Angus Sutherland, Chairman of the Board

The engagement of the Fishery Board with the Continental markets in the years before the war was not restricted to the operational level which has been described up till now. The Scottish Secretary from 1906, John Sinclair, who was a close associate of the radical Liberal Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman, was born in Moray Place in Edinburgh in 1860. His grandfather was Sir John Sinclair of Dunbeath in Caithness. His stated aim was that Scotland should be governed according to Scottish ideas. His counterpart on the Fishery Board, Angus Sutherland, had previously been his tutor. Sutherland was the son of a crofter whose parents had suffered eviction as a consequence of the Highland Clearances. He went from a local school to study in Edinburgh and later in Glasgow. In 1885 he stood as crofter’s candidate for the parliamentary seat of Sutherland against the incumbent member, the Marquess of Stafford, who was eldest son of the Duke of Sutherland. Although he was unsuccessful, when there was a further election in 1866, the Marquess chose not to stand, and Sutherland was elected as an MP. After nine years as an MP, in 1894 he resigned his post and became Chairman of the Fishery Board . In 1909 John Sinclair was raised to the peerage, becoming Baron Pentland of Lyth in Caithness. His choice of title reflects his ties to the North-East of Scotland. Lyth is a small village forty-five miles from Helmsdale, where Angus Sutherland grew up. In 1911 Sinclair appointed a Departmental Committee on the North Sea Fishing Industry 1 , chaired by Angus Sutherland and consisting of five members. Its remit was ‘To inquire and report upon certain matters connected with the development of the Scottish Sea Fishing Industry after visiting the various Countries engaged in fishing in the North Sea.’ Thomas Wemyss Fulton, who was a member of the committee, deserves a special mention. He was superintendent of scientific investigations for the Board, a post which he held with distinction for thirty four years from 1888 onwards. In addition to a prolific output of scientific papers, he also took a great interest in the laws governing the sea, and is remembered for his book on the subject ‘The Sovereignty of the Sea.’ 2

The Committee visited Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Of these countries, only Germany was both a producer in its own right, and a major consumer of Scottish herring. While the Committee had a broad remit, in the present context the most interesting aspect is of the report is its description of the growth of the German herring fishing industry. It is stated the industry had started approximately forty years previously, that it was modelled on the Dutch fishery, and that it had received state assistance almost from the beginning. The fisheries were based on the Ems, the Weser and the Elbe, and the German boats fished off the British East Coast from Shetland southwards. As they fished far from home, curing was carried out on board 3 . While recognising the value of the visits by the General Inspector of Sea Fisheries, the Committee recommended that ‘Scotland should have an official person annually stationed in Germany for the purpose of watching the German and Russian markets.’ 4 The Committee also visited the Oceanography Museum in Berlin, and found, among the exhibits ‘a fine model, complete, as far as could be judged, of a Scottish East Coast herring curing yard.’ Although they were visiting competitors in the herring trade, there is no indication in the report of any ill will. The report describes an amicable series of meetings by professionals who were interested in comparing how their countries organised their industries.


1. 1914 Scottish Departmental Committee on the North Sea Fishing Industry

2. 1914 Scottish Departmental Committee on the North Sea Fishing Industry p.28-29

3. 1914 Scottish Departmental Committee on the North Sea Fishing Industry p.53

4. 1914 Scottish Departmental Committee on the North Sea Fishing Industry p.67