Are Canadian Salmon Doomed?
Miss Bell has practically been “brought up amongst the salmon" of B. C. and recently investigated this industry for MacLean's
DOROTHY G. BELL
WHAT B.C SHOULD GEI
FROM reliable and authentic sources of information in Ottawa, MacLean’s is enabled to announce that the Duff commission, appointed to investigate the conditions of the British Columbia salmon fishing industry. will recommend at the forthcoming session of Parliament that drastic measures be taken in 1923 to protect the salmon industry.
The commission recommend a special department ot fisheries headed by a minister of practical exper;-nce and that there be a thorough reorganzation of at Ottawa and British Columbia. A forty per cent, reduction of icenses issued to Orientals is suggested.
During 1923 motor boats will be permissible In 1924 there will be a reform scale, and license fees; drag and seine nets will be subject to severe restrictions and will probably only be used by whites and Indians.
Another recommendation of the commission is that the weekly closed season for -almon throughout the whole of B.C. be 'engthened, and it is suggested that this time be from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Monday.
Drastic action against any abuses of this law will be taken by the authorities. The commission further decided that a bounty be set for the capture of dog-fish ; that a lifesaving patTol be established and that there should be established a board for practical scientific investigation. Four commissioners recommended a five-year close season for sockeye salmon on the Fraser River if the Americans reciprocate by closing Puget ^ourd Two commissioners dissented.
T T ^ HAT is wrong the Canadian V' Y ;almon fisheries the coast of T ” British Columbia? Anxiety among the canners regarding the -ready decrease in the salmon runs; a dispute among them as to whether the Fraser River -hould be closed for a period of four or more rears: an agitation for the banishment of the Japanese fisherman and the banning of gasoiine boats are viml problems to tens of thousandir. British Columbia, and throughout '“añada. A Federal Commission under William Duff. M. ?., has been probing for the cause of the general unrest, attempting to find remedies for many grievances of canners and fishermen This commission has to the Minister of Marine and Fisheries £ d a complete report is 'ill be many changes
made as a result of the investigations carried on in B. C. in 1922, changes that will affect the whole salmoneating world. For example, when Mr. Duff, who hails from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, visited some Coast canneries and saw Japanese women at work cleaning fish and filling cans —handicapped by babies strapped on their backs and other children clinging to their skirts or playing
nearby in the grease and slime of the salmon—he stated immediately that this practice must stop.
The result was that the day after this order some of the canneries were paralyzed for lack of help, for the women were unable to leave their children. Not being allowed to bring them to the canneries they had no other choice than to stay at home. The Japanese Fishermen’s Association, however, bridged over the difficulty by appointing and paying one of their women to stay at home and look after all the children while the rest were at work. Eventually, they declare, there will be well-regulated nurseries where the children may more or less amuse
themselves while the busy mothers are engaged at work.
The more up-to-date dwelling places of the Japanese and white man have replaced the primitive camps of the native Indian on the fishing grounds, and seàworthybpt less picturesque gasoline boats now ply the waters of the Georgian Gulf and Fraser River in place of the graceful sail-boat of yore. Hand labor has been supplanted by new and marvellous machinery. But the romance behind this great Canadian industry is still there and comparatively few Canadians have the least idea of the struggles, the labor, the tragedies, heartaches and joys of the thousands whose work it is to catch and can the delectable pink salmon. The industry is a world in itself, drawing to it even as do war and the sea, characters from all walks of life.
Some Odd Characters
''THE fishing fleets of the big canneries that line the A banks of the Lower Fraser River and Puget Sound shores are manned frequently by the flotsam and jetsam of the world, waging fierce battles with the sea, forcing the ocean to give up to them a living.
Thus: “Hi there, Frenchy! Wake up! Skin aloft there and clear that boom before we swamp!” A Pukkah French count, oblivious of the shouts of the man at the helm, sleeps peacefully on in the bottom of an evilsmelling fishing boat, his feet wedged between a heap of wet web and a ballast rock, his head but a few inches from a pile of silvery sockeye salmon, yielded from the net that night.
The rigging of the little sloop has fouled in the storm and the old sailor at the tiller is trying in vain to waken his comrade. And the Count—perhaps count-like—opens his eyes, muttering endearing terms intended for a lady fair, working for the same cannery.
College boys, after a year of strenuous study and nerve-racking session of examinations, are often found “pulling boat” for some fisherman, during their summer vacation. Usually they enjoy the hard physical labor, keen sport and open air life after so many months of brain work indoors, although this life offers many hardships. According to those who engage these young men, however, they are seldom found wanting in courage and staying power. Their love of a hard game, the neversay-die spirit and that sense of pride so often evidenced by college men, bids them stick to the oars even though bleeding hands and aching muscles are crying out for rest.
“The lad who fished with me this summer." Long Tom, a well-known character along the fishing coast, told me, “had more grit than any kid I ever did see. He never could get more’n a hundred fathom away from the dock before he’d git green with sea-sickness. Like that every day and all day, but he’d stick and work all the time. It used to make him mad. ‘Silly habit I just gotta git outa’, he says to me. and then he up and asks me will I take ’im on agin next year.
“ Td ruther be sick all year ’n give in to the darn thing,’ he says. How’s that fer gumption? Sure! I’ll take ’im on agin.”
Overwrought and tired business men frequently spend a season at the oars of some fishing sloop in search of health and steady nerves. Those who stay with it, more often than not, find what they are seeking, but they have been found by old-timers not as dependable in an emergency, nor as keen on the game, as well able to rough it and put up with the inconveniences that are a part of the life of a fisherman as are the young college men. The experiment is often abandoned before they have had a chance to receive any benefits from it.
Noblemen from overseas, stranded on the shores of a strange country, down on their luck, empty of pocket, but debonair and still keen for the conventionalities of civilized life, despite their primitive surroundings, often turn to the fishing industry as the happy means of earning a clean, honest living and getting a new start in life. Innumerable instances of such a character are to be found up and down the coast.
Excess Luggage, Bah Jove!
A N ENGLISH lord arrived at a Fraser River cannery •o*a few years ago with nothing in his possession besides a pair of overalls and a rough sea-shirt, except twenty-four white starched shirts! His “beastly bad luck,” as he was wont to put it, so decreed that this one “appropriate ’’shirt should catch fire and burn up while it was drying over his camp stove. In this predicament, he was forced to wear, one by one, several of the twenty-four starched shirts until he could afford to buy one more
-luted to his needs several weeks later.
Cut off entirely from his source of revenue and having never done a stroke of work before he came to B. C.,
“the Duke,” as he was dubbed by his companions of the fishing camp, had pawned everything contained in the eight “boxes” with which he set out from England,—that is, everything except the twenty-four white shirts.
The pawn-shops would have nothing to do with these.
A fishing boat, too, is the frequent haunt of the remittance man, for there he finds little on which to waste his small holdings, and he is able even to increase his wealth slowly with little worry and no responsibility.
A remittance man known on the river as “Loâf”— merely an abbreviation of the word “loafer”—was put to work for the first time in his life by a burly fisherman who went by the name of “Bluff Butchell.”
Butchell was without a “boat-puller" one stormy night, when there was a big run of fish on, and spying “Loaf” lying asleep in a business place not frequented by members of the W. C. T. U., he picked him up, tossed him over his shoulder and carried him down to his boat.
As he was casting off a comrade inquired why he had chosen to take “Loaf” out with him. “He won’t work, he was advised.
“He’ll work or drown when he sobers up,” returned the other, eyeing the weather. “By the time we make the outside it will take two of us to handle this skiff.”
“Loaf” apparently chose to work rather than drown. Butchell made a record catch and he generously split the proceeds with his helper, who agreed to stay on and work with him.
A Disappearing Race
THESE characters come and go, but there is one on the river who is loath to go and his departure, though it is not entirely effected, is little short of tragedy. This is the bona-fide fisherman, who has made fishing on the coast his life work and who lives with his family on the banks of the Fraser in a tiny shack or scow house that he himself very often has built during the long winter months when the canneries are supplying no work.
These men are gradually being eliminated from the industry by the Japanese, who have during the past few years practically monopolized the fishing grounds, and against whom, in spite of long experience, the white man seems unable to compete successfully. Each season sees more of the vine-covered shacks deserted, while the owners and their families have taken themselves off to the
city where they can find jobs that will net them better wages and in which there is less stern competition.
Until the coming of the Japanese in great numbers to the fishing grounds, the British Columbia Indian had always been an indispensable part of the canneries’ operative power and of vast importance to their interests.
When the salmon in the Gulf and river were plentiful and there was no opposition from other fishermen, the care-free, easy life of the fishing camps appealed to the lazy, indolent nature of the “Siwash,” and he was content for a long time to make his living that way, returning each year from the fishing grounds to his hut or wigwam on the shore of some remote lake, where he would hunt and trap, eking out an existence until the next Spring, when he would return again to the canneries as regularly as the fish he came to catch.
Each year he took with him to the canneries his wife and daughters, who spent their time cleaning the fish and packing them into cans. For many years these dusky women proved that none was quite so deft and quick as they at this work, for which it was so necessary to obtain expert labor. During the rush season these women would stand all day in their bare feet, often with babies strapped to their
backs, scrubbing, cleaning and packing the fish that was to be canned. After a hasty meal, they were always ready and willing to begin their monotonous labor again and would often toil far into the night without a thought of complaint.
Since the departure of the Indian, the canneries and fishing camps have lost rhut-h of the picturesqueness connected with their primitive and quaint modes of living.
Always preferring the open to a house of any kind, the Indian camps were pitched just anywhere close to the cannery. Sometimes his shelter was nothing more than a few reed
mats, woven by the women and held into place by sticks, as a sort of protection against the rain and wind. Sometimes an old sail would hang so that it provided one wall and a roof, or rude huts were knocked together out of anything that could be found in the vicinity.
Before the queer, makeshift lodging places, the squaws, with babies playing around them, w'ould, over a small fire, cook the salmon heads, flounders, sea-urchins, crabs, or anything else which their nets had to offer and the cannery could not use. On slack days in the cannery the women and children would sit in front of their improvised wigwams, making baskets, weaving mats or knitting sweaters and socks for their men. The wool for these garments was usually in its raw state, just as it came from the back of the sheep and they knit as they spun, rolling the greasy wool into a long thread on their knees.
Coming of the Japs
THUS they, lived and worked—quiet, shy, unoffending and diligent. The cannery men were satisfied with their work, for in those days of plentiful harvests
they were as sure of their copper-skinned allies as they were of the fish they came to catch. The Indians had never failed them; there had never been any reason why they should. It was with the continued falling off in the numbers of fish caught and the rising competition with the Japanese that the first signs of their decadence came. It grew with the years and for a long time the canners clung with a tenacity that amounted to folly to the native upon whom they had so long depended.
As time went on, however, the Japanese continued through steady work and industry to prove his worth. He fished day and night, in good weather and in bad, when the fish were plentiful and when they were scarce, never sparing in his efforts to get well-filled nets and assure the canners’ packs. The Japanese women, too, have taken the place of the Indian maids and are said to be just as quick and dependable.
The Japanese on the Fraser and on other British Columbia waters have increased to such an extent that they have threatened to acquire a monopoly of the salmon fishing industry. The Indians have completely dropped out and it is a rare sight now to see one fishing. The white men, too, have decreased greatly in numbers, though they have organized and are putting up a stern fight against the Oriental invasion. Women play a large and important part in the operation of the cannery, by cleaning, washing and putting into cans the fish that are to be packed.
Among these women as they work all day at the long filling tables, ’midst the clash of heavy machinery and the hiss of escaping steam, there are to be found many kinds and classes, too, as among the men. Working side by side, there are the clean, small Oriental women, deft and quick at the work, and, fat husky women, often the wives of the Austrian fishermen or Scandinavian farmers. The\ are slower and sometimes clumsy.
Looking down the long lines of toiling women, occasionally can be seen the more finely-chiseled, dainty features of some well-bred face among the coarser and more hardened. It is difficult to tell just how these women of refinement get there.
The canneries, unlike other factories, which are within the reach of civic control, have been quite
free of regulations controlling the employment of women and children. There are many jobs and light work around a cannery where the employment of children is advantageous. With the older children working within reach of her eye, the younger ones playing beside her and a baby strapped to her back or asleep in a salmon box. the mother of a large family had frequently found it possible to put in a few hours a day at the filling tables in order to help out the family exchequer. But, as already stated, the admission of children to the canneries is now officially banned.
Down through the centuries, the Fraser River, with its thousand miles of roaring canyons, deep, dark pools and rippling shoals, has always been a rich yielding ground for the delicate sockeye salmon. To-day, with the aid of marvelous invention, it pleases the palates of connoisseurs the world over.
The Hudson’s Bay Company first exploited salmon for commercial purposes in British Columbia. During the decade ending in 1860 considerable quantities of salmon were purchased from the Indians, pickled, packed in barrels and shipped to the Hawaiian Islands. During occasional years this trade amounted to about 4,000 barrels. The Hudson’s Bay claimed a monopoly of the business, but later these rights were revoked and several other fish salteries were established on the Fraser.
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The first cannery was put into operation on the river in 1867 by Ewen and Wise, who built a plant at New Westminster. Two years later another cannery began operations and soon after that a third. These enterprises produced in a small way and their output was shipped to the United Kingdom with varying success by ships visiting British Columbia with cargo for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Government. The canning methods employed by these first firms were purely experimental and were carried on without machinery or without precedent. A market had to be created in
the face of much doubt and suspicion of food put up in tin cans.
It was not until 1890 that salmon canning became a recognized industry in British Columbia, and from then on, until the last decade, it increased and thrived with every year. The greatest canning boom that has ever been known in B.C.took place between 1890 and 1901, when numerous canneries were built and operated.
Steveston, B. C., is perhaps the most thriving and most picturesque fishing center in the Province. It is the only active fishing village now on the Fraser and during the whole year is a veritable hive of industry.
In the winter time, the big canneries are closed, and many of the men go away to seek other employment. Though there are no fish to be caught, the little town still throbs with industry and the air rings with the song of the caulking iron. the hammer and saw and the music of the cork and lead lines of the nets as they receive their annual repair in readiness for the coming of the next season.
But five years ago these hopes for the first time were not fulfilled. Never before since the inception of the industry had the salmon failed to run in exceptionally large numbers every fourth year, thus constituting the “big year.” It was as sure as the daily rising of the sun or the ebb and flow of the tide, and fishermen and canners alike had always “banked on it.” But for reasons unknown, in 1917, the fish simply did not come up the river in anything like their usual numbers and the pack of that year was a failure.
Various reasons for the failure of that and subsequent runs have been advanced. The invasion of the gasoline boat on the river has been blamed for the rapid decrease in the quantities of fish, for there are those who believe that the tremendous amount of oil and gas that gets into the water as a result of the operations of boats, poisons many of the fish, while the noise and concussion in the water drives others too deep to be caught.
Others have declared that the American traps and seine boats which fish right up to the edge of Canadian waters, where they are prohibited are the cause of the disappearance of the salmon. Still others proclaim that a heavy land slide in the Fraser blocked the way to the spawning ground and killed millions of fish which were on their way up the river.
THERE are a dozen other theories as to why the fish, which have always run in such quantities should have stopped without apparent reason, but most cannerymen, and fishermen too, will admit that the main cause for the deficiency is because conservation has not been practised. Closed seasons have always been observed, it is true, but traps, seiners and gill-netters have always made wholesale catches of the salmon when they ran so that the supply could not be expected to last.
Thevast fishing fleet of the canneries, returning nightly to the wharves, used to make a picture of peace and beauty as the boats glided in over the glassy waters of the gulf, turned gold by the bright rays of a Brit:sh Columbia sunset. That picture is now seldom seen, for each cannery has found it advantageous to send a large gasoline boat, flying the flag of the company, out into the gulf to collect from the fishermen the fish their nets have yielded. Thus the men often do not return to land for days at a time.
From the collecting boats or individual fishing boats, that ccme in with their OUT deliveries, the fish are thrown into an elevator in the form of a travelling sluice, which carries them to the floor of the cannery. Here it is picked up and fed to a machine, called the “Iron Chink,” because before its invention Chinamen used to do its work. It cuts off the heads, tails and fins, rips open the fish and cleans them at the rate of forty a minute.
The fish are then carried by means of a belt into huge tanks of running water where they are thoroughly washed and scrubbed. Then they are put into a rinsing tank of clean water, where they are allowed to stay a few minutes before they are thrown on a big table to drain. Later they go into the “gang knives,” a set of circular disks, which cuts them into slices the proper size for the cans. From the knives the pieces drop into a vat of brine, where they remain long enough to become flavored, after which they are shoveled into the long V-shaped filling tables, where they are put into cans and packed on flat, open trays. These, in their turn, are carried to the “line.” The cans are released here and are led through a series of remarkable mechanical operations.
As soon as they are put on the travelling belt they are taken immediately intoa long box of rushing steam, which cleans the can of any impurities it may have gathered during the filling operations. After emerging from this the cans are carried without interruption to the weighing machine, where each ore is set automatically upon a stand, just large enough to hold it as it passes by on a big circular disc. If the can carries the full weight it presses down the platform on which it is riding so that an arm pushes it off and then on to another belt and the stand travels around to pick up another can. If the can is underweight, it travels right over the arm and is led off to a side table where a woman is engaged putting in more fish and bringing the can up to weight.
After the cans are released from the “weigher,” they are carried on into the “clincher,” a machine which lightly puts on the tops without sealing them. Then they are ready for their first cooking, which they receive in what is called the “exhaust box.” This is a long, steamfilled box, about thirty-five or forty feet long, the bottom of which is a network of small tracks, just large enough to hold the cans. They travel through this for twenty minutes and emerge from the other end into the “closing machine” which clamps on the top and makes them airtight.
Here, for the first time since they were set on the line, they are touched by human hands, and after going through a spray of cold water to cool them off they are piled in large iron trays known as “coolers” and stacked on tiny flat cars which run on tracks into big, clay-covered iron “retorts,” where they receive a second cooking. This finished, they are lifted by a
small crane, still in the “coolers,” and swung into a tank of water, where they are tested to see that there are no leaks. If a can is not perfectly air-tight a bubble will appear on the surface of the water above the leak and that can is set aside.
Next they are swung farther on, into a vat of boiling lye, where the cans are scrubbed to take off any grease or foreign matter. Into clean water they go now and then are spread out on the floor in their trays to cool. Here they are left all night and piled the next day before the rush of work begins.
Later in the season, when there is less actual canning to be done, these cans are all dipped in lacquer and come out a shining brown color. This prevents rust. They are both lacquered and dried in the one process, being fanned dry as they travel in long rows to the end of the lacquer machine. Again the tins are piled and still later in the season are labeled and put into cases ready for shipping.
All this and more lies behind the nutritious canned pink fish that comes so invitingly to the dinner table, the world over.