There is a promised land in Europe for fishermen. This country is Norway. Sea fishing, river fishing, commercial fishing, fantasy fishing, some are as splendid as others. The inhabitants have cod on their doorstep, each of their fjords is full of it; they fish for mackerel, as we do for sardines in France: they catch such quantities that the people do not eat them. They used to make manure of them, but the fishermen of today, wiser than the ancients, have taken the step of making arrangements with merchants who pack all these fish in the ice, and take their cargo to England. As for herring fishing, it is done there all year round, sometimes on one point, sometimes on another, until the sea, lifted by the winter winds, becomes uninhabitable.
Shall we say a word, in passing, about the marvellous salmon and trout fishing that the rivers and lakes of this beautiful country offer to fly fishermen? The figures which record the successes of the amateurs are so prodigious that one is tempted to turn the saying: "Hunter, cracker! Nothing, however, is more serious. Salmonids abound in these latitudes, and the fish we are talking about already fetch a very handsome price to the amateurs - almost all English - who share them. Forty years ago, all this was not known. What a land of milk and honey for the man who first brought his artificial fly into the midst of this ignorant and naive Salmonian population! What a harvest! You could catch fifteen, twenty, thirty salmon a day on your own!
This happy time is no more,,,. Wise restrictive laws have put a limit to the depopulation which was already progressing rapidly: the work of repopulation has come to combat the solitude which was threatening to take place, and the seeding of the fish precedes, as it should, their harvest. It was not possible for a country so deeply devoted to fishing not to send us an interesting exhibition. Indeed, the Swedish and Norwegian trophy is, without question, the most remarkable of 1867 in every respect. Abundance of nets and devices, products, fish, everything is gathered and grouped with the quiet but careful taste which presided over the Norwegian installation in general, and which strikes the least trained eye. Let us congratulate Mr. Baars, - the organiser of this hail of fish and hooks, - on the success he has achieved, and let us thank him for the friendliness he shows to visitors and questioners in particular!
Next to Sweden and Norway, whose graceful layout our vignette reproduces, we see Holland, with its remarkable barrels in front. The Dutch exhibition is less extensive than its neighbour in terms of equipment, but it has nevertheless brought us some very fine nets, but the most curious thing about it is precisely these barrels which it has put in the foreground. There are certainly barrels and barrels, but these deserve to be looked at closely. They are works of cabinet-making in common oak, so great is the precision of the cut, so marvellous the fineness of the joints. There are many places where these are absolutely invisible, and the barrel looks as if it were made in one piece.
The Dutch are quite close to each other, and meet every day on the same fishing banks, but they have not yet taken from the Norwegians one of their most curious and ingenious inventions. We are referring to the hollow glass fleet, and we call the attention of our French fishermen to this useful device, who instinctively believe they know everything, and are, alas, only a long way behind in many things. Everyone has seen a net, everyone has noticed that the bottom, or the part that drags along the bottom of the water, is made heavy by means of lead or simply of stones, and that the portion destined to float is lightened by corks, and sometimes bundles of rushes. These corks are called floats, and it is these that the Norwegians have replaced with hollow balls of ordinary glass. These are empty bottles that float, and everyone knows what resistance they offer to immersion. Unfortunately, the material was fragile. How could the shocks be remedied? Quite simply, by wrapping these balls, which are sometimes the size of a small barrel, with a hand-made net, similar to the one with which schoolchildren wrap their elastic balls. Thus secured, the balls lend themselves to the same uses as our cork discs. It is probable, however, that the Norwegian fishermen are more careful with their gear than the French, for seeing the latter drag theirs over the stones with their usual nonchalance, one would not understand that glass fleets, even if packed, could resist.
If, from the Dutch Exhibition we pass to France, the disenchantment begins, for, - it is cruel to say - the exhibition of our country is very weak, in terms of importance, as a novelty, compared to what it should have been, if everyone had wanted to take a little trouble. Last year, the directors of the Arcachon Exhibition had promised to bring together at the Palais all that was entrusted to them there, so that the Arcachon Exhibition would be a sort of preparatory trial for the Universal Exhibition, a means of counting and recognising each other. Bah! so much for the wind! The committee had something else to do, no doubt, since nothing was done, and the exhibitors are still asking for the manuscripts they were unwise enough to send there!
No doubt one finds, in the small corner of our class 49, the most famous names among the fishermen: they are Moriceau, Warner, Derien-Camus, Cléret, Robillard, etc., no doubt there would be, in their showcases, many small devices to describe, because the fisherman, meditative and industrious by nature, always finds and invents; but I would let myself be carried away by the thread.... of my discourse, and would be afraid to go too far. Besides, the efforts have rather been directed towards what I will call luxury fishing, useless fishing, sportman fishing, while we would like to see serious improvements on the gears of the great fisheries, which enrich and feed the nations.
Let us content ourselves with noting the efforts of a few fish farmers - of which we will speak again about aquariums - and let us take a look at Flamm's curious gear. These are intended for the sea. They are hooks which, by a very simple mechanism, or by means of a small counterweight, pinch the nose of the fish which has bitten and is struggling. The arrangement is calculated in such a way that the more the animal pulls, the deeper the outer point sinks and prevents it from escaping. This is an effort to improve, and not the ugly, crude, lead fish with enamel eyes (!) that are advertised as the ultimate in fishing gear for large schools. As if cod cared about the enamel eyes of your fish... Poor cod, the most voracious beast of the sea! It swallows everything, without exception, wood, iron, a medicine jar, anything, anything that falls into the sea! It is true that she is not obliged to digest it, the task would sometimes be too hard. So nature has given it a way to get rid of all these gastric embarrassments: the fish turns its stomach. Once the trick is done, the device is ready for use again.... And the enamel eyes?... what use are they?...
Our poor French Exhibition is also poorly represented as far as oyster farming is concerned, that California which is open at our gates and before which my compatriots are willing to close their eyes. And yet, a day will come when the best advised will have taken the right places, and when the sheep of Panurge who will then rush all at once, will find only a meagre gleaning where they could have all met an abundant harvest!
It is certain that the situation of our natural oyster beds has not improved since we realised, a few years ago, that they were completely exhausted. Why have they reached this state? The question is easier to ask than to answer; however, the increase in consumption, made more important by the railways, must be counted among the principal causes of this decadence. Once this had been established, what was to be done? It was simpler to think of increasing the production of oysters. This was done by creating artificial oyster beds. But how much slower does reproduction - even artificial reproduction - go than the accelerated consumption to which we all want nothing more than to indulge! The beneficial mollusc that disappears in a second in our gullet, which is always ready to receive it, takes at least three years to grow in a sea that is not always ready to let it grow in peace. It is true that, if we eat several dozen of them in succession, nature creates millions and millions of them at the same time, quantities that are as immeasurable as the sand in the sea! Ah, if all this would prosper!
When all this prospers, the oyster will be common and cheap; instead of remaining an object of luxury, it will enter widely into the general diet, as it does in the United States, where this mollusc is found in an abundance which we shall not, alas, soon enjoy. There, everyone eats oysters. They peel them by the day, by the bushel. They make soups, dishes, cakes... what do I know? At home, they are an appetizer, an extra.... Unless you were a millionaire, it would have been impossible to invite ten friends to enjoy oysters at your leisure in a few years' time, if you hadn't put your house in order.
Here is a fact that goes back only to last year and that demonstrates the brilliance of our natural oyster beds. The sailors of the brig Le Léger, stationed in the bay of Arcachon to supervise the State's model oyster beds, were charged with carefully and thoroughly dredging a natural oyster bed of about thirty hectares, a bed whose fertility was once proverbial. They set to work, and dredged for a long time to find seven oysters whose enormous white, worn, thick shells indicated their great age and at the same time the absolute lack of reproduction.
During this time, the State was continuing the experiments begun barely four years ago on the neighbouring banks. At first there was a lot of doubt about the success, then there was laughter, shouting and discussion.... In the meantime, the work has been pursued with perseverance, and now success has come! I cannot tell you everything that has been done - which I regret, because you would be surprised to see how simple it is - I will only say in one line the result, which is that, year in, year out, a well-kept oyster farm brings in a net profit of 7 to 8,000 francs per hectare.
What does this prove? Some will say, except that oysters are expensive and much more than they are worth! All right, but it looks a lot like California, which I mentioned above, and in front of this example I am happy to note that the fishermen of the bay, the simple farmers-marins left to their modest resources, to the work of their arms, collect at the moment, all expenses made, fifteen hundred francs of income on each hectare of artificial oyster beds which they establish! Once on this path, they will quickly reach fortune, and they will have earned it.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée