On 1st October 1863 a royal commission on fishing visited Filey to take evidence from the local fishermen. Chaired by MP James Caird, the scientific adviser for the commission was Thomas Henry Huxley, Victorian Society’s most prominent biologist after Charles Darwin. Huxley was a fierce advocate of evolutionary biology.
Huxley was one of England’s first career scientists, often short of money. As the questioning of our fishermen unfolded, Huxley and Caird were increasingly surprised by some the answers they were receiving about how the enterprise was financed. The fact was that Filey fishermen were very wealthy indeed. In total they owned 27 yawls, each yawl costing up to £1,000 to build and equip. How could these working class men could afford such huge sums without being in debt.
Following the death of his four-year-old son Noel in 1860 , The extent of Huxley’s Darwinian beliefs on the overproduction of species, underlying bitterness and cynicism is revealed by Huxley’s statement about fisheries:
“The idee fixe of the British public, fishermen, M.P.’s and ignorant persons generally is that all small fish, if you do not catch them, grow up into big fish. They cannot be got to understand that the wholesale destruction of the immature is the necessary part of the general order of things, from codfish to men ..”
The results of the 1863 enquiry were that Huxley and Caird declared open season on fisheries in this country and removed all restrictions against trawling. They ignored good advice from Filey Fishermen and large parts of the living crust, which once covered the bottom of the North Sea were destroyed.
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