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Part III: The Rationing System and the American Embargo   (cont'd.)

Chapter 23: Neutral Fisheries

The markets of the neutral fishing trade. – The fisheries and international law. – The first deliberations of the restriction of enemy supplies department, and the Foreign Office. – Why the Admiralty desired to act violently; orders are given to bring in the Netherlands fishing fleet. – The trawler owners decide to negotiate. – The quantities of fish deflected by the agreements. – The Norwegian fishing catch. – The Danish fishing catch.

While these negotiations about agricultural exports were being conducted, the Foreign Office authorities were also endeavouring to regulate another great neutral industry, the fisheries; but, before reviewing the course of this second operation, it will be as well to make a brief preliminary survey both of the ends proposed and of the industry itself.

i) The markets of the neutral fishing trade

It must first be made quite clear that imports of neutral fish were tolerably well sustained, during the year 1915, so that we could not argue that the trade was being diverted for the advantage of an enemy. The import figures for the year 1915 are decisive on this point:

  • The Netherlands increased their exports of fish to us from 186,880 cwts. (1913) to 315,029 cwts. (1915);
  • the Norwegians increased their exports of fish to us from 1,161,866 cwts. (1913) to 1,420,472 cwts.;
  • the Danes also increased their deliveries of fish from 124,173 cwts. to 163,861 cwts.;
  • as against this, the Swedish exports of fish fell away to almost nothing - 3,562 cwts. as against 125,291 cwts.

From this, it will at once be seen that our demand for a readjustment was not grounded in such good equity as our demands in the matter of domestic produce; the two were pursued for the same end: to aggravate the economic distresses of the enemy, but they were quite distinct; the one was a defence, the other an attack. It must be remembered, from the outset, therefore that the operation undertaken was to deflect this fishing trade into new channels, and not merely to restore the old course of trade. As all well established movements of trade have a strong momentum to continue in the directions given to them by custom, this great diversion was, in itself, difficult to effect; there were other difficulties, which can only be appreciated by making a brief survey of the industry.

The fish that are most sold and eaten in Europe: cod, plaice, halibut, soles, and herring, may be found in any waters that are within the hundred fathom line; in consequence of which the European ledge, that is, the North sea, the Channel, the Irish sea, and the waters to the west of Ireland are potential fishing grounds. Beyond this ledge, there are fisheries on the Iceland bank, and on the bank round Rockall. For reasons which have never been satisfactorily explained, certain spots on this great ledge yield more fish than others: the ledge is therefore divided into what fishermen call grounds. The North sea is the most important of these, and the Dogger bank area is the most important ground in it; indeed their great importance to fishermen of all nations can at once be appreciated by glancing at the chart. Waters and coastlines that are frequented by overseas navigators are easily [480] distinguishable from waters frequented by fishermen, in that, whereas overseas men only give place names to landmarks that are useful and distinctive, or to shoals that are dangerous, fishermen habitually christen the bottom of the sea. Now the North sea chart is a great register of place names, which the fishermen have given to the holes or grounds where they fish: names descriptive of the nature of the bottom, such as the Outer Silver pit or the Red sands; low German names that record the contour of the bottom, such as the Boompjes or the Hoofden; names that record the depths on the lines and trawls, such as the Long forties and the Broad fourteens; and names that record the nature of the catch, such as the Ling bank.

Although, by the law of nations, only territorial waters and national bays and gulfs are reserved for the fishermen of particular nations, these fishing grounds have been divided, by custom, into grounds where the fishing craft of one nation predominate, and grounds which they all frequent alike. There are no recognised boundaries to these grounds; and they should more properly be called zones of predominance. In the year 1916, the zones were roughly these. The Irish sea - which is a great fishing ground for plaice and sole - was very little frequented by foreign fishermen; and English and Scotch fishermen far outnumbered all others on the western side of the North sea, and in the Scots fisheries; the last is a vague name for the waters to the east of Kincardineshire, Aberdeen, and the Moray firth. All along the southern and eastern shores of the North sea, where the banks are rich in plaice and soles, the Dutch, low German, and Danish fishermen predominated; the Norwegians were strongest on their own coast, where there are good herring grounds. The Iceland bank, and the central part of the North sea were, however, frequented by fishermen of any country that had the industrial equipment necessary for building boats that could take the long voyages, and stand the tremendous buffetings endured during the winter fishing.

The neutral fishing fleets of Europe were therefore partly inside, and partly outside, the zones of water controlled by our naval forces. The Norwegian fisheries were out of our reach: we had tried and failed to intercept the Narvik ore traffic, and the coastal fishing boats were equally inaccessible. The same was true for the Dutch, Danish and German sole fisheries. Neutral fishing boats on the Dogger bank were, however, accessible to the forces stationed at Rosyth and the Humber; while the fishing fleets on the Iceland banks were at our discretion, as they passed through the patrol lines that were watched by the tenth cruiser squadron; after that they transversed the Pentland firth, which, being near the grand fleet's base, was very closely watched by our outpost forces. A few words of additional explanation should be given about the herring fisheries.

As it has been known for centuries that herring are caught earlier in the northern, than in the southern, waters of Europe, it was once imagined that the herrings made an annual migration from the Arctic circle to the warmer waters farther south. This is now known to be incorrect; and the explanation thought most probable is that European waters are frequented by several races of herring, which make annual movements in search of food. These movements are fairly regular, but they are made at very different seasons; off Northumberland, for instance, shoals of herring appear in August and September; off Yarmouth, the principal fishery begins in October; off the Sussex coast, the big catches are made in November and December; while the Galway fishermen begin fishing in September. There are similar peculiarities for every herring ground in Europe. These irregular, spasmodic, deliveries of the herring catch was another complication that obstructed an ordered regulation of the trade; and it so happened that the herring fishery was the most important to Germany, in that enormous quantities of herring are salted and otherwise preserved, and so, can be kept as food for a long time. The same does not hold for the plaice and sole fisheries.

ii) The fisheries and international law

There was a further difficulty, which was that the law relating to fisheries only settled matters that had been deemed important in an earlier age, and was not a law that regulated a great modern industry. The point upon which all jurists were agreed was that fishing in territorial waters was only allowed to fishermen of the nation to whom the territorial waters belonged; beyond this, the law was vague and doubtful, but certain tendencies and customs had been recognised. The most important of these was an ancient custom, whereby fishing craft were immune from capture. This custom had, at first, been enforced by special maritime ordinances, issued by the sovereigns of nations at war: in 1521 Francis I, and Charles V proclaimed une trêve pêcheresse; the same was done by Louis XIV and the States-General in 1675, and 1692; similar ordinances were issued during the following century. These first exemptions appear to have been general; but jurists of the nineteenth century made a distinction between la pêche côtiêre and la grande pêche, and maintained that only the first was immune. The difference between the two was never properly established; but it would seem as though the distinction, which would have been thought proper if the matter had been closely investigated, would have been that all trawlers, drifters, and line fishermen should be considered coastal, and all whale and seal fisheries oceanic. The expression coastal was not always used; frequently the distinction made was between la petite and la grande pêche.1

It cannot, however, be said that this exemption from capture was a recognised rule of law at the beginning of the nineteenth century; Lord Stowell called it a rule of comity only and not of legal decision, and Ortolan admitted that it was no more than a practice for which good precedents could be given. The British authorities were, moreover, rather contemptuous of the practice, for the Russian coast fisheries were systematically devastated during the Crimean war. In 1900, however, the American courts recognised it as an obligatory practice in a very learned and elaborately argued judgment on two Spanish fishing vessels. The American court ruled that:

      This review of precedents and authorities on the subject appears to us abundantly to demonstrate, that, at the present day, by the general consent of the civilised nations of the world, and independently of any express treaty or other public act, it is an established rule of international law, founded on considerations to a poor and industrious order of men, and of the mutual convenience of belligerent states, that coast fishing vessels, with their implements, supplies, cargoes and crews, unarmed and honestly pursuing their peaceful calling of catching and bringing in fish are exempt from capture as prize of war.2

As for the distinction between coastal and high sea fisheries, or, as the continental jurists styled them la grande and petite pêche, the court held that:

      The exemption does not extend to ships or vessels employed on the high seas in taking whales, seals or cod or other fish which are not brought fresh to market, but are salted or otherwise cured and made a regular article of commerce.

If this were the proper distinction, then whalers, codding trawlers, herring drifters, and herring smacks were capturable as prize, but all vessels engaged in the haddock, sole, mackerel, and plaice fisheries were immune, as these fish are sold fresh. The definition was, however, vague and unsatisfactory: the expression high seas was loosely used, and it may be asked whether a catch of fish is ever anything but a regular article of commerce. The Japanese courts recognised, in a general way, that coastal fisherman are immune from capture, but the judgments given by them did nothing to make the doubtful distinction between coastal and oceanic fisheries clearer: the Russian ships Mikhail and Alexander, which the Japanese courts condemned, were whalers; and, as has been shown, all writers agreed that whaling was a branch of the great fisheries.3

[482] The second Hague conference incorporated both the settled and the doubtful points of the law into the eleventh convention: Les bateaux exclusivement affectés à la pêche côtière, ou à des services de petite navigation locale, sont exempts de capture ainsi que leurs engins, agrès, apparaux, et chargements. Cette exemption cesse de leur être applicable dès qu'ils participent d'une façon quelconque aux hostilités. The term coast fisheries was not defined; it was admitted, by the delegates that it did not mean fishing in territorial waters, indeed, they agreed that the coast need not be the coast of the fishermen's own country (from which it is clear that the length of the fishing voyage was by them considered no test), but they could find no definition to which everyone would agree, and so left the matter unsettled. Finally, in October, 1914, Sir Samuel Evans condemned a German herring trawler, the Berlin, as a vessel not entitled to the immunities of coastal fishermen, by reason of her size, equipment and voyage. As the Berlin was only 110 tons burden, and as she had been fishing in the northern part of the North sea, this judgment seems severe. If it had ever been appealed against, and the varying opinions as to what was coastal fishing laid carefully before the appeal court, good reasons could have been given why the decision should have been reversed.

By the strict letter of the law, therefore, a certain, undefined, section of an enemy's fishing fleet, and all neutral fishing boats, were immune from capture, unless they assisted some military operation, or attempted to run a blockade. This law was, however, quite insufficient for the following reasons. In the first place, the immunities first granted to fishermen had been given for reasons that were no longer good: the trêves pêcheresses, and all the exemptions derived from them, had been proclaimed, because fishermen were judged to be poor, harmless folk, whose occupations neither assisted, nor retarded, any warlike operation; the older law is, indeed, full of commiserative expressions.4 But in 1916 the fisheries of Europe were largely controlled by joint stock companies; the whole catch was valued at several millions of pounds, and was as important a contribution to the food supplies of Europe as Rumanian corn, or the meats imported from America. The equipment and plant of the fishing industries was, probably, as valuable as that of any other great industry. Good reasons could be given, therefore, why the modern fishing industry should stand on the same footing as any other industry, and why the ordinary law of contraband, enemy trade, and enemy property, should be applied against the produce, equipment, and plant of the industry. If this were admitted, then fish, which is so important to the national diet of Europe, would certainly be judged contraband; indeed the Netherlands government had already admitted this to be so in a government order. Finally, if the doctrine of derivative contraband were good law (we had several times asserted this, but no judicial award had then been given upon it), then, it was certainly applicable against the herring and cod fisheries; for half a million gallons of oil were then being extracted from the Norwegian herring catch alone, and all oils used in industry are clearly contraband.5 The existing law gave no guidance whatever upon these doubtful points.

But even if this were admitted, in a general way, it still remained to be settled how tests of destination, so important in the law of contraband, were to be applied against cargoes of fish; for fishing boats carry none of the documents that supply evidence of destination. There is no such thing as a fishing boat's manifest; fishing skippers never keep a log book; they rarely consult a chart; and if a chart is brought up from below and examined, in times of great stress, the ship's position and course are never marked on it. There is certainly a presumption that the catch of a trawler, [483] or a drifter, belonging to a joint stock company will be taken to the auction markets, where the company's agents are situated, Grimsby, Aberdeen, or Ymuiden, and so on; but there is no certainty about it. Very few European countries put a tariff on fish caught by foreigners (Germany and Scandinavia imposed none); so that there is nothing to prevent a trawler captain from landing his catch at whatever auction market lies nearest to him, when his holds are full. In actual practice fishermen's habits are regular; and it is most improbable that (say) an Ymuiden trawler will return to any place but Ymuiden; but certain proof of a particular destination would be difficult to collect, if fishing masters determined to disguise it.

iii) The first deliberations of the restriction of enemy supplies department, and the Foreign Office

As has been explained, Mr. Leverton Harris and his staff were charged with the duty of turning the produce of this great industry from the German to the British market, and it would be interesting to know, with more particularity than can now be discovered, what were their deliberations upon the difficulties ahead of them. The documentary records of this branch are unfortunately, not very explicit, for Mr. Leverton Harris, though the most laborious and conscientious of men, disliked the habit of getting written opinions, and preferred rather to assemble his staff around him, and to issue his directions by word of mouth. Nevertheless, despite the weaknesses of the written records, the following points seem well established. During the first weeks of the year, Mr. Leverton Harris assembled a few experts who were styled the fish committee, and they advised Mr. Leverton Harris that the Norwegian catch could be bought. No particular recommendation was made with regard to the Dutch catch; the subject was, however, closely examined, during the first months of the year, and from these enquiries it appeared, that the Netherlands government had only put fish upon their list of prohibited exports to ensure that a certain quantity was kept on the domestic market, and that they licensed a very large export. The Netherlands trust refused to accept consignment of fish in consequence. It was also clear, that, although the Netherlands were likely to maintain their exports of fish to us at a good figure, most of the herring catch would go to Germany. Finally, a long and exhaustive enquiry by the British consuls proved, that only a small proportion of the Dutch herring fleet, about a third, fished in waters that were controlled by our naval forces. This section of the Dutch fishing fleet was, however, the most valuable and the best organised, and consisted of about two hundred steam trawlers and drifters, which worked no [sic] the Dogger bank. The larger fleet of luggers and smacks worked closer to the coast. It transpired, moreover, that we had a pretext, though not a good one, for seizing and detaining some of the Dutch vessels on the Dogger.

It has been explained, that, when the Germans first sent out minelaying expeditions, the commander-in-chief and the high naval command at Whitehall decided that these minefields were being laid, not by Germans, but by neutrals working in German pay, and had proclaimed the North sea a closed area in consequence. Among the proclamations issued when this suspicion was strongest was a proclamation, that all neutral fishermen found in an immense area on the western side of the North sea would be suspected of minelaying. It had since been universally acknowledged by naval experts that the German minefields had been laid by German naval minelayers; but the proclamation had not been withdrawn, so that we still claimed the right to inspect and search vessels inside a zone of water much frequented by fishermen. As it was not disguised that the Dutch herring trawlers intended to fish in this area, it was suggested, in some quarters, that we should avail ourselves of this proclamation, arrest Dutch fishing vessels on the charge of minelaying, and only release them, after they had agreed to deliver their catch in an allied harbour.

[484] Nothing definite was decided when these first enquiries were considered; but the Foreign Office thought it would be as well to go cautiously. Mr. Hurst advised that pressure be exerted by refusing licences for fishing gear, cutch, cork, and salt, all which the Dutchmen bought on the British market. He also suggested that one or two Dutch trawlers should be arrested and placed in the prize court, in order that the law relating to neutral fisheries should be better settled. Lord Robert Cecil was, however, disinclined to sanction even this experiment.

      I doubt the expediency of this proposal (he wrote), the fish would, probably not be condemned and the attempt to stretch our belligerent rights to this extent would excite universal reprobation. Moreover, I should doubt whether it would be practically possible to capture more than a very small fraction of the boats, and even that operation would be attended, I should think, with considerable risk. If pressure is necessary let it be by oil, salt, etc. But perhaps it will not be necessary.

In this the Admiralty agreed; for when the papers were sent to their legal advisers they reported:

      That they knew of no legal authority for the issue of an order prohibiting fishing on the high seas, or for imposing any penalties for the infraction of such an order.

[A]part from this, the Admiralty doubted whether a neutral fishing catch, bound to a neutral port, would be condemned.

These decisions were given during March; but they were all reversed early in June for reasons that are not very easy to understand. The following points are however clear. The Dutch herring fleet began to sail for the outer grounds in the middle of May; early in June, Mr. Leverton Harris and Sir Henry Rew went to the Hague, and, after making enquiries that seem hasty if they are compared to those previously undertaken, recommended that as many Dutch fishing boats as could be seized in the prohibited areas should be brought in. They recommended this, because the Germans were detaining Dutch vessels found in the prohibited areas in the Heligoland bight, and because the vice-consul at Ymuiden was convinced it could be proved that all, or nearly all, the trawlers likely to be brought in were executing a standing contract for the Einkauffsgesellschaft [sic]. When first considered, these proposals only revived the doubts expressed at the previous enquiry; nevertheless the operation was sanctioned, for reasons not easy to appreciate. It may be assumed, however, that the following circumstances were influential.

iv) Why the Admiralty desired to act violently; orders are given to bring in the Netherlands fishing fleet

First, it must be remembered, that, while these matters were in agitation, the battle of Jutland was fought. Now, as what had really occurred was not well understood until long after, and as Admiral Jellicoe's estimate of the losses inflicted upon the enemy were accepted as accurate, the naval high command were quite honestly persuaded that our forces had been victorious. On 7th June, therefore, the naval staff prepared a paper which opened thus:

      The fleet has just fought a successful action in the North sea which has resulted in the relative strength of the two navies being altered in our favour, and it would appear very desirable that advantage should be taken of this to strengthen our blockade.
      Such a strengthening of the blockade, if it is to have its maximum result, must be applied immediately, and must be of sufficiently drastic nature to draw the attention of neutrals to the new conditions resulting from the naval battle, and to our determination to use our naval supremacy to the full. The experience of the war has shown that action which is at once decided, and easy to understand, produces the best result.
      It is the Admiralty who are primarily responsible in the eyes of the country for insisting that the advantages won in the recent battle are made full use of; and it is suggested that the Admiralty should press for instant action by the cabinet as regards the further restriction of Germany's imports and exports through neutral countries....

[485] After making this impressive exordium, the naval staff had little of importance to propose; and the Netherlands fishing fleet was certainly not mentioned in their list of suggestions for tightening the blockade (the word was then much used); the paper is, however, important as an indication that the naval authorities were, at the moment, anxious to do something violent and severe.

On 12th June, therefore, the Admiralty invited the Foreign Office to concur in an order which they proposed to issue: that all Netherlands vessels found in the prohibited area should be brought in, and detained for a week or a fortnight. The Foreign Office authorities were still doubtful, and asked Mr. Leverton Harris for his opinion upon this. He answered: That he saw no objection; that he was anxious that all fish for the Netherlands should be treated as conditional contraband; and that he also thought it important that nothing should be done which should be construed as a permission to fish outside the prohibited area. This was not a satisfactory answer and the Foreign Office did not concur in the Admiralty's proposals, until Mr. Leverton Harris returned from the Hague; it may be assumed, therefore, that he elaborated his reply in conversation with Sir Eyre Crowe and Lord Robert Cecil. On 21st June, at all events, the Foreign Office answered that they concurred in what the Admiralty proposed, but it seems certain that, even then, neither department properly understood what the other intended.

From the enquiries first undertaken, it had transpired, that, if the general law of contraband and enemy destination were applicable to the modern fishing industry, then, some branches of the trade were more subject to it than others. A strong case could be made out against a cargo of salted herrings, if it was ready for immediate transhipment, and if it was found in a trawler on her home voyage; because our agents had discovered that this part of the herring catch was not sold at open auction, but was virtually the property of the German purchasing agency from the moment it was landed. As for the general catch, it could only be said, that, as the Netherlands government reserved only a quarter of it for home consumption, so, there was a strong presumption that three quarters of the catch was being sent to the enemy. Particular cargoes cannot, however, be condemned on these general presumptions. Now as our consuls and agents had very carefully ascertained what companies worked on behalf of the German purchasing agency, and what vessels belonged to other companies, the Foreign Office anticipated that a few trawlers and drifters, against whom a strong case could be set up, would be brought in, and that their condemnation in the prize courts would be made a starting point. The Admiralty, on the other hand, had conceived of the operation as a great drive or battue, and as such it was executed. The Dutch fishermen were brought in, from wherever they could be found, and, by the middle of July, sixty-five vessels were being held in British harbours.

The Foreign Office had agreed to a proposal which was worded: All vessels found west of the line referred to shall be sent into port, and detained for enquiries, for a period of from seven to fourteen days, but they had not anticipated that this would be done so indiscriminately; for, even when some thirty or forty trawlers were being held, the contraband department was still enquiring whether the Admiralty had detained them for fishing in the prohibited area, or for carrying cargoes with an enemy destination. When the Foreign Office authorities learned, to their great surprise, that trawlers outward and inward bound, trawlers with catches on board, and trawlers almost empty had all alike been seized, they recognised that nothing could be done in a legal way. Instructions were sent subsequently that some homeward bound trawlers with salted herrings on board should be seized and sent in, but, by then, the original plan had miscarried. If a few trawlers, against whose cargoes a condemnation could have been obtained, had been selected for arrest, brought in, and a judgment given against them, then, the owner of every neutral fishing boat in the North sea would have been uncertain whether the law of [486] contraband and blockade might not at any instant be applied against his property and the entire industry, being thus put in terror, might have offered a general composition. These wholesale arrests did the opposite by shewing the weakness of our case. The prize court might, it is true, have condemned some of the cargoes; but it would have been necessary to select them carefully, and the Dutch owners, who at once engaged the best counsel in England, would have understood why the selection was made, and how large a proportion of the arrested fleet could refuse all composition, and press for damages with good chances of success.

v) The trawler owners decide to negotiate

If the trawler owners had stood firm, it seems hardly doubtful that our authorities would have been compelled to release their ships, and to abandon the experiment. It must, however, be added in justice, that, although Mr. Leverton Harris had given little guidance as to the best pretext on which these fishing boats should be seized, he had never wavered, that, if they were seized and held, on any pretext at all, then, the owners would treat with us. In this he proved quite correct; for when Sir Eyre Crowe and Mr. Hurst's uncertainties were greatest, the minister at the Hague reported that two delegations - one representing the Ymuiden trawlers, the other representing the herring fleet - were leaving for London.

The first meeting was held on 21st July, when Mr. Leverton Harris and his experts proposed: (i) that all the Dutch fleet should be laid up, with the exception only of some two hundred vessels, which he estimated would supply the home market; and (ii) that we should pay the bare, overhead charges of the vessels laid up, which we estimated at £250,000. There is no reason to doubt that the costs incurred by owners who lay up a vessel had been conscientiously estimated; but those who had imagined that the Dutchmen would agree to these proposals, or anything similar, were very much deceived; for the Hollanders at once refused the offer, saying that they would be ill received in their country, if they made an agreement which indemnified them against loss, but which threw some ten thousand barrel makers, coopers, netmakers, sailmakers, salters, and wharfmen out of work. The Hollanders well understood that we had acted hastily; for their British counsel informed them that the prize court would be reluctant to condemn their cargoes; and they knew that only a small portion of their fleet was exposed to our acts of duress. They grasped, therefore, that, although they might have to come to a composition about the two hundred trawlers that plied their trade off the British coasts, and on the Iceland banks, they need give no assurances whatever about the remaining thousand, which they knew to be out of our reach.

As the Hollanders of both delegations were quite stiff and unyielding, and would only agree to send a certain part of their catch to Great Britain, our negotiators were compelled to abandon their plans for stopping the German supply, and to bargain for the biggest proportion of the catch that could be obtained. Two separate agreements were signed. By the agreement with the Ymuiden trawler owners it was stipulated: that thirty-five per cent. of the total catch should be sold to Great Britain, if the British government desired to acquire it; that Dutch trawlers on the Iceland grounds (there were only ten of these) should land their catch at a British harbour, and that the necessary port facilities should be given them; that the Dutch owners should use their best endeavours to bring Dutch steam trawlers not of the Ymuiden fleet within the terms of the agreement; and, finally, that the British government should grant export licences for coal and fishing gear to the Ymuiden fleet. The agreement with the owners of the herring fleet was more complicated. The principal stipulation was that, after the 1st September, only twenty per cent. of the catch should be exported, and that the remainder should be given special treatment. First the British government were allowed to buy twenty per cent. of the catch, at the price paid by the Netherlands authorities; [487] secondly, the British government were to pay a bonus on all parts of the catch sent to a destination approved by them; and, thirdly, the British government were to buy up whatever of the balance had not been disposed of before the next spring fishery.

vi) The quantities of fish deflected by the agreements

These were the agreements signed with the only fishing fleets that operated within waters controlled by our naval forces, and it will at once be understood that what was actually achieved was far less than what had been hoped for. In a paper presented late in June, Mr. Leverton Harris estimated that the Dutch owners would be so overawed by the detentions and seizures, and so terrified lest all their cargoes should be condemned as contraband with an enemy destination, that they would agree to lay up their fleet, after which they would have no more fish to sell to German buyers. Mr. Leverton Harris therefore embarked upon the operation confident that it would deprive the Germans of about half a million barrels of herrings. It is true the Dutch deliveries to Germany were reduced during the year, but nothing comparable to the end proposed was ever effected. Dr. Anton gives the following figures:6

Salted and pickled

1914    1915    1916 1914    1915    1916

Tons Tons Tons Tons Tons Tons
Hamburg 646 28 54
Prussia 57,817 106,948 50,390 2,126 2,740 12,896

There was thus a decrease of some fifty-six thousand tons in one class of export, and an increase of ten thousand in another. No variation in German imports for the following year can be attributed to these agreements; for, when the spring fishery began, submarine war was raging, and this brought every maritime industry into confusion.

If, however, it can be claimed, that, by these high proceedings we reduced German fish imports from Holland by forty thousand tons, then, it must be added that we paid a high price for a small achievement. There was a general hardening against us in all neutral countries during the course of the year, which this operation must assuredly have stimulated; for the resolutions passed by the various unions and societies, who considered the matter, were resolutions expressive of a genuine indignation, and they were so numerous that the Netherlands government were compelled to take note of them, and to intervene. They also were angry and aggrieved, for our minister reported that he had not known them so roused since the Tubantia had been torpedoed. Indeed, it is impossible to read the reports sent in by our minister, when the excitement in Holland was highest, without admitting that the whole operation alienated sympathies that should have been deemed more valuable than a few trainloads of pickled herrings.

vii) The Norwegian fishing catch

The Norwegian herring catch comes into the market in January, February and March and again in mid-summer and autumn. Both catches were bought, and the two purchasing operations were matters of pure business, which involved little negotiation beyond haggling for a price. The Board of Trade arranged that the first [488] catch should be bought by M. Martens, a Norwegian agent who had previously been employed by the German Einkauffsgesellschaft [sic]. This was done successfully; but as it was done at open auction, the price paid was heavy: a sum of rather over eleven million pounds was paid for 185,200 metric tons of fish. The fish thus bought in was sold to approved buyers and sent to approved destinations under consular supervision. The sales only realised £5,695,000.

In order to avoid the inconvenience of purchasing the second catch at so great a loss, Mr. Leverton Harris visited Norway in July, and arranged that the Norwegian government should prohibit the export of fish and fish products, and that we should have an option on the stock that would accumulate in the country. Under this second scheme, we bought 329,000 metric tons of fish at a price of £13,790,000; by the whole operation we successfully diverted about half a million tons of fish from the German market, at a cost of ten million pounds. These purchases were much criticised, because they were admittedly costly. A current of trade cannot, however, be turned from its natural channel without enormous expense, and if this ten million pounds, which, after all, purchased us a sensible aggravation of German distress, be compared with the blood and treasure expended on the minor operations of modern warfare (improving trench lines, flattening little salients and the like) it cannot fairly be said that the operation was extravagant or ill conceived. The strongest objection was that it had nasty political consequences. The German government considered that the Norwegian government became party to an agreement that deflected trade to Germany's disadvantage, and at once ordered severe reprisals. The Norwegians suffered much by this retaliation, and the Norwegian government being, thereafter, very fearful of operating or enforcing any agreement with us, became difficult to deal with.7

viii) The Danish fishing catch

The Danish North sea fishermen do not make long voyages to the Iceland banks, like the British, the Norwegians, the Dutch, and the French, but follow their trade in the shallow waters to the west of Jutland and Schleswig. As the herring swarms far later in the southern part of the North sea than it does off the Norwegian and Iceland coasts, the greater part of the Danish catch is landed in the late summer and the early autumn. For some reason that is difficult to explain, but which may be that the Danish herring catch was not thought of until it was being landed on the quays, we did not attempt to regulate this traffic until late in the year, when we asked that the export of fish should be forbidden, but that we should be allowed to purchase on the Danish market. There were, however, good reasons why this first proposal was not pressed. The Danes knew how fiercely the Germans were retaliating upon the Norwegians for allowing us to secure so large a part of their catch, and had every reason to suppose the Germans would be even more severe upon them, if they did the same. In normal times the Danes exported twenty-two thousand tons of herring to Germany and only 3,600 tons to Great Britain; what we proposed, therefore, was that the Danish authorities should, by government action, turn this trade from its natural course for our advantage. They refused this; but issued decrees for keeping more fish on the home market. These decrees did not, however, check the movement of Danish herrings towards Germany, the natural, traditional market, and, notwithstanding that Sir Ralph Paget, who was then our minister in Copenhagen, advised against it, our authorities ordered that no cutch or fishing gear of any sort should be exported to Denmark, and arranged with the oil companies agents that all lubricants should be refused to Danish fishermen who were sending their catch to Germany. When this was ordered we were confident that our control over the Scandinavian supplies of lubricating oils was so strong, that all concerns using lubricants were more or less at [489] our discretion. The calculation was upset by the hazard of the military campaign: on 27th August the Rumanian government declared war, and their armies were at once defeated at all points. Early in December the Austro-German armies were in Bukharest, and all the country was conquered, save only a small strip in the north, round Jassy. Now although engineers sent out by us destroyed a great deal of the plant at the oil wells, they were not able to make the wells wholly unserviceable, and, as soon as the Austro-German armies had occupied the oil-bearing districts - which was fairly early in the campaign - their engineers set to work to repair the damage. Even at the end of the year the Germans were drawing a certain amount of oil from Rumania. The quantity was certainly never equal to the amounts normally extracted; but this success was of great benefit to the enemy, for the oils from Rumania were thus brought into the exchange system and were used for bargaining with neutrals. The quantities available were not so large that the Germans were ever able to weaken our Scandinavian agreements; but to use a military analogy, they provided sufficient material for small counter attacks. When, therefore, the Germans learned that we were refusing lubricants to the Danish fishermen, they supplied them, and so retained their hold over the catch.

1See Hautfeuille and Ortolan under Pêches, also Westlake, Vol. II, p. 155, and Ryckère La Peche Maritime, p. 193. ...back...

2Prize Cases decided in the United States Supreme Court, Vol. III, p. 1920. ...back...

3See Russian and Japanese Prize Cases, Vol. II, pp. 80-90. ...back...

4As for instance: Quo fit ut piscaturae commoditas, ad pauperum levandam famem, a coelesti numine coucessa, cessare hoc anno omnino debeat nisi aliter provideatur. Trêve pêcheresse 1521. ...back...

5Chemical Trade Journal, Vol. 74, p. 863. ...back...

6Der Einfluss de Weltkrieges auf die Seefischerie der Nederlander. [sic] F.O. Pamphlets, Vol. No. 244. ...back...

7See Chapter XXIV. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).