Why Fuss About the Trawler?

A fish merchant asserts that the tax on trawlers is a reasonable one and mainly designed to hit foreign competition

WINTHROP BELL April 15 1930

Why Fuss About the Trawler?

A fish merchant asserts that the tax on trawlers is a reasonable one and mainly designed to hit foreign competition

WINTHROP BELL April 15 1930

Why Fuss About the Trawler?

A fish merchant asserts that the tax on trawlers is a reasonable one and mainly designed to hit foreign competition


READ what the article on the next page has to say. Read it and weep! “The Maritimes standing in their own light again.” The poor, purblind fisherman “protesting vociferously” against the one development which would make everybody happy and prosperous. And the government, as a result of their protests, stepping in to protect “antiquated methods and appliances” which our “competitors have long since discarded.” “What’s wrong with this picture?” Nearly everything. Many a reader of MacLean’a Magazine has doubtless often been amused at the glowing assurances of someone outside his line of business of the easy fortunes to be made by the men in it, if only they would do such and such. You know how you could answer the enthusiastic and presuming outsider. Rut you would have to take him through details of costs and experiments, amortization, tariffs, and what not; and he prefers the roseate and hazy vision in general terms.

I am accordingly not impressed by Dr. Atlee’s introductory picture of a weak-kneed generation passing up a huge and assured fortune in shipbuilding. I can recall exuctly the same argument of uniquely favorable geography at the time of the establishment of the steel works at Sydney.

Today, we Nova Scotians watch, witli anxious hope, efforts to put the industry in a position where it can at least pay its way. And in u recent issue of the Financial Pust, in a complete review of it, we find, as the result of thirty y ear» experience: “Dominion Iron and Steel will always be handicapped by its physical location.”

This may seem far aside from the controversy on the steam trawler. Not altogether. The roseate vision in I his ease is of a magic wand, “American capital,” ready to wave us into a new heaven and a new earth. What has actually happened? One American concern has bought out two Canadian fish concerns; a second has bought one Canadian concern. That is a mere transfer of ownership; the actual capital outlay was already there. There is also the new Nova Scotia Public Cold Storage Terminal at Halifax. This is an encouraging sight. But do not forget, please, that this was built, and received its huge government subsidy, for the purpose its name connotes—a public cold-storage warehouse for fruits, meats, vegetables, fish, anything passing through the port of Halifax. In connection with it were built facilities for handling fresh fish—only a part of the whole. What share American capital may have had in this, and on what basis, has, so far as I am aware, not been made public.

It is then really a future or prospective carrot which Dr. Atlee dangles on the magic string “American capital” before the nose of the Nova Scotia donkey. One might point meanwhile to some half million dollars of really new capital invested within the past three or four years in the three “shore-fishing” ports of Lunenburg, Liverpool and Lockeport alone. This is all in actual new construction and equipment, and does not include sums involved in mere transfer of ownerships. We do not think that this merits less consideration on account of the fact that it is Canadian capital. But of this more anon.

Prominent in Dr. Atlee’s article, as in all arguments

on that side of the question, is the assurance or assumption that the trawler is the “modern and improved” method of fishing, par excellence. We are reminded of the auto versus the horse and buggy, the thrashing combine versus a long series of hand processes, and so on. The word “antiquated” is applied to the “hook and line fisherman,” until there is conjured up in the lay reader’s mind a picture of a forlorn figure in a leaky dory, jigging a line up and down in the water.

What are the facts? Come and see them ! Fast motor boats with the latest thing in engines, often two engines to a boat, capable of making their ten or twelve knots to land the fish in the freshest possible shape. Vessels casting $30,000 and $35,000 apiece, with powerful Diesel

engines, electric lights, mechanical hoisting gear, radio equipment. But the fishing itself — isn’t it still done by men dangling lines over the sides of boats? It is not.

If you went out on one of those motor boats you would find it, on reaching the fishing ground,

“setting” long “line trawls,” up to two miles each in length, with hundreds of hooks each— as many of these as the boat carries dories. These are then “hauled” for their catch, by dory. All equipment is as "modern” as that of the steam trawler. It is a difference of two methods of taking the fish. The vessels can, and do, go to the same grounds as the trawlers. They and the boats can also fish certain grounds where the trawlers cannot operate.

In the opinion of the fishermen this method, in not breaking up schools of fish and in not destroying quan-

tities of fish too small for market, as the steam trawlers do, is a better method from the point of view of the conservation of the fisheries. I am afraid Dr. Atlee is a little too ready in assuring us that “scientists say that it—the trawler—has not begun to deplete North Atlantic fishing banks.” They have stated that the trawler does not destroy spawn. On the bald question of depletion itself I think you will find them more guarded. They “have no evidence that,” or the like. Scientists directly connected with fishery matters have told me that adequate facilities have not yet been placed at their disposal to enable them to reach a definite conclusion. Meanwhile anyone in the business in Boston can tell you that the best “dragging grounds” on the great George’s Bank, long the stand-by of the Boston market, are “dragged out.” This very year some American firms actually converted trawlers into dory fishermen—that method which “our competitors have long since discarded”— to fish on those parts of the grounds which, being too rough for dragging, still afford fair catches. It has been announced that, owing to the depletion of the flounder grounds, the United States government will impose a close season for a time on this class of trawler. In view of all this, the announcement that our own Minister of Marine and Fisheries plans to invite an international conference on the whole question should be hailed with gratitude.

But to come back to the question of “modern and improved” methods. Any scientist can reel you off a long list of new methods and processes adaptable to industry, all the way from fertilizers to manufactured diamonds or motor fuels, which may some day be of great value, but which aren’t used yet. What determines whether a method of doing something is an “improved” method or not?

I think you will find that the answer boils down to this: An “improved” method is one which either

produces a better article, or produces a given article more cheaply.

As to the former alternative, our answer is easy. Dr. Atlee himself admits this. “The fish companies want the shore fisherman’s catch because it is a fresher product.” Perhaps in view of this admission I need not take

Continued, on page 72

Why Fuss About the Trawler?

Continued from page 8

up space to cite any further authorities.

As to the latter it is rather interesting that, at the time this is being written, the trawler concerns are engaged in trying to convince the government that trawlers do not produce more cheaply either. If this were really the case there would remain but one point to consider in their argument, namely, the fact that trawlers can land fish with greater regularity in the winter months than can the vessels. Stormy weather interferes more with vessel-fishing than with steam-trawling. But this must not be emphasized out of proportion. What has happened in times while the vessels were faced with severest trawler competition must not be taken as conclusive. Lest this convey no meaning to some readers, let me put what we will agree to call a hypothetical case. During the winter months, in this hypothetical case, on days when no fish is landed by the shore fleet, the trawler companies, having a monopoly of the supply, raise the selling price handsomely. On days when there are shore fish, these companies could then afford, in turn, to slash prices. Could you wonder if, in this hypothetical case, the vessels did not fish as often as possible, but only under conditions where the chance of losing gear was at a minimum? As a matter of fact, the management of Lunenburg Sea Products, Limited, is authority for the statement that during two winters now the Jean and Shirley, Captain Wharton, has landed fish just as regularly as their trawler.

The argument that the trawler is absolutely necessary for regularity of supply stands in strange contrast with Dr. Atlee’s picture of the development of the market by the brine-frozen fillet. If that is to be the case, absolute daily regularity of landing is obviously not needed. If the fish you buy on April tenth is to be a brine-frozen product, it is quite immaterial whether it was landed on March tenth or March twelfth.

It is made to appear as though only through use of the trawler could a certain I quantity of total catch be achieved. This j is absurd on the face of it. Of course,

¡ one trawler may land more fish than one j vessel. That simply means more vessels—

! and incidentally more employment. Please j remember in this connection that the trawler companies have just been trying I to make out, at Ottawa and through the j press, that not per vessel or man em: ployed, but per pound landed, the trawlerI caught fish is not produced more cheaply than the vessel-caught fish.

The practical answer of experience to this claim about quantity has been given during the past few months. Influenced by the claim of the new American ownership of the trawler concerns that they j had huge assured markets far beyond i what the existing trawlers could supply,

; four or five vessels beyond those previously engaged in winter fresh fishing, fitted out for this fishing and began landing their catches in Halifax. These vessels were mainly from the Lunenburg “banking” fleet, which hitherto has been laid up during the winters. Only four or five out of the sixty or seventy of them. What was the result? Within three weeks


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that assured market seemed somehow to have vanished. Vessel-fish brought to their docks the companies either refused to buy at any price, or only at prices at which the vessels actually preferred in desperation to salt down their own catches. And in contrast with that claim about the huge open American market which our vessels could not possibly supply, the addition of these four or five craft found these very companies offering the fish on the Canadian market down to —yes, and below—bare cost figures.

Trawlers Didn’t Make the Industry

r"PHERE are one or two further points in Dr. Atlee’s article that I want to touch on before going over to the other side of the case. First, in the words of Mr. H. R. Swim who has been in the fish business for over thirty years: “It is not true that the development which has taken place in Nova Scotia’s fresh fish business of recent years has been dependent on the trawlers. That’s like making out that the wagon pushed the horse. It was made possible by an improvement in transportation facilities and rates nothing less than revolutionary, so far as the opportunity of the Nova Scotia fisheries was concerned. As one instance: up to two or three years ago we were practically unable to ship fresh fish in summer. Then the Canadian National Railways gave us the fast night service connecting with refrigerator car from Halifax, and since then we have been able to ship just as much in summer as in -winter. But for years every increase in the opportunity was the signal for bringing in additional cheap foreign trawlers to reap all the benefit. Just let me add, in fairness to his memory, that one of the former trawler owners, the late Arthur J. Boutilier, was one of the most effective leaders in the agitation for better transportation.” One might also, in the name of the entire fishing industry, express hearty appreciation of the fine part which the Department of Marine and Fisheries has played in bringing about these transportation improvements.

Second, any market expansion which may accrue through any of the many processes which the public has come to know under the term “brine freezing,” has no integral connection one way or the other with the trawler, as, indeed, I have already suggested. As one of the scientists connected with this brinefreezing development remarks: “You certainly cannot improve the quality of anything by brine-freezing it.” So, if “shore-caught” fish are, as Dr. Atlee admits, of fresher quality than the trawler caught, it would seem that in brinefrozen form they should be preferable from the consumer’s point of view.

Third, the Canso citation in Dr. Atlee’s article. Who would imagine, in reading it in this connection, that the “at present” in this quotation referred to a time, and • was written, weeks, or even months, before the tax on trawler landings had yet gone into effect? I am tempted to put another hypothetical case, or better still, to quote from a letter I have before me from a member of the Canso Fishermen’s Association. But there is a degree of bitterness which one would like to avoid in an article of this kind.

So much by way of answer to Dr. Atlee’s claims. He is not in the fish business. I, perhaps for my sins, am.

The Real Point

Vk THAT, then, is the case against the W trawler? The crux of the whole matter is that now, and for some year? to come, one particular kind of steam trawler

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Continued from page 72

can land fish more cheaply than the vessel and boat fishermen. Not the American trawler: she costs too much to build. From the experience of the one trawler built in Canada of recent years, it Remains uncertain to what extent a Canadian one can do so. But, owing to changes in the English fishing industry you. can today pick up a large number of second-hand English trawlers of a size suitable for operation off the Nova Scotia coast, at bargain prices. Nearly all the trawlers at present in operation came from this same source.

It is this, perhaps temporary, supply of cheap foreign trawlers which constitutes the menace to the very livelihood of our native fishing population. Our attitude toward them is precisely that of other parts of the country, to the introduction of temporarily cheap foreign labor.

But perhaps there is such a huge saving to be made through these craft that the rest of the country could turn a deaf ear to the fishermen’s case? That is to ask: how much more cheaply can these trawlers land fish? I am, as the reader may presume, not on the “inside” of the trawler-operating concerns. I do, however, know some of the contract prices per pound at which these trawlers have, within the past two or three years, landed their fish. I have had the statements of their own captains as to these figures. I also know the figures at which English trawlers have been offered to our own firm very recently by active shipping brokers from the other side. These figures would lead one to say: from a half cent to one cent per pound cheaper on the average. The recent ruling of the government in connection with the trawler tax would lead one to presume that the Department of Marine and Fisheries, with all the data at its disposal, feels that the answer is near the higher figure. The statements recently made by the trawler companies themselves would bring it down to the lower one. So let us accept it.

Would a substitution of trawlers for shore fishermen, then, mean any noticeable cheapening of fish to the consumer in, say, Toronto or Montreal? Let him just ask himself if he can imagine his dealer saying to him: “Fish is now going to be half a cent a pound cheaper to you.” 'Let him compare the price he pays per pound, with the fact that the fisherman smiles the smile of comparative prosperity when he gets as much as three cents a pound for the fish he lands. Let him contemplate the further fact that all the expenses of boats and their outfitting, of catching the fish, of lost gear, of processing in the shore plants, perhaps of freezing and storing, of transportation by refrigerator car a thousand or more miles—that all this is taken care of, and the fish landed on the rail in his city for half and often less than half the price per pound which he pays for it delivered retail to him, and then let him consider how much cheaper fish he could look for by that half cent difference.

On the other hand, that half cent per pound is just what the fisherman has to live on. This is not guesswork. A fisherman knows at the end of each trip how many pounds he has landed, and what his cash “share” is after expenses. Subtract half a cant per pound throughout the year and he literally cannot live.

The Foreign-built Trawler

nPHERE are today, in such ports as Lockeport, Lunenburg and Liverpool, plants just as modern and well equipped as any on the coast. You will find freezers as efficient as any; you will find brinefreezing equipment; fish-meal plants for processing all scrap; you will even find facilities for certain lines of the business which the Halifax plants of the trawler companies do not have. These places, and many others that could be named,

are largely, some wholly, dependent on the fisheries. The concerns in these ports are unanimous in backing the fishermen in their contention against the foreignbuilt trawler. Indeed, of actual producing concerns in the Maritimes I know of only one, apart from those recently bought by American interests, actively supporting the trawler side.

If we w re forced into it we could operate these foreign trawlers just as well as the American firms can. The firms on the southwest quarter of the Nova Scotia coast alone have recently put into vessels as much money as would get us a whole fleet of those trawlers. But we know that, if we were forced into it, we couldn’t pay the fisherman a living price for his fish, for that half cent difference represents considerably more than the margin on which we do business.

I do not think we are all so stupid and short-sighted as Dr. Atlee is willing to assume. We don’t want to see our fishermen robbed of their living. If they are, everyone knows what the result will be. When the struggle becomes hopeless they move over to the States, to take the ! place of the formerly cheap European i immigrant labor now barred by the American quota laws. I should like to take this opportunity to say just a word in general to our fellow-citizens in the rest of Canada who sometimes feel, and occasionally express, impatience at the: persistence with which we Maritimers j bring up certain of our difficulties. The ! reason is neither captious nor superficial. It is this: a thoroughly native and rooted population, the oldest British and French j stock in Canada, anxious to make a living j at home, willing to stay for a very modest j one, but forced by circumstances to emi; grate to a foreign land. That is what ; hurts.

But it is not merely a matter of sentiment. The buying power of these fishermen is not to be sneezed at by the manufacturers and business men of the rest of Canada. We manufacture little down here; we buy nearly everything except our houses and boats from the rest of you. The forced emigration of 25,000 or 30,000 of the present fishing population would not be merely like that of so much unskilled labor. The fisherman is a capitalist, too. In a single typical port, for instance, a place with a population not over 1,000, I could show you a fishing fleet representing a cash investment of something like a quarter of a million dollars, the larger proportion of it owned by fishermen themselves. Is such an investment of Canadians in their own land worthy of no consideration, even from the most hard-headed business point of view?

And remember that the vessels and boats are all built in Canada, and a large proportion of the engines and gear manufactured here. The people who make these things are also your customers. Kill the shore fishery, and it is not only the direct market to the fishermen that will suffer. The foreign trawler, on the other hand, was built, engined and equipped on the other side of the ocean. There is where much of the “investment of American capital” would go to! The exaggerated regard for American capital rather grates on us. You will not find a more prosperous country in the East than Lunenburg—a prosperity based on the fisheries and the capital all provided locally. We pay more for our autos, our clothing, nearly every manufactured article we use, because of tariffs protecting the livelihood of the manufacturing population in Central Canada. Is our fishing population not entitled to that mere half cent a pound protection on its livelihood?

A Reasonable Measure

TAR. ATLEE really shows that it is only the foreign-built trawler that he, or those from whom he quotes his material are interested in. He cites three cents

per pound on th* processed fillet. That means one cent per pound on the raw fish. Now this is the tax on landings by foreign-built craft only! He does not mention the fact that Canadian-built trawlers are to pay only two-thirds of that amount. Still more remarkable, he does not mention the fact that during the winter months no tax of any kind is imposed, and that the t;ax does not apply, at any time, to the cheapest sizes of fish ! It doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it? \

Now as to the American tariff, if one wants a summary running account oí what has been going on over there in the matter of fish tariffs, one can consult the Fishing Gazette for March, June, and monthly from August to December, 1929—first page articles in each case. Let me particularly recommend the November account of the hearing before the Senate Committee investigating lobbying activities, in which the president of the company now controlling the two largest Canadian companies figures prominently. It is true that the two American firms concerned have been active at Washington in trying to get tariff reductions on one or two lines in which they are particularly interested. Why shouldn’t they? They haven’t been applying for free entry of our fish, and they do not appear as interested in many fish items which concern the trade as a whole. But if they could get a tariff on their own particular lines a little less than the difference between the cost of landing fish by the cheap foreign trawler at Halifax, and by the expensive American one in Boston, wouldn’t it be fine? Yes, for them! If they could use the cheap foreign trawler freely out of Halifax they would have the edge, on the one hand, over their American competitors, and over the Canadian fisherman on the other.

The Fordney tariff was a hard blow to our fresh-fishing industry, a terribly

hard blow. In return, American fishing craft are not allowed any more to land their catches, for transshipment to the States, through Canadian ports. With the depletion of their own grounds the Americans, both trawlers and vessels, are having to go farther and farther afield for their catches, to the banks off our coast. The expenses of these long voyages, and the detriment to the quality of the fish, threaten to bring fish prices in the States to a point where our own fishermen might be able to compete there again, even in spite of the Fordney tariff. And now comes the bright idea of those English trawlers. They are still suitable for operation out of Halifax, though obsolete loathe English fishery, and, for this reason, obtainable at prices which enable them to fish cheaply. Apart from the question of interest on investment and its insurance, amortization of cost is, in the operation of a vessel as in the more familiar case of the automobile, a large factor. Why! how easy to play rings round these poor Canadians. Buy up their two biggest firms, and then get over some more of these cheap trawlers with their crews. Of course, the Canadian fisherman will then be down and out. No chance, then, of him ever being able to sell in the American market, or indeed in his own Canadian one. But he can go to—well ! to the United States, where his honest labor will be very welcome.

The Canadian government, however, after careful investigation, decided to tax the landings of these foreign-built trawlers for part of the year. And now follow the tears over the poor deluded Maritimes standing in their own light.

What was it that the premier of Quebec said recently? Something like this: “We welcome American capital; but it must not be employed here in a way which steals the bread from the mouths of our own people.”

My lords! the defense rests.