MAYO FISHERIES

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

Along the whole coast are remarkably fine fishing banks: the principal, extending between Innisbofin and Achill, is abundantly supplied with all kinds of white fish, particularly mackarel, gurnet and herring. North of Achill head is a sand-bank stretching to Blacksod bay, affording turbot and other flat fish, in the greatest abundance. Beyond this lies the Inniskealing bank, extending eight leagues to sea: it is usually fished from May to August. The great sun-fish bank, so called from being frequented by the sun-fish or basking shark during spring, is about thirty miles off the coast, and is supposed to be a ridge of elevated submarine land extending from the Blasquets in Kerry to Erris head.

The best season for the fishery is during the last week in April or first in May: the fish come hither from the north, and are seen from Tory island to the Blasquets. In fine weather they shew themselves in the morning and evening, in considerable numbers, and are easily assailable, but at this season the uncertainty of the weather and the heavy swell often baffle the fishers. Should a fine day or two occur, from thirty to forty may be killed; but on the death of a few, the rest retreat suddenly to the south, being warned off, the fishermen say, by the smell of the blood: should any stragglers remain, they are so lean as to be scarcely worth killing. They are taken with a harpoon so constructed as to keep fast hold when it has penetrated the body of the fish. The animal, before it is disturbed, lies quietly on the surface, making no effort to escape till pierced to the quick. Many fish, however, are struck without effect, in which case the spears and line are lost. Indeed, the whole appears to be an unprofitable business: the outfit of the number of boats engaged in it cannot be estimated at less than £2000 in the season, to compensate for which, the value of the fish caught even in a favourable year, has never been above £1500; the loss of time of so many people at an important agricultural season should also be included in the estimate.

The fishing is now chiefly followed by the few decked vessels that can stand out waiting for good weather. The whole fishing trade, with this exception, is carried on in open boats: not a single decked vessel is employed between Killala and Newport, or between Westport and Galway, and but few half-decked. The deficiency is owing partly to the poverty of the district, partly to the want of harbours, without which decked vessels cannot load or unload; and partly from the construction of open boats being most convenient for carrying on the coasting trade in turf, in which those residing on the shores are engaged in the intervals between the fishing seasons: the number of boats both for sailing and rowing is very great. The northern coast of Connaught is scantily supplied with harbours: the principal are those of Killala and its vicinity. The greater part of Killala bay is a good turbot bank; and round fish abound under Kilcummin head and the deep cliffs to the westward; the village of Inniscroan is accounted the best station.

The whole western coast is, however, furnished with numerous bays, inlets, and coves of every description for the reception of the fishing craft. Killery harbour is known to be one of the best fisheries for herring ;but this branch has been much crippled by the restrictions of the fishery laws. Herrings have been known to set in to some of the bays in vast shoals, yet, from the want of salt, they were left to rot on the shore in heaps; and the wretched fisherman, whose little stock had been expended in fitting out his sea equipage, witnessed his own ruin with abundance apparently within his grasp. To obviate this calamity, salt is now stored at Clifden, Westport, and Bellmullet. The white fishery commences in Lent; spiller lines are used from Ash-Wednesday: the bait for cod and haddock is the slug found in the strand: muscles and whilks are unknown, as are crabs and scollops. Great numbers of turbot come into Killala bay in August, appearing to follow the sand eel found in great abundance in the strand.

Mackarel comes in June and July, at first in shoals which refuse the bait and are taken by the seine; but in August they separate and draw near the shore, when they are caught by hand-lines baited with sand eel. The white fish caught at sea are principally cod, haddock, and ling. Pollock is caught at all seasons round the headlands. The deep sea fishing commences in May, when small-fish bait begins to be plentiful: the herring fishery commences in May and continues till August, but further out this fish is found at all seasons and of large size: the winter fishing is carried on from November to Christinas. In spring the in-shore fishers apply themselves to tillage and to the manufacture of kelp. The salmon fisheries are numerous and important: that of Ballina is the best in Ireland except Coleraine. There are also very valuable fisheries at Belclare, Louisburgh, and Killery, where vast quantities of salmon are annually taken, and there are smaller fisheries at Westport, Newport, and Burrishoole.

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