Fisheries of West Cork

The fisheries form the chief industry on the Western Coast. It is a big industry, and gives employment to several thousand people. Almost all the fishermen have plots of land where they grow vegetables and keep a few cows. Fishing is rather a precarious business, especially on the western coast, which is so much exposed to the fierce gales of the Atlantic. But the fishermen manage to live, and, perhaps, as comfortably as those living inland.

The fisheries on the western coast of Ireland were always important, and in ancient times were well known throughout Europe. Vessels from Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, came every year to fish here. We learn from a State paper of 1569 that 600 Spanish vessels sailed that year for Irish Fisheries. An English writer in the reign of James I. gives the following description of Berehaven:

“That which we properly call Berehaven is the sea which entreth between the great island and the maine or country called Beere or O'Sulevan's Country. At the entreence of the harbour, it is not above a musket shot over, I meane from the Castle of Dunboy to the great Island, being entered. The tydes are slack, good ancorage, and convenient places to bring ships on ground, smooth water, five fathoms deepe at low water marke; towards the north ende it groweth much longer, at the least a league over, and of capacite to contain all the ships of Europe.

“The great Island and the maine as aforesaid makes the haven, which Island is seven miles in length, at the south ende whereof it joyneth with the Bay of Bantry; when Dunboy was standing it commanded this spacious and goodly haven which affords no small profit to O'Sulevan Beere whilst his Castle was standing; for the coast yields such abundance of sea-fish as few places in Christendome doe the like, and many ships whereunto at the season of the yeare (I mean at the fishing time) there was such a resort of fishermen of all nations, as most years (although the duties which they paid unto O'Sulevan was very little), yet at the least it was worth unto him five hundred pounds yearly.”

All kinds of fish resort these waters—cod, hake, ling, mackerel, herring, mullet, bream, whiting, etc. The mackerel, however, forms the chief industry. It is salted and cured and forwarded to the American markets. The American market for Irish mackerel opened about 1888. A Mr. Daggott was sent to Europe by an American fish company to find a supply of mackerel for their markets. He was to visit Denmark and other parts, but the present writer happened to meet him, and induced him to settle down in Berehaven. Very soon stations were started all over the coast, and it became a flourishing trade. The American tariff on fish was very heavy, but that is now removed, and it is hoped it will be of great benefit to the fishermen.

There are many improvements that may be effected in regard to fishing and fishermen. Fishermen themselves are their own greatest enemies. It is over fishing that is killing the fishing industry, and to it was due failure in the past. Too many fishermen come to the spot where they hear the fish are plentiful, and remain there until all are taken, very few being left behind. For some years after there are no fish in the place, and then they say the fish have abandoned the locality. It is said fish are most prolific, so they are, but their enemies are numerous and prolific also. The dog-fish and a host of others prey on the mackerel and herrings, and if they were kept in check, many of the latter would be saved. This is a matter worthy of the consideration of our Fishery Boards.

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Early Irish History and Antiquities, and the History of West Cork

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