STATEMENT by W. ANDERSON SMITH, Esq., on Fisheries.
LEDAIG, ARGYLL, 7th June 1883.
I beg to call the attention of the Crofters' Commission to an important element in the problem of justice to the people and the country, which has not hitherto had sufficient prominence given to it, and which I trust they will investigate.
The wealth of the Western Highlands is in the sea, not on the land. The sea can only be worked from the land. The foreshores are partly claimed by ex adverso proprietors, partly by Government.
In this connection the Government is the most extensive and powerful proprietor in the Highlands; but the value of its property is diminished, and indeed minimised, by difficulty of approach through the property of others.
It is still further reduced in value by its mode of administration.
While it is shut out from the people by prohibitary legal enactments.
A poor man wishing to cultivate—say oysters—must apply for a grant, and lodge £60 in advance,—other costs to follow. So there is no cultivation of oysters, which are disappearing from Loch Roag and Lochs district in Lews—as along the coasts of Skye and elsewhere.
Equally the mussel scalps are being cleared, as a poor man can obtain no security of tenure. So that the haddock fishery of the Minch cannot be supplied with bait.
Crown salmon fisheries are almost invariably advanced in rent according to the success of the tenant in developing and improving them; so there is no attempt at fish culture. The Crown is the most mercenary, and least satisfactory landlord to deal with. Others may be negligent, the Crown is oppressive.
No pier can be erected without a costly Parliamentary bill.
No boat harbour can be initiated without equally expensive measures.
No bridge of consequence can be built without adding to the pressure of imperial business and to the initial cost of the scheme.
No tramway to facilitate transit can be projected without Parliament being applied to.
Any attempt indeed to stimulate marine industries in a poor country where capital is scarce, is met by a demand for a heavy useless expenditure of the capital that is the especial requirement of the locality.
These being facts, what the people require in order to remove their disabilities is :—
1. A simple cheap means of obtaining grants for oyster grounds or mussel scalps, lobster or crab ponds, or other similar undertakings. A small annual payment to cover the cost, as in the French foreshores, confiscation after a certain time to follow non-working.
2. Compensation for improvements effected by the tenant on Crown fishings to be considered in connection with salmon fisheries ; so that fish-culture may be stimulated, and no Government rack-renting allowed,
3. Facilities to be given for the erection of piers, boat harbours, & c , without the necessity of going to Imperial Parliament.
4. The right of settlement at a reasonable cost or rental on the lands so those foreshores that may be granted to fishermen and others, must be imperative. Where a company of bona fide stability, or a body of fishermen, demand certain ground as a standpoint for a harbour, pier, curing houses, & c , or other necessary works in connection with fisheries, such ground should be obtainable for a consideration without imperial legislation in each individual case.
It seems to us reasonable to suggest that similar important and necessary undertakings, by which alone the great wealth of the western seas may be utilised, ought to be capable of arrangement by means of County Boards, composed of practical me n acquainted with the local requirements, who could consider each application on its merits, and adjudge compensation when necessary.
After a lengthened and close acquaintance with the subject, the crofter question in our opinion will be greatly simplified by the freeing of the marine industries of the north and west, and the transfer of half the population of certain districts from pauper crofters into substantial fishermen.
W. ANDERSON SMITH
Author of: Life in the Outer Hebrides; Benderloch, Notes from West Highlands &c. Prize Essayist on Fisheries; Norwich Exhibition, Essay 2; Edinburgh Exhibition, Essay 5; Highlands and Agriculture Society Exhibition, Essay 2; International Fisheries Exhibition, London, 1883 &c. I add the above particulars to show that I am at least acquainted with the subject on which I address the Commission.