In September, 1675, the fishermen of Kinsale, smarting under the continued absence of mackerel "from their shore . . . until the harvest time" for two seasons, held a meeting at which it was concluded and resolved that "the enormous nets of the Frenchmen" broke the shoals "and the mackerel became frightened and sought other grounds." Thereupon they petitioned the king, through Secretary Burchard, . . . that "a fleet of three hundred sail of French have for many months, in this season, beleaguered our coast. They have nets, each of them half a league in length. And they fish four our mackerel and pilchards to such a degree that our nets can not catch any more." The petition then goes on to state that "in consequence of the great length of the nets" (of the Frenchmen) "the shoals are broken and the mackerel refuse to come again in that way." This petition was drawn up and signed in Kinsale in September, 1675, and it goes to prove that so far back as the seventeenth century the mackerel frequented the same "grounds" that they do to-day; and that for the same reason as they did in 1883, they resented the interference of the Frenchmen at a too early period in their migration toward the spawning ground and disappeared from the coast at this point. That they were captured late in the season is told in the following quotation, dated September 7, 1675: "Notwithstanding that the mackerel disappeared from this coast in the spring, because of the depredations of the French, they have turned up again in enormous numbers and fat at their old haunts outside the Old Head to the westward."
This proves my original statement that mackerel have a distinct and permanent spawning ground; and it is a strong weapon in my assertion that want of knowledge of the habits of the fish is solely responsible for its scarcity either in this or in the Irish market.
But it is needless to prolong this argument. It is established without question that the habits and instincts of mackerel are the same that they were three hundred years ago, and that during all these years they sought the same spawning grounds and resented interference with their progress toward them by making a detour. In this detour lies the secret of the erroneous idea that "the mackerel are leaving the coast." They are not. They will reach their spawning grounds, no matter how far they swim; and, when they are near to them, nets, of whatever construction, can not deter their progress.
The moral of this is simple. To me it is as plain as the sun at noon. It is this: If we wish to capture mackerel, we must do it in season. Nature sends them to us then, and we should profit by their approach; but we must not use unnatural methods or times to reap the harvest.