02-07-12 The Loch Fyne Herring Mystery
An article kindly sent in by Ian Walker.
After something like seven years following the death of my mother, I am still going through some of her old letters and photographs. Recently, I discovered an article from the “Bulletin” newspaper dated Tuesday 12th January 1960 that may be of some interest to you and the readers of the Antler and I have re-typed this up and attached it for your attention.
In addition, I have scanned four black and white photographs that accompanied the above article and some well known local worthies, sadly not all of whom are with us now, but who can be seen going about their daily work. I apologise for the standard of the photos but they have been uplifted from a fifty two year old piece of newsprint!
Although this may not be of interest to you, I was first taken to Carradale as a very young child in 1946 but later as I entered my teens, I spent many an evening out at “the fishing” with some of the men mentioned in the article – in particular Big Bob Galbraith on the Amy Harris. During my teenage years, before our house Heston was built, we stayed in Craigmore on the Quay Brae, the family home of Colin Galbraith, brother of Bob and the father of Marlene, who is of course, married to my brother Alan. A further connection is the fact that my own house here in Cheshire is named after the self same house in Carradale!
After a 17-hour “voyage” with local fishermen, “Bulletin” reporter Malcolm Nicholson and cameraman John Mackay bring you the result of their personal probe into ..…
The Loch Fyne Herring Mystery
What great mystery of the sea has suddenly returned net bursting shoals of herring to Loch Fyne, Argyll, the lovely sea loch whose name for long was synonymous with the finest herring throughout the world?
For many weeks now, the men who fish these waters – almost barren of herring for years – have gone out confident of returning with record–beating catches.
None of the weather-beaten, oilskin-clad fishermen now toiling to reap the silver harvest can advance a hard reason for the phenomenon. They are content it should be so.
“The young men will tell you one thing and the old men will tell you another” said one as he paused for a moment in the cold wet job of unloading the catch. Perhaps the most logical reason for the reappearance of the Loch Fyne herring was offered by Matt McDougall whose bright home overlooks beautiful island dotted Tarbert Bay.
“The fish will go where there’s food,” he suggested quietly adding that in his job as a lobster and white fisherman himself he had noticed recently in the water much of the minute marine life on which herring feed.
But this merely leads to another mystery – where has the herring food been all these lean years? “Yes, you can get back to the old problem – which came first, the hen or the egg?” laughed a seaman. The seaman was a crewman on board one of the three tiny vessels in which we made a 17-hour “voyage” for personal witness of “1000 basket shots.”
“Oh yes, they are quite common nowadays,” said tall, lean Bob Galbraith, of Carradale, skipper of the Amy Harris, explaining that the phrase meant 1000 baskets of herring being brought up with a single casting of the ring net. Changed days for Loch Fyne, where for so many years the fishing fleet had shrunk, a sad accompaniment to the vanishing tricks of the phantom herring. But though we did not see a 1000 basket shot, at least four nets were burst by the sheer weight of the catches on the trip.
Swaying on the roof of the tiny wheelhouse of the Florentine, one of the three boats ”neighbouring” the Amy Harris for the fishing, we had a gull’s eye view of the night’s first shot being gathered from the sea. Twelve gleaming oilskins – the six man crew of the Amy Harris had jumped on board the Florentine for the task – bent over the gunwhale intent in hauling in the 330yd net. Hand over hand the net was thumped over the side – to shake off fish, which were caught in side meshes. The whole scene, the bright yellow oilskins, the flickering silver fish and the sweeping white cloud of fearless gulls, was cut out of the dark night by a revealing lamp on top of the mainmast.
Slowly the net came up until it formed a vast, deep “bag” whose rim just cleared the water – a bag solidly filled with gleaming Loch Fyne herring. Then another of the boats in the quartet sailed up ready to start the job of taking the catch on board. She had been appointed to take the night’s catch back to Tarbert market. That was when the “brailer” – like an absurdly magnified butterfly net – came into play. Guided by hand into the almost solid mass of herring, it was raised by power until, looking like a giant, sparkling Christmas stocking, it poured its treasures into the hold. Many times the operation was repeated, to the accompaniment of a hail of good-natured sallies between the crews.
When all the fish were on board, the little boats separated again, while on board the Florentine the task of cleaning the ice-cold net and getting ready for the next cast went on. After that, a welcome break below in the snug fo’c’sle, heated by a coal- burning stove, gave the fishermen a chance to chat. “It can be a hard life when the weather’s nasty,” said the Florentine’s skipper, 26 year-old John MacConnachie, “but I like it – wouldn’t change it.”
For the scientific explanation of the “herring home-coming” an approach was made to the Scottish Home Department’s Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen. “I don’t know whether it is quite correct to refer to the herring’s return to Loch Fyne,” said the expert. “This was one of the biggest “brood” years for herring everywhere and the fact that they’ve appeared in that area was not entirely unexpected,” he explained. The expert added that as the herring which were appearing in such numbers were almost certainly juvenile fish there was no guarantee that they would remain once they had matured.
Thanks to Ian for this article which he was originally sending to the "The Antler"but due to Geoff's ongoing recovery passed this onto the Goat.
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