We went this morning with the Baron de G., who is at the head of one of the fishing companies here, to see one of their boats come in and unload. It was a steam trawler, with enormous nets, that had been fishing off the English coast near Land's End. There were quite a number of people assembled on the quay - a policeman, a garde du port, an agent of the company, and the usual lot of people who are always about when a fishing-boat comes in. Her cargo seemed to be almost entirely of fish they call here saumon blanc. They were sending up great baskets of them from the hold where they were very well packed in ice; half-way up they were thrown into a big tub which cleaned them - took off the salt and gave them a silvery look. They are put by hundreds into hand-carts which were waiting and carried off at once to the Halles. They had brought in 3,500 fish, but didn't seem to think they had made a very good haul. The whole cargo had been sold to a marieur and was sent off at once, by him, all over the country.
Other boats were also sending their cargo to the Halles. They had all kinds of fish - soles, mackerel, and a big red fish I didn't know at all. I wouldn't have believed, if I had not seen it with my own eyes, that such a bright-coloured fish could exist. However, a very sharp little boy, who was standing near and who answered all my questions, told me they were rougets. We went on to the Halles - a large gray stone building facing the sea - rather imposing with a square tower on top, from which one can see a long way out to sea and signal incoming fishing-boats. It was very clean - water running over the white marble slabs, and women, with pails and brushes, washing and wiping the floor. It is evidently a place that attracts strangers; many tourists were walking about - one couple, American, I think, passing through in an automobile and laying in a stock of lobsters and crabs (the big deep-sea crabs) and rougets. The man rather hesitated about leaving his auto in the streets; they had no chauffeur with them, tried to find a boy who would watch it. For a wonder none was forthcoming, but two young fishwives, who were standing near, said they would; when the man came back with his purchases he gave each of them a five-franc piece, which munificence so astounded them that they could hardly find words to thank him.
Quantities of fish of all kinds had arrived - some being sold a la criee, but it was impossible to understand the prices or the names of the fish - at least for us. The buying public seemed to know all about it. The fishwives were very busy standing behind the marble slabs with short thick knives, with which they cut off pieces of the large fish when the customer didn't want a whole one, and laughing and joking with every one. Here and there we saw a modern young person in a fancy blouse, her hair dressed and waved, with little combs, but there were not many. We bought some soles and shrimps. M. de G. tried to bargain a little for us, but the women were so smiling and so sure we didn't know anything about it, or what the current price of the fish was, that we had not much success.
The trawlers are gradually taking away all the trade from the old-fashioned fishing-boats. They go faster, carry more and larger nets, and are, of course, stronger sea-boats. They are not much more expensive. They burn coal of an inferior quality and their machinery is of the simplest description. There is not the loss of life with them that there must be always with the smaller sailing-boats.
Newfoundland is the most dangerous fishing ground, as the men have so much to contend with - the passing of transatlantic liners and the cold, thick fogs which come up off the banks - all of them prefer the Iceland fishing. The cold is greater, but there is much less fog and very few big boats to be met en route. Few of the Boulogne boats go to Newfoundland. It is generally the boats from Fecamp and some of the Breton ports that monopolize the fishing off the Banks. It seems that men often die from the cold and exposure in these waters. From the old-fashioned sailing-boats they usually send them off - two by two in a dory (they don't fish from the big boats); they start early, fish all day; if no fog comes up, they are all right and get back to their boats at dark, but if a sudden fog comes on they often can't find their boats and remain out all night, half frozen. One night they can stand, but two nights' cold and exposure are always fatal. When the fog lifts the little boat is sometimes quite close to the big one, but the men are dead - frozen. M. de G. tells us all sorts of terrible experiences that he has heard from his men, and yet they all like the life - wouldn't lead any other, and have the greatest contempt for a landsman.