When the view commenced to gain ground that whitebait were largely young herring, the question arose whether or not the immense destruction of the young brood caused by this mode of fishing injuriously affected the fishery of the mature herring.
This perhaps it does; but, since it has been ascertained that the herring is much more restricted in its migrations than was formerly believed, and that the shoals are to a great extent local, the injury, such as it is, must be local and limited to the particular district in which the fishing for whitebait is methodically practised.
It is now known to consist of the young fry of herrings and sprats in varying proportions mixed with a few shrimps, gobies, sticklebacks, pope-fishes and young flounders: but these impurities are as far as possible picked out from the whitebait before it is marketed.
Yarrell proved conclusively that Donovan's opinion was founded upon an error; unfortunately he contented himself with comparing whitebait with the shad only, and in the end adopted the opinion of the Thames fishermen, whose interest it was to represent it as a distinct adult form; thus the whitebait is introduced into Yarrell's History of British Fishes (1836) as Clupea alba.
At Greenwich an annual banquet of cabinet ministers, known as the whitebait dinner, formerly took place.
Indeed, Thames whitebait which have been compared with that from the mouth of the Exe, the Cornish coast, Menai Strait, and the Firth of Forth seemed to be better fed; but, of course, the specific characteristics of the herring and sprat - into which we need not enter here - were nowise modified.