Prohibition of the Ring Net
In 1851 the Fisheries Board prohibited the use of the Trawl (Ring) Net. The prohibition came on the heels of the final vestiges of the highland clearances. At that time the Clyde Steamer industry was having a growing impact in the area. Unfolding between these two situations the ring net method of fishing was making a mark. This was an emotive time for local fishermen who made a living by catching herring. Some of the land owners responsible for the clearances were now profiting from the successes of the Clyde steamers. Looking at the situation in this context, one has to wonder what the fishermen were thinking. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a highly volatile situation had evolved.
159 years ago a letter (probably delivered by sea by the Clyde steamer service) was published in the Glasgow Herald. It was an eyewitness response to a previous article published in the Glasgow Herald titled Riot at Tarbert, Lochfyne. Transcribed below:
Riot At Tarbert Lochfyne 16th Sept 1859
To the Editor of the Glasgow Herald
“Sir:- In your impression of Monday last, a paragraph appeared headed “riot at Tarbert, Lochfyne,” containing statements which if not althogether false, were, at least, highly exaggerated. In order that your readers may have a plain unadorned account of the said riot, I subjoin the following facts, which, I hope, will find publicity in your coloumns:-
By the Act 14th and 15th Victoria, cap. 26, passed eight years ago, trawling was declared illegal, and various attempts made to suppress it during the two suceeding years signally failed, so that for the last six years no objection being raised against this system of taking herring by any party, the fishermen here considered the Act as it were null.
A few weeks ago, the herring off Tarbert having slacked considerably, a party of trawlers – about sixty men – went up Lochfyne to practise what they and everybody else were accustomed to look upon for so many years as perfectly legal. They had scarcely arrived there when a body of the Lochfyne men, numbering upwards of three hundred, made a dastardly attack upon the trawlers, and endeavoured by force to deprive them of their nets. The trawlers resisted, in self-defence, but considering “discretion being the better part of valour,” they soon after left the loch, and this, I consider, was the most cowardly action they were guilty of. Without commenting farther on this “riot,” a riot committed by men who, according to your columns, have not broken the law, nor have any intention of breaking it, I will merely add, that H.M. gunboat “Jackdaw” was then sent on the coast; that proclamations were then issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Argyllshire, and the Secretary of the Fishery Board, warning parties against taking the law into their own hands; and that then to, the Procurator-Fiscal from Inverary came to Tarbert, precognised parties who had been to Lochfyne, but whether he did not receive sufficient evidence, or whether he wanted the inclination to establish against the Lochfyne men I know not, but that the riot ended there.
The Lochfyne men then memorialised the Board of Fisheries, the result of which was the issuing of another proclamation. “By order of the Board,” prohibiting the use of the trawl net, on penalty of £40 sterling, and forfeiture of net. The “printed notice,” if enforced, would throw upwards if three hundred men out of employment, and soon bring about the destitution of themselves and families; yet this is the “universally called for step,” “the wisdom” of which you hailed with much satisfaction.” In your paper of Monday last we read that, of the five Lochfynehead men who went ashore in Tabert “two were shoved over the quay:” that I flatly deny, and such an assertion as the foregoing ought certainly to be contradicted. “A third man was mercilessly beaten:” so far from that being the case,when the trawlers saw one of their number who was tipsy strike a Lochfyne man, they at once interfered, and prevented all further violence.
“Two have to flee to the hills for their lives.” Two men did go to the hills, but not for fear of their lives. Three Lochfyne men had already gone to their boats, in perfect safety, and comparative quietness, and would we now maltreat two? That would indeed be cowardly.
“The smacks themselves towed out of the harbour and cast adrift.” This is a perfect mistake. Their anchors were raised, but they were not towed out of the harbour, neither were they cast adrift
“Trawling is carried on with as such impunity as heretofore.” That is a gross misrepresentation; no man can make such a statement, and still claim to be ranked as a truth teller.
I feel confident that if these facts had been before, your columns would not appear so one-sided, and trust that you will now do us justice and give them publicity. For their authenticity, I enclose my card, and subscribe myself.”
“Trawlers’ Hive,” Tarbert
16th Sept 1859
The Trust wishes to thank Ian McIntyre of Tarbert for making available this transcript.