If one only looks to the conduct of some of those who have been engaged in our oyster fisheries, the reason for their present defective state will be readily apparent. The Fisheries Commissioners well express it when they state that "If a person takes up ground only for the purpose "of collecting and selling whatever oysters he finds upon "it, and bestows no care in providing for the continuity "of the supply, that ground must cease to be produc-"tive." And apart from this it will be found that even when every effort has been made to provide for continuous supply, yet the matter is by no means easy.
The truth is the oyster fisheries have been managed in a happy-go-lucky way. There has been but little care taken in their conservation, and the inevitable result is that the winnings, as the official figures show, are rapidly failing. The same thing is not peculiar to Australia, however, and has happened everywhere else where the same careless policy has been pursued. We have, then, a grain of comfort from the fact that it is not confined to us. In our own case the Fisheries Commissioners have repeatedly called attention to the need for certain legislative reform in connection with our oysteries. They assert, in fact, that "it is absolutely imperative that our oyster "beds and deposits must be regulated on quite a different "system to that which obtains under the existing law."
Mr. Saville Kent, who has been investigating the cause of failure in connection with the oyster fisheries of Victoria, not so long ago, has made some interesting recommendations. The principle of his system is to establish on selected spots, in the neighbourhood of the formerly most productive natural oyster grounds, small Government reserves, whereon stocks of oysters shall be laid down and carefully cultivated for breeding purposes. He points out that the capacity of oysters for breeding is greatly augmented when they are collected together in a small space, in comparison with that of equal numbers thinly scattered over any extensive area. Each reserve in this way constitutes a prolific breeding centre for stocking the surrounding waters, and by this means alone the process of restoring the natural beds is quickly accelerated.
Indeed, he is particularly careful to draw attention to the fact that in the previously attempted establishment of artificial oyster fisheries a prominent error was in working too large areas. One or two acres intelligently cultivated can be made to produce far more substantial results than a very large area under inefficient management, and at a much less expenditure of time and money. A vast amount of money has been expended in different localities on the Victorian coast for the purpose of developing the oyster fisheries. In the great majority of cases, however, the site selected was unsuitable for such a purpose, and the mode of culture adopted impracticable and inefficient. For instance, one place was the recipient of a vast amount of sedimentary deposits. Here he found that they had surrounded the chosen areas with fences of great height and strength, and closely wattled, for the purpose of catching and retaining the young oyster brood. Instead of this, however, they had simply acted as " catch-pits," which had accumulated soft oozy mud to the depth of several feet, and a few dead oyster shells were the only result.
Instead of such an evident failure as this, he recommends oyster-spat collectors of two kinds, one consisting of extra thick split palings 4 ft. long by 8 in. wide, with a brick attached to each end to weigh them down, and at the same time to raise them off the ground. Several of them on being raised for inspection, after three months, were found to have over 1,000 embryo oysters adhering to them. The other form of spat collector he employs consists of cemented slates, arranged ridge-wise on light ti-tree frames, and in some localities these were found to be even more efficacious than the palings.
In the old country the same necessity for oyster culture is well recognised. In an interesting address given not so long ago, Professor Huxley, after referring to the growing scarcity of the bivalve, expressed his belief that the only hope for the oyster consumer was first in oyster culture, and secondly in discovering a means of breeding oysters under such conditions that all the spat was safely deposited. France has done more than any other country in the world in the artificial culture of the oyster. Not many years ago the oyster fisheries there were in danger of absolute extinction - a state of affairs brought about by reckless and unrestricted fishing, without any effort to provide for a re-supply. Mainly through the efforts of M. Coste, the propagation of oysters was scientifically carried out, with a result that has even exceeded the marvellous. According to a recent French official report, the Bay of Arcachon contained in the year 1857, 20 private pares, or district oyster beds. In the year 18G5 these had increased to the number of 297, with an output of 10,000,000 oysters. In the year 1887, the area under cultivation in the same bay amounted to 15,000 acres, and produced 300,000,000 oysters. In addition to this, a still later report attributes the present flourishing condition of this industry " to the steps primarily "initiated by the Government, and to the necessity of "upholding this success by continuing the same system "of administrative supervision, together with the practical "illustration in the Government model pares of the most "perfected methods of oyster culture, for the benefit of "private cultivators."
And lastly, if we require further evidence in support of the necessity for ostreiculture, we have only to turn to America. A falling off in the supply led to an inquiry into the cause by the United States Fish Commission. Professor Goode, in his review of the work accomplished by this body, writes, inter alia : - "The important distinction between the "extermination of a species and the destruction of a fishery "should be noted. In the case of fixed animals like the "sponge, the mussel, and the oyster, the colonies or beds may "be practically exterminated, exactly as a forest may be cut "down. The preservation of the oyster beds is a matter of "vital importance to the United States, for oyster fishing "unsupported by oyster culture will, within a short period, "destroy the employment of tens of thousands, and the "cheap and favourite food of tens of millions."
"Something," the professor proceeds to say, " may be "effected by laws which allow each oyster bed to rest for a "period of years after each season of fishing upon it. It is "the general belief, however, that shell-fish beds must be "cultivated as carefully as garden beds, and that this can "only be done by leasing them to individuals. It is probable "that the present unregulated methods will prevail until the "dredging of the natural beds ceases to be remunerative, and "that the oyster industry will then be transferred from the "improvident fisherman to the care-taking oyster-culturists." "We are thus led to the inevitable conclusion that if our Australian oyster fisheries are to be re-created, it will be necessary to follow in the same lines. With that object in view, therefore, it will be needful to devise suitable legislative enactments to protect our oyster fisheries and to foster ostreiculture at the same time. We must benefit, in short, by the experience derived from other parts of the world where ostreiculture has been carried to a state of absolute perfection.