that one which came under my own observation during the years from 1880 to 1892; but I shall now go back more than two hundred years and add to my personal knowledge the experience of the fishermen of that time, as recorded in the Annals of Kinsale, which old manuscripts I had the very great pleasure and privilege of being allowed to make a thorough examination of in 1882 and 1883.
Even in recent years, here, as well as in Ireland, the fish savants sought to place the cause of the scarcity of mackerel at every door but the correct one. One man would say, "They are being overfished"; another, "They are most uncertain in their comings and goings, and have no fixed or permanent haunts or spawning grounds"; and yet a third would advance the theory (for, mind you, all these men are simply theorists in the science of ichthyology) that "mackerel only frequent certain localities on the coast at irregular periods."
All three theories are wrong; and I shall prove that not only have they fixed spawning grounds and haunts, but that they have been known to frequent one "ground" for over two hundred years without the intermission of a season, and that it is only such accident as continued interception of their progress toward that ground too early in the season that prevents their being captured in large quantities in the same places and at the same time every year.
Early in the seventeenth century "enormous catches of pilchards, mackerel, and herring" were obtained off the southern Irish coast. At that time the mackerel season occurred precisely at the same time in each year as it does now, and the great spawning grounds were located then in exactly the same place as they are to-day. This of itself goes far to prove that the habits of mackerel, in this wise at all events, are practically unchangeable; but we must advance more particularly into the matter to arrive at a positive rock foundation for my statements. In the seventeenth century the native fishermen fished in open boats, "with rude and inadequate appliances." But then, too, a fleet of French fishing smacks came annually from Dieppe, Havre, Boulogne, and the many small villages and towns lying between these cities, to reap the mackerel harvest in the ocean outside Kinsale. These Frenchmen had fishing appliances much superior to those of the Irish. In fact, I demonstrated clearly in 1883 that the most improved modern inventions for the capture of mackerel are not importantly superior to the gear used by the French fishermen in Irish waters nearly three hundred years ago. And it is in this connection that the connecting link between the mackerel fisheries or mackerel habits and instincts of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries can be plainly demonstrated.