Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 440–51.

The Herring Harvest

[James G Bertram]




Natural History, Naturalists, Theory, Imagination, Error, Animal Development, Amateurism, Commerce, Industry, Progress

    Reports that the question of the herring harvest has taken on a new urgency because, while George L Leclerc, comte de Buffon once gave a blithe assurance that 'the produce of a male and female herring, if allowed to multiply without check, would in time produce a bulk of fish greater than twenty of our globes', John Cleghorn's recent paper to the British Association has now 'shaken our security in ever-abundant herring harvests'. Unfortunately, 'the natural history' of the fish is 'not well understood even by naturalists', and Thomas Pennant's 'highly-imaginative "theory" of the annual migration of the herring [...] has now been given up as a fable'. (440) At the same time, 'even our practical men' have little knowledge of the favoured habitats of the fish, and much of the available information is derived from 'anecdotes' and 'popular notions' (441). Indeed, 'if we are to believe the fisherman, his harvest is entirely a matter of "luck"', but it is 'this belief in "luck" which is, in a great degree, the cause of our fisher-folk not keeping pace with the times: they are greatly behind in all matters of progress' (443). Although 'science has thrown but little light' on these questions, and 'has found itself beset with serious and perplexing difficulties', the importance of the herring industry is such that they 'demand immediate inquiry' (451).

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