The Compleat Angler "That Which Is Everybody's Business Is Nobody's Business"

Izaak Walton

"That Which Is Everybody's Business Is Nobody's Business"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Piscator and Venator discuss the dangers to rivers and fishing, beginning with the necessity of killing otters which catch and eat so many fish, the topic being on their minds from their having killed a female otter and her young the previous day. Piscator mentions that it is necessary, too, to keep the fence-months, lest fishing be so destroyed that there be few fish to eat on days of abstinence from flesh. When Venator asks the nature of the fence-months, Piscator explains that they are usually March, April, and May–the months when the salmon return from the sea to spawn in the fresh water of the rivers. Piscator complains that greedy people take fish at spawning time and, also, make weirs and other apparatus for trapping both the salmon going out to sea and the older fish returning to spawn. He notes that laws against such greediness were on the statute books from the reigns of Edward I and Richard II, but that they are not enforced:

. . . He that shall view the wise Statutes made in the 13th of Edward the First, and the like in Richard the Second, may see several provisions made against the destruction of fish: and though I profess no knowledge of the law, yet I am sure the regulation of these defects might be easily mended. But I remember that a wise friend of mine did usually say, "that which is everybody's business is nobody's business": if it were otherwise, there could not be so many nets and fish, that are under the statute size, sold daily amongst us; and of which the conservators of the waters should be ashamed.
But, above all, the taking fish in spawning-time may be said to be against nature: it is like taking the dam on the nest when she hatches her young, a sin so against nature, that Almighty God hath in the Levitical law made a law against it.