any particular site or sites for such harbours as appear to us necessary. The Scottish Fishery Board are at present erecting a harbour at the port of Ness, in the north end of Lewis, which, owing, it is said, to the want of funds, is merely a tidal harbour, in a locality where the hardy fishermen have hitherto pursued their perilous calling under great disadvantages, and with frequent loss of boats and of life. It was urged upon us by many whose local knowledge enabled them to speak with authority, that an additional place of shelter was greatly needed on the east side of Lewis, between the port of Ness and Stornoway, while a third was urgently required for the benefit of the fishermen on the west side. Bayble, Portnaguirin, Gress, and Shawbost were named as convenient situations, two of which might be selected. A strong case seemed to be made out for two similar places of refuge on the north shore of Sutherland. Talmine and Port Skerray were mentioned to us as suitable sites for harbours in this locality. In the Isle of Skye a harbour is greatly needed on the north-east side, in the neighbourhood of Staffin Bay. The same necessity exists in Tiree. In several of the sheltered lochs and bays of the mainland and islands which are accessible to good fishing banks, such as, for example, Hillswick in Shetland, Loch Inchard in Sutherland, and Loch Poltiel in Skye, piers or landing-places might be erected at little cost. On the east coast, it has been represented to us that there is neither pier nor harbour between the entrance to the Cromarty Firth and the fishing village of Portmahomack, where also the harbour accommodation appears to be insufficient.

It is open to discussion whether Government aid should be invoked to promote works of local usefulness, such as those to which we have last adverted. In cases where the pier or landing-place is chiefly available for the ordinary traffic of the district, it seems natural that it should be undertaken by the proprietor, the people, or the traders chiefly concerned. But in some localities these works would be mainly for the benefit of a branch of imperial industry, for the accommodation of fishermen from all parts of the British shores—men who have only a transitory connection with a place which is indispensable to their labour. In such instances, we are of opinion that the co-operation of Government might be legitimately asked for, when no other agency is available. There are three islands of exceptional interest for their isolated position and the peculiar industries of their inhabitants—Foula, Fair Isle, and St Kilda. The access to all three offers great but perhaps not insurmountable difficulties. Without suggesting the creation of extensive harbour works, which would not be justified by the importance of the localities in question, we think that Government might institute a special inquiry with the view of ascertaining whether boat shelters of the simplest character might not be excavated or constructed at these places, in which a landing in rough weather could be effected.

It would be necessary, in the event of our recommendation being adopted, that a competent ofhcer should visit the several localities report upon suitable sites and probable cost, after making such inquiry as might seem necessary. We would recommend that in selecting a particular site, preference should be given to the spot on which not only a safe and commodious harbour could be made at the least expense, but also where suitable ground for fishermen's houses and gardens would be available, and where the harbour could be best utilised for the convenience of the surrounding country. At every station where a harbour might be constructed, and in the case of piers where there is suitable ground in the neighbourhood, we recommend that a certain amount of land should be acquired. The arable portion of the ground would be feued out to persons intending to occupy themselves entirely as fishermen, in plots from half an acre to an acre in extent. The pasture ground would be held as a common, with the right of a cow's grass to each family.

It may be asked, Is there a reasonable prospect that any great number of the population would take to fishing as a regular calling, and pursue it with the steadiness necessary to ensure success? While the fishermen of the east coast of Scotland are simply fishermen and nothing else, at sea in all weathers and at all seasons, the population of Shetland and the north-west Highlands and Islands are partly crofters and partly fishermen, pursuing now the one calling now the other, often, it is alleged, to the disadvantage of both. We have frequently, in the course of our inquiry, asked the question whether the present system of combining both occupations was of advantage to the people or otherwise. As might be expected, we have received the most contradictory testimony on this point. Generally, though not by any means invariably, the people actually engaged in crofting and fishing are in favour of the combined occupations, whereas the weight of external evidence seemed in favour of separating the two callings.

It would be difficult to express an opinion upon this question applicable to all cases and circumstances. The system that might suit one locality might not suit another. When the people of the Northern Highlands were removed from their native glens to the shore, in the hope that they would at once become fishermen, without either boats or harbours, or the knowledge how to make use of such though they had them, they were provided with crofts of sufficient size to support a family with difficulty in a favourable season. The people naturally looked upon themselves still as crofters rather than fishermen; and they took to the sea only when it was absolutely necessary to supplement the outcome of their stock and crops. After the failure of the potatoes it became necessary to devote their attention more and more to fishing, especially us the small crofts were being yearly subdivided, and squatters multiplied among them. But few of the crofters took to fishing except as a subsidiary employment engaged in with reluctance, to enable them to pay their rents and the meal merchant. The fishermen of the north of Lewis, again, have had to prosecute the fishing off an unbroken coast washed by a tempestuous sea. Without harbours of refuge or a safe landing place, these men can only use a craft of sufficiently light draught and weight to enable them to drag it through the surf beyond the reach of the tide wherever they can effect a landing. Even such small boats could fish the banks many days when they cannot be launched through the heavy surf on the beach and under the most favourable circumstances, these exposed fishing-grounds can only be reached occasionally in winter. The Lewis fisherman, accordingly, considers it desirable to supplement the earnings of the sea by the produce of the croft. The crofters that skirt the lochs of the mainland and inner isles look to the land and not to the sea for a livelihood. They say, and with a considerable amount of truth, that the inshore fishing of the west coast is precarious in the extreme.

We have been informed that on the shores of the Moray Firth the fishermen have of recent years ceased to work the plots of land formerly cultivated by them, in order to devote themselves solely to fishing. The fishermen of Lochfyne, within the last forty years, have gradually relinquished their crofts, and are prosecuting their calling with greater energy and success in consequence.

Both in Lochfyne and on the east coast of Scotland there are three favourable conditions which do not obtain on the northern and western shores, conditions in the absence of which fishermen could hardly be expected to devote themselves exclusively to that industry. On the east coast, the ground can be fished with profit, and in Lochfyne with profit and safety, for the greater portion of the year ; on the east coast and in Lochfyne there are harbours in which boats can be moored, so that it is not necessary to drag them daily beyond the reach of the tide; and there is a market for the fresh fish. If these conditions could be realised on the northern and western shores, we are of opinion that a race of fishermen would spring up, working their own boats with the same skill which they now exhibit as hired hands in the large fishing boats of Peterhead and Fraserburgh. If by emigration and the operation of other remedial measures, the bulk of the future population of the Highlands and Islands can be put in possession of larger holdings of land, such as they themselves wish for, a smaller number will engage in the fishing industry than at present is the case. A substantial croft demands the undivided energies of the crofter. But while fewer will probably devote themselves to fishing in the future, these may be expected to prosecute their calling with greater energy and persistence than is commonly the case at present in many districts of the north-west Highlands and Islands.

2. Boats and fishing gear .
—Year by year, as both the herring boats and white fishing are being prosecuted farther and farther out in fishing-gear the ocean, a larger, a more powerful, and consequently a more expensive class of boat is being built, and a greater number of nets and lines for each boat is being required. The fishing boats of the east coast have nearly doubled their tonnage within recent years. The old sixern of Shetland, safe for its size, is being rapidly disused, and replaced by a larger and more suitable craft. The Lewis fishermen cannot increase the size of their boats until they are provided with harbours in which to moor them. The boats at present in use, though for their tonnage exceptionally capable, and handled with great skill and daring, are far too small and light for fishing the stormy hanks off the Butt of Lewis. The Chamberlain of the estate informs us that during the last thirty-five years not less than 293 Lewis fishermen were drowned at sea.

The boat built of late years on the east coast for the herring fishing is of 45 to 50 feet keel, about 14 feet of beam, wholly decked, and of 25 to 30 tons burthen. Such a vessel with masts, sails, oars, &c, & c , costs from £200 to £250, while her necessary complement of nets costs about .£160, and of hooks, lines, & c , for the white fishing, about .£18. The crew numbers from six to eight men. We have been informed by the people that for several years past their condition has been deteriorating instead of improving; and that if they were put in possession of the larger holdings which they all naturally desire to get, they would only in very few cases be able to stock them. Similarly, we were told that these people are not able to purchase the expensive boats necessary for the prosecution of the fishing. The fishermen of the north-west coast own fewer large boats now than formerly. They have not been able in all cases to replace the old craft by the more costly vessel which is now coming into use.

It has been urged upon us, and we think justly, that the present fishing population cannot, to any great extent, acquire suitable boats and nets without extraneous assistance, and that, in the circumstances, it would not be unreasonable that public money should be advanced for this purpose. We found, both in Shetland and in Barra, that crews of fishermen were provided by curers and others with boats and nets, which remained the property of the curer until the purchase price was paid, the crew meanwhile being charged interest upon the capital invested, and selling the fish to the curer. We trust that such voluntary contracts will become more common hereafter, and in ordinary circumstances they would provide the natural and proper solution of the difficulty. But we do not anticipate that in the immediate future all cases can be provided for in this way, and we consider it of paramount importance that the fisherman should be allowed to sell his fish to whomsoever he pleases. We are accordingly disposed to recommend that an arrangement be made by which money should be advanced to fishermen themselves, or to some intermediate agency sanctioned for the purpose, for the purchase of boats, subject to the following conditions:—
(1) That the crew to whom the money is advanced be men who habitually maintain themselves by fishing;
(2) That the amount of the loan shall in no case exceed the price of the boat, with sails, &c, but exclusive of nets;
(3) That the loan, with interest, at 3½ per cent., be paid back in equal annual instalments, in seven years;
(4) That the boat be fully insured, and that the premium for the ensuing year be paid in advance by the parties benefited;
(5) That the boat be kept in good working order and repair, to the satisfaction of the officer to whom the Government may entrust the duty of inspecting it. We are of opinion that the boat, fully insured, might be accepted as security for the money advanced. A large boat cannot be disposed of as easily as live stock, and even if it were disposed of, it could be traced. The revenue officer of the district could receive the annual instalments of the loan and the insurance premium for the ensuing year. The registered number of such craft, while any portion of the loan remained unpaid, should be furnished to officers in charge of fishing stations, whose duty it would be to report on their condition in respect of repair, &c, as occasion offered.

3. Facilities of communication.—
Improved communication by post, telegraph, roads, steam vessels, and railways is of great significance to all classes and interests in the Highlands and Islands, but the importance of this question is so preponderating in connection with the fishing industry, that we have associated its consideration with this branch of our report.

If the maintenance of an undiminished surplus revenue from the postal service is regarded as an indispensable feature in our financial system, and if the department continues to impose as an invariable condition of postal and telegraphic development that every local extension shall be from the first self-supporting, we fear that our proposals on this subject have little prospect of favourable consideration. We would, however, warmly urge the adoption of a more generous policy, one which would recognise the claims of a population isolated and scattered by natural causes, and the condition of a branch of national industry carried on in sequestered and perilous situations, which requires for its safe and successful prosecution incessant vigilance and warning in regard to the vicissitudes of weather, and early information concerning fluctuations in the market.

It is difficult to lay down any rule as to the amount of population in a rural centre which should warrant the establishment of a daily post or a telegraphic station: much depends on distance and facility of access—much on the character of the locality in respect to intelligence, industry, and power of expansion. What we hope is, that a department of administration which has studied the convenience of the condensed population in the urban districts with so much assiduity, should now use its powers in order to anticipate the wants, and advance the interests and welfare of those who suffer under the discouragements of distance and dispersion. The post-office monopoly would thus justify its prerogatives and its gains.

The defects of the mail service are most apparent in North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. The regular transmission of letters to those places proceeds by a circuitous route through Skye to Dunvegan, and from thence by sailing packet to Lochmaddy across a stormy belt of the Atlantic, thirteen miles in width. Fair Isle and Foula receive letters when weather permits, but St Kilda is still without the means of communication with the outer world, save what the vessel of the proprietor and the summer visits of tourist steamers occasionally afford. There is no direct postal intercourse between Strome Ferry and Lewis. The whole of the west and north of Sutherland from Lochinver to Tongue, the west and north of Lewis, Walls, Hillswick, Ollaberry, and several other stations on the west and north of Shetland, South Ronaldshay in Orkney, Barra, a capital resort of the herring fleet from all the ports of Scotland and Ireland, are still without telegraphic communication. The example of Barra illustrates in a striking manner the reluctant intervention of the Official Department in advancing the industrial interests of the country. In connection with evidence given before the Herring Brand Committee two years ago respecting the want of telegraphic communication with Barra, the Committee reported that a portion of the Brand Fund should be applied to remedy the deficiency of telegraphic intercourse with remote fishery districts, yet nothing has been done. We were informed by two fish-curers from the east of Scotland, who were examined at Barra, that if a telegram were sent from Castle Bay in Barra to Loch Boisdale in South Uist, the nearest telegraphic station, the transmission would occupy two days by the regular postal boat. One of the curers stated that a letter might be six days, and a telegram three days, in transit from a place on the mainland to Castle Bay; that these delays placed the Barra traders at a great disadvantage when compared with the curers on the east coast, and that they were entitled in common fairness to call on the Government to rectify this inequality.

The prejudice suffered by the Barra traders was illustrated by two examples. Owing to their inability to communicate by telegraph with the Continent, they might miss the foreign market at a critical moment, or sell at a lower price than they might otherwise have obtained. Or again, they might be reduced to inaction on a sudden and unusual take of fish, in consequence of salt and other curing stores running short, a large stock of these commodities not being kept on hand on account of the uncertain demands of the trade, though available on the mainland for transmission at the shortest notice. One of these delegates probably did not exaggerate when he affirmed that, looking to the amount of capital employed, there was no industry in Great Britain of the same importance without the benefits of telegraphic connection, or which was in regard to communications generally so far behind the requirements of the age. The system of postal and telegraphic communication is so complex, and involves so much local consideration, that we cannot pretend to offer detailed suggestions applicable to the whole field of our inquiry.

A comprehensive departmental examination into the wants of the districts referred to should be undertaken. Meanwhile we recommend with confidence, that improved postal service should be provided for the whole of the Long Island—that the telegraphic wire should be carried at once to Castle Bay, to the west and north of Sutherland, to the west and north of Lewis, to the west and north-west of Shetland, to South Ronaldshay, and that one or other of the local steamers should be engaged to call off St Kilda once in every two months in summer, and at least once during winter.

Considerable centres of crofting population are found in localities remote from the public roads, and the residents in such places regard it as a hardship that they are bound to pay rates where they are not sensible of an immediate and visible benefit at their doors. At the Glens, near Portree in Skye, a population of about 200 paying road-money were stated to be without a branch road, or even any tolerable track, and about four miles from the public highway. In this case repeated applications had been made to the local and county trustees, but without effect. At Keose, in Lewis, there are several townships on the south side of Loch Erisort, an inlet of the sea. The district contains about 1700 souls. These people have not a yard of road available for their local use, and they have to go, if they go by land, as they best may, 14 miles round the loch to reach the high road. On the north coast of Applecross an inhabited tract extending for 20 miles possesses no road, though the inhabitants, over 400 in number, are subjected to assessment. Similar cases were brought under our notice in other parts of the country. It is not, of course, contended that populous places, without near access to a public road, are without advantage from the general road system of the country, which must, under all circumstances, render them some indirect or occasional benefit; but the claims of distant and unbefriended localities may be sometimes too long overlooked at the head quarters of local road administration, and an excessive road rate at a neglected place may seem to be, and even be, an unjustifiable burden on poor occupiers. We suggest that the Secretary of State might be provided by law with authority, on petition from the ratepayers, to direct inquiry to be made into cases of this nature, and to call upon the road trust of the county to make branch roads within reasonable periods to such localities, and that he shall be empowered to reduce or suspend the payment of road rates pending the execution of the work prescribed. To meet cases in which the distance from the public road is so small, and the population so scanty, that they cannot reasonably claim a public road, we have elsewhere introduced provision for the formation of township roads by the co-operation of the landlord and the occupier. The powers proposed to be conferred an the Secretary of State would be analogous to those vested in the Court of Session, which, on the petition of the Board of Supervision, enforces the execution of sanitary works in municipalities.

The want of communication by coasting steamers is still felt on some parts of the Highland seaboard. At present there is no regular communication by sea along the coast-line from Scrabster Roads in the north of Caithness to Lochinver on the south-west of Sutherland. The lobster fishermen of Durness have to cart their fish nearly 60 miles to the railway station at Lairg. At Loch Inchard there is a good harbour, and there are good fishing banks off the shore, but no fresh fish can find its way to the market from those parts. During the past winter the lochs of the west and north of Sutherland swarmed with herring, but owing to the want of telegraphic and regular steam communication, salt and barrels were not for a time available, and the fishermen who might, under more favourable circumstances, have commanded remunerative employment, were placed at great disadvantage. The extension and improvement of communication by post and telegraph, and the creation by Government aid of new harbours and landing places, would eventually afford sufficient inducement to the steamboat companies conducting the local traffic of the Highlands and Islands to increase the number of their ports of call.

The question of extended railway communication remains to be considered. This is the principal requirement of the fishing population of the western coast. The railway at present strikes the sea at two points in this quarter, Oban and Strome Ferry; but there is no direct and regular communication between these termini and the Outer Hebrides. Tiree, Barra, and Lewis forward no fresh fish to the southern centres of consumption. During the herring season special steamers are run from Stornoway to Strome Ferry, but white fish from the north and west of Lewis cannot be despatched fresh to market. Fishermen of these parts consequently use turbot, with which banks abound, and which is of value only in a fresh state, as bait for cod and ling, which are chiefly sold as dried fish. The intricate entrance to the harbour at Strome Ferry not being so lighted that its passage can be safely attempted after dark, there must necessarily be considerable interruption to traffic during the long winter nights in so high a latitude. It may easily be conceived that this offers some difficulty to the running of regular steamers between the railway and the remoter island ports, for the occurrence of a storm, delaying the steamboat's arrival till after nightfall, would occasion such a loss of time as entirely to dislocate any advertised arrangements. The proper lighting of Strome Ferry harbour would be of very great advantage, but still more desirable would it be to extend the railway to Kyleakin, some 12 miles beyond its present terminus. The Act for the construction of the railway contemplated that this should be done, but want of funds prevented the realisation of the complete project. A terminus at Kyleakin would be at all times accessible to shipping, and would be available for the Skye traffic without any long sea voyage, while a cheap narrow gauge line through Skye from the opposite shore of Kyleakin Ferry would minimise any disadvantage under which the people thus lie from their insular position. A similar line from the remoter parts of Lewis to Stornoway, with regular steam communication thence to Kyleakin would be of equal benefit to the northern part of the Long Island. The southern part of the Long Island, along with Tiree and Coll, should be connected by a daily service with the Oban Railway. The nearer these remote localities are brought to the great centre of consumption and industry, the more the resources of the districts are developed. It may be reasonably expected, therefore, that the cost of providing improved communication with these outlying islands would in a few years be considerably reduced, owing to the increase in the local traffic which a new and more direct and rapid route is sure to create. We are, however, of opinion that the fishing industry of the Outer Hebrides can never be fully developed until the railway is extended to the sea at some central point on the west of Invernessshire, and daily communication established between the new terminus and the various fishing stations in the outer isles. Last May a scheme was brought before Parliament by a company to carry a line of railway from Inverness by the valley of the Caledonian Canal and Fort-William to Glasgow, crossing the Callander and Oban Railway near Tyndrum. Had this proposal been carried through, a branch line from Fort-William to the sea, near the head of Loch Nevis, could have been constructed. But the scheme was rejected by the Committee of the House of Commons to which it was referred. Other suggestions, for the same object, have from time to time been brought under the consideration of the public in the newspapers.

We are unable, from any evidence submitted to us, to determine what line or scheme should be adopted, or what agency should be employed. The extension of the railway from some point on the present lines to the western sea would involve a branch line of about eighty miles in length. If, however, the railway were brought to Fort-William, the distance w ould be reduced by more one-half. The branch line, at all events in the first instance would not pay interest on the outlay; and if left to the unaided efforts of railway companies, it might be indefinitely postponed, leaving the Highland fisherman, as at present, half idle, and the Lowland artisan imperfectly supplied. Under these circumstances, we are of opinion that Government, acting on the one hand on behalf of a people crippled in their powers by the stubborn features of nature, and, on the other hand, in the interests of an industry of national importance as a source of food supply to the whole community, might step in and grant financial assistance. This aid might be afforded in the form of subsidy to some existing company, or to some company to be formed hereafter. The possible loss to the public exchequer would be small; the link between the toiler of the sea and the toiler of the town would be profitable to both. We need not here seriously discuss, in principle, the question of Government aid to useful enterprise prompted by motives of general concern. The Highlands have often felt the helpful hand of Government in public works. The military roads in the beginning of the eighteenth century, the parliamentary roads in the northern counties at a later date, the Caledonian Canal, were all executed at the charge of Government; and in our own day harbours of refuge are being constructed at a vast cost to the Imperial Treasury at various stations on the British coast. In the remoter parts of the Highlands and Islands it is considered specially desirable that, in the nomination of postmasters and telegraphic officials, persons be selected who are altogether independent of local or political authority and influence. It is but right to state, however, that this matter has not been made the
subject of particular complaint to us.

4. Alleged Grievances.—
In the course of our inquiry, certain alleged grievances in connection with the fishing industry were brought under our notice, which it seems to us ought to be inquired into, and which, if well founded, should be remedied. Thus we were told that the lobster-fishing, which has afforded remunerative employment to many on the west coast, is deteriorating. It appears from the evidence led during the Crab and Lobster Fisheries Inquiry a few years ago, that the law prohibiting the fishing of and lobster lobsters from the first day of June to the first day of September is practically a dead letter; and to the disregard of this law and the capture of undersized fish is attributed the decline in the supply of lobsters. The Commissioners recommended that it be made illegal to capture or sell lobsters under a certain size, and that the Secretary of State be empowered to make regulations for the observance of close time in the several localities. We are of opinion that these recommendations ought to be given effect to, and that the Fishery Board of Scotland should be empowered to enforce them. Beam trawling has not hitherto been practised on the banks of the west and north coast, but the local herring fishermen complain that their inshore and loch fishing are often injured by the Lochfyne fishermen using the trawl net, instead of the drift net, which is alone used in the north. The fishing of Lochfyne has prospered, and hitherto the herring has not forsaken that loch, although the trawl has been almost the only net used for many years. There may be inconvenience, if not loss, in fishing with both kinds of net in a narrow loch, but we believe that the officer having the supervision of the fishing ground for the time being will be able to settle satisfactorily any disputes that may arise in connection with this matter.

Of recent years the herring fishing is prosecuted off the north end of Lewis on the banks fished by the local fishermen for white Ash. The line fishermen complain that their lines are frequently injured, sometimes lost, through the carelessness or recklessness of the herring fishermen. The buoys of the long lines get entangled in the herring net and are dragged from their place, sometimes broken, sometimes, it is alleged, cut adrift. We believe that damage is occasionally done in this way. It is evident, however, that the herring fishermen cannot be precluded from shooting their nets wherever they please in the open sea. In this matter also we would recommend that the officer in charge of the station should be empowered to make inquiry and to settle such cases in a manner which seems to him reasonable and just.

The Lochfyne fishermen sell their fish fresh at so much per box of about a quarter-cran in capacity, this being found to be the most convenient mode for the transfer of the fresh fish from that district to the market. They have represented to us that there is not a standard quarter-cran measure. They desire that such a measure should be sanctioned, and that buyers should be bound in all cases to use it. We are of opinion that this request of the Lochfyne fishermen is reasonable, and that without much trouble or expense it can be complied with. We accordingly recommend that a standard measure of the capacity of a quarter-cran be legalised and supplied to herring buyers.

We were informed at Tarbert that the herring fishing is prosecuted in Lochfyne to some extent on Sunday, and that in consequence both the fishing of Monday and the market for the fresh fish on Tuesday are injured. We would recommend that the law prohibiting fishing on Sunday should be more rigorously enforced in Lochfyne.

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