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eye, the utmost vigilance, and some patience are demanded to make up the amount of skill required. You must watch every movement of the fish so as to be ready to relax the line instantaneously when he leaps out of the water, otherwise you may lose him. The principal tact consists in judiciously relaxing and contracting the line, and maintaining your rod in a proper position; by which operations you fatigue and ultimately kill your fish before you can venture to draw him up to a suitable part of the shore to be gaffed and landed by your attendant. This is sometimes a dangerous moment, as salmon will frequently, when apparently quite beaten, make a violent and sudden effort, by leaping out of the water; so that your vigilance must not be suspended till you see the gaff in his
Since writing the preceding chapter an immense improvement has taken place in most of the rivers in England, Scotland, and Wales, under the salutary influence of the several Acts recently passed for their protection. The sportsman will have much better sport than he has hitherto enjoyed, and the public at large will be considerably benefited, as salmon, which has hitherto been an article of luxury for the affluent, will now become one of food for all classes: last year Severn salmon was so abundant in the vicinity of the river that it was sold for 8d. a pound. This fish has often produced 3s. 6d. and 5s., and sometimes more, per lb. in London, and Scotch salmon 3s. If the new laws prove as effective as I expect they will, salmon will be reduced to 6d. a pound when the middle of the season is reached. There was no mystery as to the cause of the decrease of salmon, and there will be no difficulty in effecting its increase, and in having as abundant a supply as the rivers are capable of affording.
'No artificial means are required to resuscitate the stock in those rivers, which have been impoverished by gross abuse; only give the fish fair play, and the rivers will swarm with them; art cannot compete with nature, and it will soon be found, when the rivers are properly protected, that their produce will be so great that the artificial means which have been resorted to for their replenishment will be abandoned as superfluous. There were several causes of the decrease of salmon, all of which the Acts recently passed will, I trust, remove—Firstly, the obstructive as well as destructive nature of the fixed engines for the capture of salmon, in the shape of stake-nets, bagnets, and cruives. Secondly, the indisposition which these fixtures occasioned on the part of the proprietors of the upper parts of the rivers to protect the salmon in the breeding season. Thirdly, the influx of deleterious matter from manufactories, paper-mills, and gas-works, whereby the fish were poisoned and destroyed. This last evil is so great, that its removal must be the first condition on which any reasonable hope of improvement can be based, consequently the law is imperative on this point. Hence, to have our rivers exempt from pollution is the first step towards the regeneration and preservation of salmon, and the next is to clear away all obstructions to the ascent of the fish at all seasons, for the clean fish as well as for the breeding; the third to ensure their protection during the breeding season. The fulfilment of the third condition depends on the second, simply because by the removal of all obstructions the upper proprietors obtain their share of the fish, and consequently have an interest in protecting them during the breeding season; when stake-nets, bag-nets, and cruives were in full force, the upper proprietors, in whose waters the fish were bred, being precluded from the chance of having any clean fish on their return from the salt water, naturally became indifferent as to the protection of the breeding salmon, so that the scarcity of this valuable fish arose more from the indisposition of the upper proprietors to protect the fish in the breeding season, and to save them from destruction by poachers, than from the destructive character of the fixed engines.
Their reply to any charge of neglect, was, 'Why should we protect the breeding salmon when you, lower proprietors, will not allow us to have any clean fish? Why should we breed the fish exclusively for your advantage? Give us our share of the fish, and then we will co-operate with you in protecting them.' The reply and remonstrance were equally natural and reasonable—the lower proprietors surely can capture, by movable engines of various kinds and descriptions, quite as many fish as they are entitled to. Some of these stake-nets which were on the sea coast were three miles in extent, and generally not far distant from the mouth or estuary of some large river, so that the greater part of the clean salmon which were directing their course towards the river for the purpose of ascending it, were as a matter of course intercepted: thus, the bounty of Providence, intended for the benefit of the community at large, was intercepted by one cormorant who frequently possessed nothing beyond what the law calls a prescriptive right, i.e. a right obtained but too frequently by an encroachment on property belonging to the crown, as on all sea coasts that space of land which lies between the ebb and flow of the tide belongs to the crown, consequently, to a certain extent, is public property. When it was first proposed to do away with these fixed engines, the soi-disant proprietors of them were most clamorous for compensation; but, morally speaking, the public, who had for so many years suffered the infliction of a great injury, had a far better claim to compensation; but I regret to admit that the high legal authorities took a different view of the matter, and decided otherwise; so that it would appear that a privilege of this character illegally obtained, if it has been enjoyed without question or interruption for a certain number of years, becomes a prescriptive right. So much for the anomalous condition of our laws.
Some of the proprietors of stake and bag-nets had really legal rights, as they were derived from grants from the crown, but a considerable number of the most clamorous of these cormorants had merely prescriptive rights acquired by encroachments on public property. Excellent arrangements have been made as to the close time in the appointment of water bailiffs and other officers for the protection of the rivers during that season,—this was a most necessary measure, as it was found that large quantities of unclean fish were captured by poachers for the purpose of exportation. The number of boxes of unclean fish destined for consumption in Paris is almost incredible. This abominable traffic, I trust, has now been effectually put a stop to, so that no attempt will be made to resume it.