HC Deb 11 February 1836 vol 31 cc301-5
Captain Pechell

said, that in pursuance of the notice he had given, to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better protection of the fisheries in England and Wales, he felt it incumbent on him to show the necessity there existed for the measure he proposed, as also to explain the means by which it was intended that the great evil complained of should be remedied; and in so doing, he should hest show his acknowledgment for the kindness with which he was always received by the House by trespassing on its attention as briefly as so important a subject would permit. He would therefore remind the House that owing to the decrease of fish which had been generally complained of in the channel, a Bill was brought in in the year 1819 which was however lost on the third reading; but being renewed in 1822, it passed this House, but was lost in the House of Lords. Ever since that period, continued complaints have been made of the encroachments of the French boats, as well as of their constant aggression on the property of the English fishermen, particularly on the coasts of Kent and Sussex. These foreigners have been in the practice of coining to our shores to obtain the brood of young fish which by the laws of France they were prevented doing on their own side; and as great destruction of the brood and spawn takes place by trawl and ground nets during the breeding season, a Committee was appointed by this House in 1833 to examine into all the grievances of which the fishermen complained; and it was upon the recommendation of that Committee that the Bill he had now the honour to propose was entirely founded. "As far," continued the hon. member, "as regards the preservation of the fish in the bays and shallow waters in certain seasons, that part of the report of the Committee relating to the aggression of the French boats, will I trust be immediately taken up by the government, particularly as these vexations encroachments are of daily occurrence by the boats from Dieppe and Boulogne, which heedless of all remonstrance, drag their trawl nets right across the floating and drift mackerel and herring nets of the fishermen of Brighton and Hastings, doing irreparable damage and inflicting great loss, and in many cases absolutely carrying off the nets of our defenceless fishermen to their own ports. Defenceless they are, because the French boats are compelled by their ordonnances to carry crews of twenty and thirty each, while those of the English boats, never exceed eight or ten." He could assure the House, that if the English boats could meet the French on anything like equal terms, the summary justice which British sailors are wont to inflict would suffice, and no demands for redress would be made to Parliament. As it was, protection had been demanded by the fishery of Brighton and Hastings, which, although it had been refused by one Board of Admiralty, had, he rejoiced to say, been granted by another; and which, he trusted, would always be continued. He should now proceed to explain the principle of the intended Bill, which had for its object the prevention of the destruction of the young brood of fish, it having been proved to the satisfaction of the Committee, by the evidence of Lord Vernon and many others, that it is essentially necessary to restrict the use of trawl and drag nets within limited distances during the breeding season of the fish, because it was ascertained that the young brood resort to the bays and shallows till they are of a sufficient size to take refuge in deeper water; and that by an experiment tried on the coast of Devon by mutual consent of preserving their breeding ground undisturbed from July to September, there was a greater abundance of fish in the ensuing season than had ever been known on that coast. The fishermen were therefore desirous that the restraint which they had thus voluntarily imposed upon their fishing should in future be enforced by law. He should therefore propose that the months of May, June, July, and August, should be declared the fence months, and that during those periods, no trawl or drag net touching the ground should be used within one league of the shore, or in less than ten fathoms water, which depth would enable French boats to fish with advantage near the great headlands without injury to the breeding ground. To accomplish which and other improvements it would be necessary to repeal certain old and most oppressive statutes as to what was deemed to be unsizeable fish. For instance, it was declared, that a brill or turbot should be sixteen inches, soles, plaice, dabs, and he believed maids, should be eight inches, to be measured from the eye to the utmost extremity of the tail, in default of which the offender to be severely whipped. Now, hon. Gentlemen would see that it was high time to get rid of such enactments, the impossibility of putting them in force being manifest, notwithstanding the newly improved yard measure introduced by the noble Lord, the Member for Devon (Lord Ebrington). He should propose to limit the size of the mesh of the nets, which, by not interfering with those delicacies called white bait, would no doubt ensure to him the support of the Cabinet Ministers, as well as of the worthy Aldermen of the City who were Members of that House, It was also necessary that conservators should be appointed. He therefore proposed to choose the conservators from the most intelligent of the class of fishermen, they being the most likely to be interested in preserving the breeding grounds. He named these persons in the first instance, because it should not be said that he was arming the Government with further powers. At the same time it was necessary, in default of obtaining proper persons to serve the office, that the Justices at Quarter Sessions should appoint the officers of the Revenue, who, from being always on the spot, would no doubt be the most efficient persons to perform the duty required. There was one recommendation in the Report of the Committee, that he could not suffer to pass without notice., and which, if the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department would do him the honour to place in his hands, he (Captain Pechell) thought from the experience he had obtained last Session that he could dispose of the question in a summary manner. He alluded to the tithe of fish, which the Committee recommended to be abolished, and which they found was demanded and paid in. Cornwall and Norfolk. He considered that this tax was most burthensome and oppressive to the fishermen; and he trusted that the noble Lord would give his attention to the subject. As he conceived that the Report of the Committee of 1833 was conclusive, he had taken great pains to found the Bill strictly on its recommendation; and as the grievances still continued and many fishermen were driven during the winter months to the parish rates for support, in great part owing to the scarcity of fish in the channel, he confidently relied that the measure he now proposed would have the effect of improving the condition of the fishery generally.

Mr. Wigney

rose to support the Motion of his hon. colleague, which he did with the greatest satisfaction, being aware of the grievances that had been stated, and of the acts of aggression that had been committed on the property of his constituents, by the fishermen of France. There was a petition now lying on the Table from the Directors and Guardians of the Borough of Brighton, praying that some steps might be taken to prevent the destruction of the young brood and spawn of fish, which petition both himself and his gallant colleague had supported. Believing this to be a most necessary measure, and trusting that the Government would prevent the encroachments of foreign boats, he should give his support to the Bill, which he was glad to see was so favourably received by the House.

Mr. Barlow Hoy

also rejoiced at the prospect of the introduction of the measure by the gallant officer; but as it did not appear that any mention was made of giving protection to the oyster fisheries, he wished to call the attention of the gallant Member to the many complaints which were made by the fishermen of Chichester, Emsworth, Havant, and even of Guernsey and Jersey,

Mr. Poulett Thomson

rose to express his approbation of the proposed measures to be introduced by the hon. Member for Brighton; but though he agreed to much of the Report of the Committee of 1833, there were some parts of it which the gallant officer would find more difficulty in accomplishing than perhaps he imagined; and that was, as regarded the interference with the fishing boats of France, which was a subject more fitting for negotiation than legislation.

Captain Pechell

in reply said, although he might be flattered by the supposition that he could manage that most difficult and important question of the oyster fishery, he begged to assure the hon. Member that it was fortunately in the more able hands of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Bonham Carter), who had bestowed vast attention and great labour on that subject. He, Captain Pechell, did not anticipate any difficulty in carrying through the Bill which he hoped now to have permission to bring in, because he had adopted solely that part of the recommendation of the Committee which related to the preservation of the breeding grounds. The other part relating to the foreign boats he left with his Majesty's Ministers, as he had nothing to do with the law of nations more than to express his opinions and sentiments thereon. He therefore relied upon the support of the Government; and he assured hon. Gentlemen that any suggestions and improvements that they might tender to him should receive his best attention; and in order that the best information should be afforded, he would take care to give ample time before the Bill was brought to a second reading.

Leave given.