submitted the following Report:
A Full Report of the working of the Fisheries Department prepared for presentation before the first Session of the Second Parliament of the Republic, fell into enemy hands. Some records used in its compilation were destroyed to avoid a like fate.
At the outset, a Fisheries Committee was formed in the early summer of 1919, mainly composed of Deputies from the maritime counties. Its functions were confined to discussions concerning transit and markets. The need of a fixed policy was apparent. In August same year an enquiry on a small scale was held at Howth. Thereat were gathered local and migratory fishermen, and local and migratory fish buyers. The view expressed by all was that the fishing industry was threatened with a period of distress which would seriously affect the people of Ireland. The Irish Seas alone of the Northern European waters had been constantly fished during war time. The North Sea and English Channel and other waters were practically untouched. In the latter area there was not alone the numbers of fish uncaught but also the natural increase, with the result that billions of fish had accumulated in the unfished waters of the war area. The prices obtained by Irish fishermen during the years of conflict could not be maintained when the English, Scotch, Dutch, Belgian, French, German and other fishermen resumed operations on seas filled with fish.
The transit from Ireland to the "Freshing" markets in England was of the poorest description. There were no fish trains as in other countries, and boxes of fish sent to Dublin or foreign markets received little care or attention.
The condition in which Irish fish reached the foreign markets caused buyers to place it in the lowest grade. Delay in transit had much to do with this, but the manner in which the fish was packed was, and is, the main cause. The fish was sent forward by a number of buyers, and there was no attempt made to ensure a standard quality.
Irish pickled mackerel has been placed in a very low grade on the New York market as a result of this haphazard system. It became plainly apparent to all the members of the Fisheries Committee who actively participated in the work that—setting aside the great need of modern boats and gear, of proper fishing piers and landing stages—the urgent need presenting itself was the thorough organisation of the fishermen all around the coast; and the policy of organisation to achieve the greatest success would be the formation of Co-Operative Fishing Societies, with the ultimate aim of establishing an All Ireland Federation of the Fishing Societies, and thereby controlling every detail connected with the industry.
In October same year, a meeting of the Fisheries Committee—summoned to consider the appointment of an Inspector of Fisheries—was raided by enemy forces and a number of the members captured. At a subsequent meeting a number of applicants for Organiserships were interviewed, and none found with the proper qualifications for the position. A Report was sent from this meeting suggesting the formation of a Department of Fisheries to carry out the organisation of Irish fishermen on co-operative lines. The Ministry, to whom the report was submitted, decided to establish a Department of Fisheries, and appointed Seán Etchingham as Director.
It was arranged to engage four organisers. A difficulty presented itself in obtaining the services of men with a knowledge of the work in hand, and also competent in the Irish language. The four engaged were Muiris O Cathain, Dingle, Micheál O Murchadha, Dublin, Seamas Mac Fuinis, Dublin, and R.F. King, Enniscorthy. The latter operated from Fair Head to Wexford Harbour; O Sullivan from Wexford Harbour to Mizen Head; O Cathain from Mizen Head to Erris Head, and Mac Fuinis from Erris Head to Fair Head.
Early in January, 1920, a visit to Arran Islands where the Rev. M. Farragher, P.P., had established a co-operative fishing society, was arranged for, and here Pat Ridge, the Manager of the Society, gave the organisers all the information in his possession. Micheál O Murchadha resigned after a few weeks, and his place was filled by Eoghan O Sullivan, Dingle.
The Dublin Committee having charge of a fund to help the people of Gorumna asked the assistance of the Department in the purchase of a motor-boat. This was given, and, after much investigation, a motor-boat—"The Little Flower"—was bought, and under the direction of R.F. King safely delivered at Gorumna. Ald. Cosgrave, Hon. Sec. Dublin Committee, lent valuable aid.
The policy followed in forming societies was that they be duly registered at Plunkett House, and that the organisers of the latter institutions be made aware of the progress made. Fishing Societies were formed at Baltimore (West Carbery), Ring, Dingle (West Kerry), Gorumna, Kincasslagh, Tory, Courtown, Wicklow, while the organisers visited many other fishing centres including Fethard, Dungarvan, Dunmore, Arklow, Howth, Balbriggan, Clogher Head, Tulins Bay, Killybegs, Burtonport, Magherearty, Dunfanaghy, Downings Bay, etc. The most important of these was the West Carbery Society, and next to it the West Kerry. The former is considered the key of the "freshing" Mackerel fishing. Added to the good sized fleet of local boats, the port is visited by migratory fishermen from almost all the Irish fishing centres and many foreigners.
The difficulty of transit and the lack of ice were main causes contributory to the unsatisfactory conditions existing. The best boats in the local fishing fleet entered the Society, and the steam hawler "Tayside" was purchased to be used as a carrier between the fishing port and the Welsh Coast. This boat did not arrive in time to assist in the spring mackerel fishing of 1920, during which time the new Society was in active operation, and the ordinary rail and sea transit had to be utilized. Losses were sustained, and bad management is attributed the cause; but it is worthy of note that almost every buyer engaged in the business in the spring mackerel fishing off Baltimore in 1920 lost money. Bad prices, loss of consignments through delay in transit, and the slump in the English markets, were the main causes. The "Tayside" was subsequently used as a cargo boat trading between south of Ireland and English ports, and eventually she was lost at sea. But the insurance was recovered. The conditions existing since that period are instrumental in preventing co-operative effort in this and other areas.
The West Kerry Society, the pickled mackerel area, could not, owing to want of finance, start operations on a proper scale. Hereat the entire Dingle peninsula with its numerous fishing centres, was organised in the Society. Curing sheds were erected by voluntary effort, and a large building purchased at Dingle. The question of finance engaged the attention of the Fishery Committee of the Ministry and also a sub-committee of the Industrial Commission, but the amount required— between £16,000 and £20,000—was found a barrier impossible to surmount. The matter had to be postponed.
An Dáil arranged that loans repayable within a term of years at a fixed rate of interest be given to Fishery Societies on a joint and general security of the members.
State assistance will always be necessary to maintain the fishing industry on a proper basis, and, in a measure, State Control is essential. The example of Norway in this particular is, perhaps, the best for Ireland to follow. The organisation of the fishermen into Co-Operative Societies is the first step. The establishment of a Federation of Fishing Societies, the second. This Federation should manage the entire business, and should establish a national brand—a guarantee of quality and quantity. It should introduce new methods of handling and cure, and by this means raise the standard of quality and place Irish caught fish in the forefront of the world's food supplies. Up to the present, conditions prevented the carrying out of such a programme. Even the motor boat provided for the fishermen of Tory was destroyed by the enemy forces.
Fishing conditions all over the world are now in a bad state. The loss of the Russian pickled herring market is a blow to herring fishing off Donegal, Howth, and other centres. The Scotch fishermen were never as hard hit as within the last six months, over 16,000 of them being idle.
Ireland as a whole does not support her fishing industry. The quantity of fish consumed by the people being the smallest in proportion to the population of any sea-washed country in the world.
However, circumstances prevented a thorough extension of the organisation, and all the organisers, with the exception of R.F. King, were dispensed with.
The work of the Department was then directed to the organisation of existing home markets, and an attempt to establish new markets in Irish centres. The complaint of salesmen and buyers in the Dublin Fish Market of the manner in which "bottoms" or trawl fish were sent up for sale was investigated, and the conditions found to be even worse than reported. To meet the situation, a pamphlet has been prepared giving directions in cleaning and gutting the fish, also how to grade and pack. The organiser is paying visits to the different trawling areas, and the pamphlets are being sent to people who will interest themselves in instructing the fishermen.
Owing to the increased cost of transit none but high priced fish can be sent to the Dublin market, and the necessity for establishing local markets for dealing with the cheaper, but none the less valuable food will be recognised.
A circular letter to the Public Boards urging the importance of supporting the fishing industry met with cordial, and in many cases enthusiastic, approval. In any scheme devised to develop the fishing industry, the practical support of our Public Bodies will be found a valuable aid.
The conditions existing at Dingle owing to various causes were reported, and the organiser visited Dingle to investigate. It was found that the prices paid the fishermen were so low that it was impossible for them to continue the work. The buyers explain this by showing that owing to the cutting off of railway facilities, and the slump on the American market, it was impossible for them to buy. It is worthy of note that the fishermen of Dingle were instrumental in saving the people from starvation when the enemy forces blockaded the place by holding up the approaches on the land side. The fishermen carried foodstuffs from other ports into the Dingle area.
The inland fisheries of Ireland were the most prosperous of the present year owing to the scarcity of salmon on the Scotch and English rivers. Poaching, and destruction of immature fish by pests, are the destroying agents the people of Ireland should put down. The inland fishermen, in common with the men engaged in the sea fisheries, are all anxious to be organised, and, given anything like normal conditions, this necessary work would soon be completed.
A bitter fishery dispute in the Dingle area between mackerel fishermen and trawlers was referred to the Department, and, acting for it, the Rev. M. Farragher, P.P. conducted an enquiry. His decision, which satisfied all parties, will form a precedent for the future.
A dispute in the inland fishing area at Killarney is now being considered, and if agreed to, an enquiry will be conducted.