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Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter XVI

Salmon and trout supply—The falling off—Government Fisheries Commission report—Proposed remedies—Minority report—The United States difficulty—Mr. Babcock’s comments —Opinions of Steveston fishermen—Deadly salmon traps in Puget Sound—The lesson of British Isles fisheries—Creation of hatcheries—Future guardianship of fisheries—Mr. Wilmot’s report—Mr. Kelly Evans on revenue from fisheries—Wholesale destruction of whitefish—Depleted lakes—Suggested remedies —Angling as a recreation—Playing the game.

IT is beyond question that salmon and trout resources in British Columbia are enormous. How far they are likely to continue is a question which has passed out of the academic stage and has become both practical and acute in the interests of sport. In Canada, as in Great Britain and Ireland, there are signs that the supply of fish is falling off. The enormous takes of the earlier days are no longer repeated in the Dominion. Lean years, the inevitable symptom of diminishing supply, are experienced at rapidly recurring intervals.

A Government Fisheries Commission has been appointed to investigate the subject, and it is evident from its reports that Canada, like Great Britain, has been killing the goose with the golden egg. The depletion in the Fraser River supply of salmon is shown in the following official figures : The catch of 1903 was 62 per cent, less than in 1899; 1904 was 66 per cent, less than 1900; 1905 22 per cent, less than 1902 ; 1907 38 per cent, less than 1903.

To remedy this state of things, recommendations were made with regard to netting and trapping, which included a weekly close season at the mouth of the Fraser River during “big” years—these generally occur once in four, when the run of fish is much above the average—a thirty-six hours’ close season in “poor” years. Outside the mouth of the river a thirty-six hours’ close season was proposed for all years.

A minority of the Commission made more drastic recommendations, including a close season from July 1st to September 15th, and the application of the thirty-six hours’ close season to the whole of the river, and not limiting it to the mouth. Restrictions in regard to the length and depth of nets were advocated, and the absolute closing of the river from August 25th to September 25th.

The United States fishermen and canners, who have rights in Puget Sound, had to be consulted in regard to the proposed changes. An Act of Parliament, acceptable to both parties, gave promise of a fair settlement. But it only proved to be an Act on paper. The fishermen on Puget Sound ignored it, deeming it more profitable to pay the fine imposed by the Act than desist from the netting.

In his 1903 report, Mr. Babcock comments on the situation as follows: “I believe that the decrease in the run and the absence of fish upon the spawning grounds this year is attributable to excess of fishing. An investigation of the conditions existing on the fishing grounds for the past five years amply demonstrates that to be the cause, and the empty spawning beds of the Fraser this year, and last, prove it.”

I visited Steveston, where the great salmon canning factories are established on the banks of the Fraser. They are manned almost exclusively by Chinese and Japanese. The netting is allocated to the Japs, who are the best boatmen. There the opinion strongly prevailed that the falling off in the fishing was due to excessive netting. On the United States side a system of deadly traps prevails, which the first year caught literally millions of salmon. Now only one year in four is good. Owing to the scarcity of labour, the waste was something enormous. The canners just retained the quantity of fish they could handle in a day, and threw the rest of the haul in a dead or dying state into the river, or left them to rot on the banks.

One of the advantages of the use of traps over drag-nets is that fish are kept alive. On the other hand, the facilities they afford for capture are far

greater and more seriously affect the question of supply. The unwillingness of the States to join hands with the Canadians has led to further serious consequences. Chafing at the greater privileges of their neighbours, the Canadian canners petitioned the Dominion Government to grant the use of salmon traps on Juan de Fuca Strait, so as to place them on an equality with the fishermen of Puget Sound. The Provincial Government backed the appeal, and it was granted.

Mr Babcock justifies the concession in his 1903 report on the ground of fairness to Canada. He frankly admits that the question is not whether trap-fishing is or is not a destructive method, but whether the United States should have a monopoly of it. He shows that during the previous season the United States issued 305 trap, 84 purse-net, and 92 drag-net licences for salmon, whilst the Dominion fishermen were limited to gill-nets. He contends that the fish trapped by the United States fishermen passed through Canadian territory first, and that they should be bagged before they reach Puget Sound. He leaves out of account that the Canadian traps will in all likelihood capture quantities of fish which do not pass into their rivals’ water, and therefore the work of destruction will be increased rather than diverted. The raison d'etre of the recommendation is admitted in Mr. Babcock’s closing words—

“I am not, however, at this time prepared to advocate the use of traps in any of the waters of the Province that are unaffected by the use of American traps.”

In 1908 an International Fisheries Commission was created under a treaty between the Governments of Canada and the United States, but it possessed no independent powers that could not be set aside by Congress, as “an unwarrantable interference . . . regarding a matter in which the State legislation is supreme.”

A report of last year (1910) sums up the situation in these words: “It is evident the only remedy for conditions existing in Puget Sound threatening the destruction of the salmon industry is voluntary compliance with the existing law on the part of those engaged in the business, and a universal and earnest determination to protect and perpetuate a great industry.”

Those who know the history of the salmon fisheries in the British Isles will appreciate the danger that this unhappy difference creates. Scotch and Irish industries have been ruined through overnetting. Companies which paid liberal dividends to their shareholders, complain that they do not pay their working expenses now. It would be worth while for the Governments of Canada and the United States to send over representatives to the Old Country to collect evidence on these points. I believe the lesson to be learned would hasten the settlement of their differences. The Pacific, no more than the Atlantic, liberal as its gifts are, can hold out against the commercial drain imposed upon it. If it be correct, as specialists contend, that all the species of Pacific salmon die after spawning, the work of destruction will progress at a more alarming rate than in Europe where the fish survive spawning. There are settlements which come too late. The moral of the divided authorities on the malady of the feline species is & propos:

“But long before they could decide What should be done, the cat had died.”

The future of trout and bass fishing is another subject which interested me during my Canadian trip. The fact that hatcheries are being established throughout the Dominion is symptomatic of decline. There is no other reason for the expedient. Assuming that by such means the stock can be kept up to the demands made upon it, which is a big assumption, the quality is certain to be inferior both as a comestible and a sporting entity. I have fished preserves holding naturally and artificially bred trout, and the moment the rod bent in a captive, I could tell to which category it belonged. There is as much difference between these fish as between pheasants reared under a hen and those hatched in the wild woods.

The need of replenishing by artificial means is unquestionable. To assume, however, that the destruction of the natural supply does not matter so long as the deficiency is made up in that way is an argument, I am disposed to think, too readily accepted in the Dominion. What struck me was the obtuseness of the age towards the future. “ As long as I have a good time, catch plenty of fish, and throw away the surplus, why should I put myself out for the sake of the man who comes after me?” That appears to me to be the trend of things, and such a liberal interpretation of free agency should be firmly dealt with by the Government. If the guardians of the future are unable to inculcate the altruistic doctrine that I am my brother’s keeper, they should at least insist that I shall not be my brother’s robber. The apology for this little homily will be found in the official reports on the fishing, and the causes that have led to wanton destruction in the fish supply. The efforts to make the waste good reflect a great deal of credit on the authorities, but its inadequacy is equally apparent. In the province of Ontario alone, from 1901 to 1909, there were 59,842 fish reared and deposited in the rivers and lakes. These were nearly all bass—brook trout only amounted to 55> and speckled trout fry 2000. Taking the eight years, the average stocking amounted to 7480 per annum. An examination of the reports shows that this is far below the drain put on the rivers and lakes. J. H. Willmot, of Beaumaris, states that “throughout our northern districts there are many American fishing clubs, some of these holding land, and having very fine club houses erected thereon. As a rule the members spend most of their time fishing, and needless to say many thousands of our fish are annually caught by these men, who after taking out their licences are only acting inside their rights.” As an example he says, “We will suppose that a club has a membership of thirty men, (which is a low estimate, as some have over a hundred). We will say that twenty out of those thirty go out and catch their legal number; these amount to one hundred and sixty a day, or 4160 in a month of twenty-six working days. Looking at this matter in the above light, it is apparent that many thousands of fish are annually taken by club men.”

This report only deals with a district in Northern Ontario and for one month of the season. The subject is further discussed by Mr. Kelly Evans, Commissioner of the Ontario Government Game Fisheries. He alludes to the non-resident anglers’ tax imposed three years ago. Four thousand pounds was received in 1909 from 10,000 visitors, who came to Canada for angling purposes during that year. It would be difficult to see how any stocking could keep pace with such exhaustion, particularly when Canadians themselves are added to the list.

Mr. Evans’s allusion to the waste that takes place in netting practices is most important and throws a searching light on the question.

“Just as those who first exploited the forest wealth of this country took the most valuable species of wood, the pine, so those exploiting the fisheries of Ontario took the most valuable of our fish, the white-fish. Let us consider the position with regard to this: the total catch of white-fish in 1873 was nearly five million pounds, and to-day it is less than two and a half million pounds. The decrease appears to be in round figures about 2,350,000 lbs., but remember that the engines of capture have been greatly improved since that time, and many more men are engaged in the work. In valuing this food diminution at its present price, it would show that in the value of whitefish alone, a decrease has taken place to the extent of quite £50,000 a year, which capitalized at 5 per cent, would show that the capital value of the whitefish alone had decreased between 1873 and 1907 by £1,000,000. There has been really no necessity for this alarming decrease having taken place. In 1892 a Government Commission, after taking testimony throughout the provinces, reported to the Dominion Government some alarming facts. Old fishermen who gave their evidence in 1882 spoke of the good old times when they took as many as 90,000 whitefish at a haul, with a net at Wellington Beach, and said that instead of endeavouring to use sewage for fertilizers . . . they acted upon the principle of using this valuable human food as manure upon the farm. The quantity of whitefish and other fish then in Lake Ontario we have no record of, but that it was immense there can be no gainsaying.”

The “immense” quantity of fish in Lake Ontario is now almost exhausted. I did not fish it, as I was informed that it was practically worthless. Going further afield to Huntsville, there is evidence that decline has taken place there in both bass and trout. The lakes near Huntsville are played out, and to obtain good sport one must go to less frequented water beyond Dorset. To find a remedy for the depletion is a necessity. It is quite evident that the Government are aware of the facts. Mr. Evans, their commissioner, has not failed to report to them that Canada “is face to face with absolute depletion.”

How could it be otherwise, when we are informed that the Great Lakes are swept by the aid of steam trawlers with nets five miles long?

From the angling point of view, the remedy must be sought in greater conservancy, a longer close season and the restriction of angling to more scientific methods. It must sooner or later come to that. Where trout can be taken with the fly, no other lure should be permitted. There are plenty of lakes where trolling and and bait fishing may be pursued. All hand lines should be tabooed by legitimate anglers. It is not only a pot-boiling method, but it is destructive of sport, as far more fish are hooked than landed. At Vancouver, out of half a dozen boats, I was the only angler that used a rod. I saw plenty of fish hooked, but few gaffed. When the object is food, it is another matter, but there was no trace of indigence amongst those whom I saw using hand lines freely.

The number of fish per diem to a rod, and the size to be basketed, are further matters well within the province of legislation.

I did not visit new Brunswick, where the salmon angling is said to be excellent. Nearly all of it is in private hands and strictly reserved. It can scarcely, therefore, be so interesting to the general public.

I have been deeply impressed with the magnificent possibilities of the open water in many parts of Canada. For all-round sport, I do not think it can be excelled anywhere. By strict rules of conservation, liberal re-stocking, and insistence upon playing the game, a sporting field is open for all time to the sons and daughters of the Dominion. The strain of commercial enterprise, now at high speed, and likely, from what one sees, to continue, makes recreation of one kind or another an absolute necessity. The opportunity of enjoying it ranks amongst a people’s most valuable national assets. It is incumbent upon those entrusted with the people's rights to nurse and safeguard it. To plunder the gold or silver mines would be ranked as a penal offence, to plunder the lakes and rivers is, I venture to think, a greater crime. The mines are only a department in the wide range of industries, and will be played out sooner or later, but the great waterways occupy a unique position, and their resources, once destroyed, can never be replaced. The depleted rivers of the adjoining States, I think, clearly teach that lesson. Knowledge of the art of angling is not beyond the capacity of any youth or maiden of average intelligence. Let them acquire it. Rules that make it compulsory in the case of the young aspirant will bring higher rewards in the end, in the mastery of a fresh accomplishment. By the practice of the art the over-wrought mind will gain zest, and life’s task will be faced with new hope and inspiration. This section of the playground of the northwestern continent, to fulfil its purpose, naturally must be placed on the same footing with lacrosse, baseball, cricket and golf, with rules of honour equally binding, the observance of which must be safeguarded by all right-minded inhabitants and visitors.

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