HC Deb 26 April 1861 vol 162 cc1204-6

said, he would beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade, Whether there is any prospect of inducing the French Government to consent to an extension of the time allowed for the deep-sea oyster fishery in the English Channel? He thought this the proper opportunity for asking the question, because on the following Wednesday a great annual injustice would again take place, and several hundreds of as gallant and skilful mariners as ever risked their lives in assisting a stranded vessel—men who in time of need might do good service to their country at sea—would be thrown out of employment in an arbitrary and unnecessary manner. The facts were simply these:—In 1839 a Convention was made with France, chiefly through the instrumentality of the noble Lord now at the head of the Government. That noble Lord, he understood, prided himself upon it, and justly, for it settled many disputed points between the two countries. Among others the distance which the French fishermen were obliged to keep off the English coast. There were also provisions with regard to the oyster fisheries. These were, of course, intended to apply to the oyster beds in shallow water near the coast, which were the only ones then known. Since then, however, other oyster beds of a different character had been discovered in deep water in mid-channel, to which the regulations were held to apply, and this was the hardship. Because, with regard to those oysters the spawning season did not begin for a month or two later than it did in the shallow water, and what was quite right for the protection of the one was unnecessary for the protection of the other. The fishing for the deep sea oysters was a much more hazardous and difficult operation than that for the others; and in boisterous weather there were several weeks sometimes during which it could not be pursued. So that, after a stormy winter like the last, it frequently occurred that the supply brought into the Shoreham River, the Adur, and other rivers on the south of England was quite inadequate to the demand during the fence months, and this was a very serious thing. No one could mistake the two kinds of oyster who had ever compared those served up at the clubs, for instance, with those sold in stalls in the streets; but few hon. Members knew how great the consumption for the latter was. They were cheap, and a favourite food with the poorer classes. They were sent all over England, and were found at every fair and racecourse, and throughout the manufacturing towns of the north. The Brighton Railway Company cleared many thousand pounds annually by their carriage. The French apparently did not appreciate them, nor did they like the rough work of deep-sea dredging. It should be fully understood that the English and French could only debar each other by arrangement from dredging these beds. They were not in the jurisdiction of either power, and he understood that the Dutch and others fished there with impunity during the fence months. This constituted a peculiar hardship to our fishermen on the south coast. He had presented a memorial to the Board of Trade last April, praying for an extension of time to, at the earliest, the end of May. He had also been with more than one deputation to the President of that Board. Their representations had met with the courtesy and attention always given by the right hon. Gentleman. In July last he (Mr. Cave) had received a communication from the Board of Trade to the effect that Her Majesty's Government intended making strong representations to the Government of France. Their hopes, which had been raised by this, were destroyed by another letter dated at the end of October, which stated that the French Government, having considered the matter, were of opinion that the concession could not he made without danger to the fisheries. They had heard a great deal lately of the liberality of the French Government, and he was not going to question it, but he thought that that Government had been misled by officials, who were perhaps afraid of an increase of trouble from any new arrangement. The French had lately paid great attention to the oyster beds on their own coast, and were probably afraid of depredation, but they ought to watch those beds themselves, and not require our Custom House to assist them by overhauling our fishing-boats. Besides, they could not protect their oyster-beds by merely excluding us from a ground which was open to all other nations. He believed that if the French fairly understood the matter they would no longer insist upon an arrangement which was felt to be a serious grievance on the south coast, and pressed most cruelly upon a large number of our most enterprising and hardy fishermen.


said, that in consequence of representations which had been made to Her Majesty's Government, the Government of France had been invited to consider whether it would be practicable or right to modify some of the provisions of the fishery Convention now in force between the two countries, with a view to allow oyster fishing in the deep-sea during May, June, and July, which were called "fence months." The reply they had received was that the French Government, having carefully examined the matter, had come to the conclusion that it was not advisable, even for the interests of the fishermen themselves to permit such fishing during those months, and that they did not think it would be right to depart from the stipulations of the Convention.