19 JULY 1919, Page 12


[To THE EDITOR OP THE " SPECIATOR."] Fin,—In the Nineteenth Century for December, 1917, was heralded the birth of a Government Fishing Fleet in New Ecath Wales. You will perhaps remember the paeans which Freeted the occasion. May I ask the brilliant writer who hung en this peg (amongst others) his argument for the nationalize- Len of the British fishing marine if he can give us the financial

history of the enterprise to date? I can only find the figures for the first two years' working. They rather damp my enthusiasm for such experiments.

The Premier of New South Wales, it appears, started fishing with a "fleet "—I cannot find that he owned more than three trawlers—on July 1st, 1915. According to the balance-sheet of his general manager, the State lost in the first two years the following sums :- 1915-16 £11,011 12 6 1916-17 12,865 18 4 Total £23,877 10 10 or just 411 per cent. of the capital invested. This figure, as the Auditor-General shows, is optimistic; it is arrived at by seriously underestimating "depreciations." The actual loss was approximately £28,500, or 48 per cent. of the capital.

In the latter year for every £1 realized the total cost is £1 8s. 5d. " It is unquestionable," writes the Auditor-General, "that the product, if properly handled, can find a ready and profitable market, therefore the fault lies elsewhere than with the product," and he goes on to show that the fault lies with that mismanagement which seems inseparable from all Govern- ment trading enterprises. It will be interesting to hear whether things have altered. It may be that the business has pulled through. But I have no figures later than the Auditor- General's scathing Report for 1916-17, and write in the hope of eliciting further information. Prima facie it looks as though we have here a South Sea Bubble redivirus. And this is par- ticularly interesting at a time when the panegyrists of the New South Wales scheme are singing the praises of the projected "Admiralty Co-operative Fishing Fleet."

The latter scheme, known in the fishing world as " The North Sea Bubble," contemplates the State financing of a fleet of some three hundred trawlers, to be owned nominally by fishermen, and managed by a salaried manager. The capital, which can- not, of course, be secured, for the State will never foreclose on a defaulter, will, it is said, amount to some £3,000,000. It is, in fact, exactly one hunded times as ambitious as its Antipodean prototype. One feels apprehensive lest perchance similar causes have similar effects, and the British taxpayer be called on to feet an annual bill for £1,440,000 loss on th;s enterprise. Any result other than disaster will be astonishing. For is there an instance on record in which a fishing enterprise " made good " under the sole auspices of a salaried manager? The investment of public funds in fishery was tried again and again between 1630 and 1690. It always failed disastrously, and history has an uncanny knack of repeating itself.—I am,