That fish should be, comparatively speaking, so scarce in Australia can only be regarded in the light of a national calamity. And not only is the supply deficient, but what little there may be is so outrageously expensive that it is hopelessly beyond the reach of an ordinary purse. It is so excessive in cost that it must almost be bracketed with poultry as a luxury only to be indulged in after lengthened periods. I have been told, when making inquiries on this point, that the reason why fish is so dear is that this is not a fish-eating community, and that consequently there is no demand for it. But, on the other hand, I find that almost everyone I ask is really fond of fish, and that they do not eat it simply because they cannot obtain it at a reasonable price, and this undoubtedly is the true explanation.
But this same scarcity of fish has exercised other people besides myself, for Mr. Alexander Oliver and many others have repeatedly drawn attention to the same deficiency. It has been the primary origin of a Board of Fisheries, it has brought forth Parliamentary Select Committees, and it has produced endless opinions and suggestions on the part of the public. Now, I am quite willing to admit that there should be proper supervision over the working of the Fisheries Acts, and that existing grievances should be rectified; but, with all due deference, it seems to me that the finger has not been placed on the exact reason why failure occurs in our fish supply. For I say this, that you may do what you will to protect and supervise the shore and inland fisheries, and you may even increase the yield from these sources to an encouraging extent, but that till the deep-sea work is thoroughly taken up and properly developed therewill be no cheap fish for Australia. It has been stated that if the deep-sea fisheries of the United Kingdom fell through from any reason, half-a-million of its inhabitants would be brought face to face with starvation. And even these enormous figures include only the fisher-folk themselves, and do not take into account the vast army of buyers, curers, dealers, etc, who are dependent for their very existence upon the fishing industry. Take away the deep-sea fisheries from the old countiy, and its whole fish supply would practically be at an end. In the same way by the development of our Australian deep-sea fisheries - and by the development of the deep-sea fisheries only - will it be possible, in my humble opinion, to increase the supply and cheapen the price of fish so that it will form part of the dietary in every dwelling.
There was an important select committee appointed by the Victorian Government, a short time ago, to inquire into the unsatisfactory condition of the fishing industry there. It examined a great number of witnesses, and its investigations extended over a large area. Amongst other things, with a view of encouraging trawling operations, it was suggested -
"That a careful survey be made of the sea-bottom in the neighbourhood of our coasts and in Bass' Straits, and the part suitable for trawling properly charted. That a few sets of trawling apparatus of the most modern kind be procured by the Government, and applications invited from the fishermen at the various ports for permission to use these trawls, free of charge, under certain conditions for a limited period. That the Government fit out a steamer for the purpose of collecting and conveying to Melbourne the fish obtained by the trawlers, the steamer to be provided with cooling chambers, etc."
A number of different matters were also considered, and, in addition, it was thought that, in order to afford the general public greater facilities for obtaining fish, the sale should not be confined to the metropolitan market. It was, therefore, recommended that stalls in the various markets for the sale of fish by auction and otherwise should be opened in the leading suburbs of Melbourne; and that the corporation officer in the metropolitan market, to whom the fish was consigned, should regularly distribute to each of these suburban markets such a quantity of fish as experience would show the particular locality demanded. To a certain extent all this is very satisfactory, but unfortunately select committees have arrived at very similar conclusions over and over again. All their recommendations have never yet been attended by any practical result, and an adequate fish supply for Australia appears to be as far off as ever.