HC Deb 08 June 1899 vol 72 cc661-3

I beg to ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill dealing with undersized fish. Its object is to prevent the destruction of immature fish, and I am sure the House will realise that it is a matter of importance to prevent the destruction of such fish, which has the effect of limiting our food supply. The Bill is based on the Report of the Select Committee on Sea Fisheries. A measure was introduced by us in the House of Lords in 1897, and it passed through that House, but came down to the House of Commons too late to be considered. The present Bill is somewhat similar, and will, I hope, he passed into law. Every year the Fishery Department have been urging on me the great necessity of introducing a Bill on this subject, because of the great injury caused by the destruction of undersized fish which is constantly going on. Similar representations have also been made to me by the representatives of sea fisheries, and by the Fishmongers' Company.


This is a Bill which has been introduced almost every year since I have had the honour of holding a seat in this House, and I feel bound to make one or two remarks with reference to it. I believe this Bill is introduced under an entire misapprehension. I am perfectly convinced that fish in the sea, or even the fringe of them, cannot be touched by anything done by trawlers or lines; but however that may be, what I wish to impress on the House is the great ignorance which prevails as to the habits of fish, even among fishermen. No one can tell, for instance, why the herring come one year and not another. Consequently if this Bill is founded on the assumption that we knots a great deal about fish and their habits, it is a very serious misapprehension indeed. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Sea Fisheries Committee of 1893. That Committee practically reported what have just said, viz., that there was great ignorance with regard to the size of fish. I would ask leave to read a sentence from the Report of the Biological Society, of which the First Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary for the Colonies are vice-presidents, and it is therefore a very important society. On page 239 the Report states: A calm survey of the situation, however shows that the cry concerning the annual diminution of our lisp supply has been dispelled by the institution of statistics; that the alleged destruction of spawn has no basis in fact; that the destruction of immature fish is common to all classes of fishermen, and nowhere is proved to have resulted in the ruin of any sea fishery. I fail to see the basis of the Bill, or any justification for it, either in the Report of the Committee of 1893 or in that of the Biological Society. Our fish supply is increasing, and has increased very largely during the last ten years, both in quantity and value. There is, however, one matter to which I wish to call attention, and that is the increasing importation of foreign fishermen who are trot subject to these restrictions.


Yes, they are in France and elsewhere.


I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He is supposed to have informed my right hon. friend the Member for Thanet that these restrictions would apply to foreign fishermen, but in my opinion what my right hon. friend wanted to know was whether these restrictions were applied to foreign fishermen in their own waters. If they were he would support the Bill, otherwise he would not. I think that is manifestly fair. There is great difficulty in saying what are undersized fish. Fish are of all sizes, and a fish is not undersized because it is small, any more than a Shetland pony is undersized because it is smaller than a shire horse. Our knowledge in regard to these matters is very defective indeed, and it would be a very dangerous thing to legislate without further information. What I suggest is that this matter should be referred to a Select Committee, and if the evidence given before the Committee justifies it, and if the fishermen are found ready to cut their own throats by opposing undersized fish—which I do not admit are undersized at all, because small fish are the very best—then let the Bill be proceeded with. I reserve my opinion of the Bill until I have seen it; but whatever the Bill may be, I hope it will be referred to a Select Committee.


I have no objection to considering the hon. Member's suggestion. Bill to provide against the Destruction of Undersized Fish, ordered to he brought in by Mr. Ritchie.

Bill "to provide against the Destruction of Undersized Fish," presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 229.]