A Japanese "floating cannery" has been operating off the B. C. coast—"It’s a menace," say many British Columbians

P. W. LUCE March 1 1937


A Japanese "floating cannery" has been operating off the B. C. coast—"It’s a menace," say many British Columbians

P. W. LUCE March 1 1937


A Japanese "floating cannery" has been operating off the B. C. coast—"It’s a menace," say many British Columbians


BRITISH COLUMBIA may be facing another Yellow Peril, economic rather than physical this time. The Japanese are said to be fishing for a foothold in the great salmon industry of the Pacific Coast. If the most pessimistic prophecies as to their intentions should prove to be well founded, the outlook for the future prosperity of cannery men and fishermen is drab indeed.

The Japanese themselves say there is no cause for alarm. Their incursions among the schools of salmon, they insist, have been motivated by a thirst for knowledge. Science, rather than commerce, has been behind all their activities.

Many high officials in the Canadian Fisheries Service are inclined to accept the Japanese viewpoint almost without reservations. Ottawa, especially, remains unconcerned.

Obviously, it is difficult to appraise motives, but certain accomplished facts indicate clearly enough that Japan is eager to add to her already large store of information about Pacific Coast salmon and other commercial fish.

Financed by Tokio interests, the scientific research ship, Hakuyo Maru, operated off Alaska and British Columbia for several months last yehr, and cruised as far south as California. Scientists on board studied the movement of salmon on their way to the spawning grounds, charted their course, noted their feeding places, and found out where they congregate in large numbers.

The Hakuyo Maru is the type of ship known as a “floating cannery,” but designed on a rather more elaborate scale to meet the special needs of the expedition. There is equipment on board to facilitate experiments with various methods of netting fish; trying out different ways of freezing, processing, cleaning, preserving, and canning.

15. C. Canners Worried

JUST IfOW much was learned by the Hakuyo Maru scientists and their assistants has not been revealed, but many British Columbia cannery operators, packers, coldstorage plant men, merchandisers and ordinary fishermen, are firmly convinced that the Japanese will put to practical use the information gained during this expensive investigation. They gloomily foresee the day when floating canneries will be established at strategic points where it will be comparatively easy to capture the fish on the high seas before it reaches the three-mile area where it enjoys the protection of regulations enforced by regular ship patrols.

According to Frank T. Bell, United States Fisheries Commissioner for Alaska, six large floating canneries operated without restrictions last summer in Bristol Bay a body of water so wide that much of it does not come within the international three-mile-limit regulations. One of these floating canneries, a 15,000 tonner, had a crew of 600 and served as mother ship for fishermen working out in sampans.

Ostensibly the Japanese were fishing for crabs, but crabs are not caught in the open sea.

Built in Japan where material and labor are cheap, oper-

ated by Japanese whose wages would be but a fraction of those paid the whites and Indians in British Columbia, paying no license fees, untroubled by restrictions or regulations, catching fish seven days a week, subject to no strict sanitary supervision, these establishments could market their catch at a figure far below the cost of production at canneries located on shore. They could shift their position as often as necessary so as to stay close to the schools of salmon, and they could load the finished product direct on freighters which would thus escape having to pay heavy harbor dues.

As a matter of fact, even without these manifold advantages the Japanese are now selling Russian “pink” salmon in the United Kingdom for a price which British Columbia cannot meet for the same fish, notwithstanding the preference to Canada under the Empire trade agreements.

The fear of what the future may hold is not confined to men whose financial interest will be adversely affected. Provincial authorities are also showing considerable concern.

Hon. G. S. Pearson, Commissioner of Fisheries, has already taken the matter up with Hon. J. E. Michaud, Dominion Minister of Marine and Fisheries, who visited Victoria last fall.

“They are our fish,” declares Mr. Pearson emphatically. “The salmon are spawned and bred in British Columbia or United States streams, and they cannot rightly be considered the property of any other nation. We have spent large sums to propagate and protect salmon, have regulated the catch at a considerable sacrifice of immediate profits, and we could, by preventing spawning in the rivers, exterminate the salmon in a few years.

“If we have not now sufficient rights to protect our interests beyond the three-mile limit, the Dominion should start negotiations immediately for an international agreement to cover the situation.”

British Columbia, of itself, can do nothing.

So far, there is no local knowledge of Dominion action.

Japan’s Fishing Industry

NOT ALL citizens take the situation as seriously as Mr.

Pearson. Some are satisfied that the Hakuyo Maru is simply a research ship and that all investigations have been conducted in a purely scientific spirit.

In support of this contention they jxrint out that the Japanese have carried out their operations quite openly. Professor Siji Kanda, who is said to have represented the Japanese Department of Fisheries on board the vessel for a time though this is denied in official circles—and who later studied British Columbia and American cannery methods, read a paper on his work before the Institute of Pacific Relations at Yosemite Park last September.

Dr. Kanda, who is professor of the Imperial Fisheries School at Hakodate, explained that Japan does not practice

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fish conservation at present, though more advanced than this continent in fish culture. Much salmon fishing is done under lease in Russian waters, but some of these leases have been so depleted by over-fishing that they are almost exhausted, particularly in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The problem was attacked with characteristic Japanese thoroughness. The Tokio Fishing Institute fitted out the Hakuyo Maru and sent it out on an eightmonths cruise, which took in the long strip of Pacific Coast from the northern tip of Alaska to Southern California, the longest stop being made at Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Two other floating canneries, the Toten Maru, 6,000 tons, and the Taihoku Maru,

8,235 tons, accompanied the research ship, but confined their operations to the Alaskan coast.

The Hakuyo Maru is a sturdy oilpowered vessel of 10,000 tons, equipped with all the necessary machinery for commercial fishing and processing on a small scale. It has a daily capacity of 14,400 half-pound tins, and the reduction plant can handle five tons of fish daily. In addition there is a freezer, a cold-storage room, and facilities for salting salmon in the Japanese style.

Tuna, crab, halibut, herring, pilchard, and other fish were studied as well as salmon, though the latter claimed most of the attention.

The ship’s complement consists of seventy, including officers, crew, scientists and student assistants.

A number of small boats, tendered by gasoline launches equipped with radio direction finders, are released from the parent ship and scatter in all directions until a school of fish is located, whereupon all gill nets are concentrated in that area. The fish have mighty little chance of escaping, as they usually swim reasonably close to the surface and are easily handled.

The fishing industry of Japan sustained a severe blow last December when Russia first refused to renew fishing leases in its territorial waters and then renewed the leases for one year only, this action being taken as a reprisal for the German-Japanese treaty pledging these two nations to actions considered inimical to Soviet interests. Approximately half of Japan’s catch is affected—1,400,000 cases out of a total of 2,900,000 cases. The Russians say they will not negotiate a new treaty until they are convinced Japan has abandoned her anti-Communist accord with Germany.

The probabilities are that the Russians themselves plan to market their own fish. In the. past their contribution to world markets has been negligible, averaging from 75,000 to 100,000 cases a year.

Off Kamchatka alone, Japanese floating canneries put up a pack of 314,000 cases in 1935, this being their best season since they were established only a few years ago.

Fish are Valuable

BRITISH COLUMBIA packed 1,850,000

cases of salmon in 1936, having a total value not far short of §13,000,000. It was the best year since the record catch of 1930, and it would have been still better but for a fishermen’s strike at Rivers Inlet, which meant a lossofaround 100,000 cases, though this may have saved the market from being glutted early in the season.

In order of commercial importance, the species of salmon are: sockeye, chums, cohoes, springs and steelheads. The pinks alternate; there will be 500,000 cases one year, and only 3,000 the next.

Fifty canneries prepare the salmon for market, but some of these operate only in “big” years. For some unknown reason, there are far more sockeye every fourth year returning to the Fraser River and some of the northern streams, but in the Skeena, Babine, and Rivers Inlet districts, they have a five-year cycle. The salmon always return to the stream where they were spawned, though they probably spend the intervening years together in some unknown quarter of the Pacific Ocean. Every river and inlet has its typical “family” of salmon easily recognizable by experts, though alike to laymen.

The Rivers Inlet and the Smiths Inlet fish are known to come in from the open sea in mixed schools as far as the south end of Calvert Island, where they suddenly separate and each goes to its own home stream. The fishermen claim they can point out the exact spot where the break takes place, but this is probably an exaggeration.

Pink salmon, unlike the aristocratic reds, have only a two-year cycle. They are mostly canned on Massett Inlet, on the Queen Charlotte Islands, where the canneries remain closed during “off” years.

It’s a different story on the Fraser River, though. There the catch has been phenomenally good. Steveston, the fishing

community a few miles from Vancouver, is today one of the most prosperous towns in the province. The catch, 165,000 cases, is the largest since 1914.

The vagaries of the sockeye salmon are responsible for the good fortune of the Fraser River fishermen. From time immemorial the salmon has come to the Fraser through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which lies between Vancouver Island and the State of Washington. In these waters, Americansestablished fish traps that took such heavy toll that the industry was seriously threatened, and it is only recently that an international treaty has been ratified between Canada and the United States which gives the British Columbians an even break, and allows the fish a sporting chance of reaching the spawning grounds.

The salmon, however, did not choose to take advantage of these privileges. Instead, they deserted their traditional route through Juan de Fuca, came round the northern end of Vancouver Island and followed the Inside Passage to the mouth of the Fraser without touching American waters, thus pioneering an “All-Red Route” to the loud lamentations of Uncle Sam’s fisher folk.

Experts differ as to the cause. Some think the abundance of food lured the salmon too far north. Others blame shifting currents and storms from the south. The most plausible theory is that the abnormally high floods of the Skeena River carried fresh water so far out in the ocean that this diverted the homing fish from their regular routes, the error not being discovered by some strange instinct until a few miles from shore, when they turned southward and so came to the Fraser.

Japanese Fishermen in B. C.

YA/'HATEVER the reason, the gill nets W of the Steveston fishermen often broke under the heavy weight of entangled sockeye. At fifty-five cents a fish, many boats made more money in a week than most men eam in a year.

K. Nishi hauled in 7,000 salmon all by himself. This netted him $3.850.

F. Morura made over $3,000.

Gus Swanson, said to be high man among the whites, got a little better than $2,500.

Dozens of others made from $1,500 to $2,000 during the big week, and added considerably to this before the run was over.

Proportionately, the Japanese earned more than the whites. There are 400 of them on the Fraser, and 1,800 more in the northern waters, and it must be admitted they deserve whatever success comes their way. They work hard. They put in long hours. Their gear is kept in good shape. They have staunch power boats. Though they have a separate union —the Amalgamated Japanese Fishermen’s Association—they work in harmony with their white competitors. They don’t break the law any oftener than the other i fellow.

The number of licenses issued to Japanj ese is strictly limited, but any Japanese who served overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces is exempt from restriction. A large number of returned Japanese went in for fishing, and for many years the saying that “old soldiers never die” seemed to apply to them with peculiar force. Of late, however, the R.C.M.P. have been checking over papers and individuals with meticulous thoroughness, and there is very little, if any, trading in license privileges going on now.


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Thirty-five years ago, shortly after the Japanese first established themselves in the fishing industry, their presence was much ¡ resented by the whites and Indians. They refused to join in a strike for an increase of two cents a fish—it was only ten cents in those days—and the militia had to be called out to quell rioting in Steveston, at that time a white community. The strike failed, and for years thereafter the canners showed some preference for Japanese gill netters.

Today Steveston swarms with Japanese. There is hardly a white resident left in the town.

Dr. Kanda spent some time studying conditions in Steveston, and was satisfied with what he found there. Included among the fishermen are many students of knowledge and discernment, and these were able to give him valuable information concerning the habits of the salmon both before and after it reaches fresh water.

The distinguished scientist did not limit his enquiries to the men of his own race. He came to Vancouver with letters of introduction from large importers of Canadian goods, paid a formal call on the officials of the B. C. Canners’ Association, and requested permission to study the British Columbia method of handling fish, a request cordially granted.

“We figured we might just as well make good fellows of ourselves,” one of the canners explained, laughingly. “There was nothing he couldn’t have learned secondhand from some of his own countrymen who understand our methods as well as we do ourselves.”

Dr. Kanda was most thorough in his investigations. Lie spent several weeks studying processing methods up and down the Coast, asking innumerable questions and taking voluminous notes, and occasionally criticizing certain methods which seemed to him capable of improvement.

Accompanying Dr. Kanda on this tour were S. Nichiro, production manager for the Tokio Fishing Institute, and M. Nichiro, head technician of the same concern. Each of these gentlemen applied himself to learning all he could about his end of the business, but there is reason to believe the technician learned more than the production manager. No salesman ever tells a rival all the tricks of his trade.

Though he could not speak English when he reached Vancouver, Dr. Kanda found time to study the language and could talk it, after a fashion, a few weeks later. Lie is confident he will have mastered it within a year. At present he is combining the study of English with the pursuit of piscatorial knowledge at the University of California. He plans to continue his Pacific Coast and Alaskan investigations for the next two years at least.

Cause for Alarm

TT IS NOT definitely known how much L time the Hakuyo Mam spent charting salmon routes off the Canadian coast. Some Dominion officials are inclined to think the floating cannery spent most of its time in Alaskan waters. It is undisputed that several weeks were spent in Bristol Bay, the world’s greatest red salmon area, hitherto regarded as a distinctly American resource.

The fishermen of Alaska, as well as those of the State of Washington, are seriously

exercised about the matter. Miller Freeman, a member of the Washington State Planning Commission and publisher of the Pacific Fisherman, has gone so far as to urge that Western Alaska be declared a strategic military area and declared permanently closed to foreign fishermen. This would not affect Canadians, who never go so far north.

“Until recently these Japanese activities have seemed merely of academic interest to American operators,” says Freeman. “The latter have felt secure in the stability of their own resources, maintained and built up by our Government’s conservation policy.

“They were not alarmed when floating crab canneries were established in Bristol Bay ; we were not interested in crabs. They did not worry when the Japanese scraped the bottom of the sea for cod, hake, halibut and other ground fish, taking heavy tonnage, though we have spent vast sums to conserve halibut, a deep-sea fish.

“It was not until last year, when it was learned that the ‘floaters’ were canning salmon, that it was at last realized there was evident reason for alarm.”

The Americans, like the Canadians, claim a proprietary right in migratory salmon, even though this is not recognized by international law. Some of the fish caught in Siberian waters by Japanese fishermen are known to have been spawned in the Fraser River. This was established by means of tags attached to spring salmon over a period of twelve years, though only a very few of the tagged fish have been reported. The tagging, by the way, has been spasmodic rather than consistent, owing to the shortage of funds for this work, but enough tags have been returned to establish the main migration routes of the fish.

At its annual meeting in Seattle, the Association of Pacific Fisheries passed a resolution expressing the opinion that, “The announced plan of the Japanese to exploit the salmon fisheries of Alaska on the high seas is a serious menace to the life of the American salmon canning industry and to the 30,000 employees and fishermen directly dependent on it . . . The attention of the authorities at Washington is directed to the seriousness of the situation.”

British Columbia also has around 30,000 persons directly engaged in the industry. There are 7,746 white and 3,079 Indian fishermen. There is an investment of $50,000,000 in canneries, salteries, coldstorage plants, boats and gear, and over a long period the net revenue is estimated at $10,000,000 a year.

Small wonder, then, that those most closely concerned are inclined to worry over what the resourceful Japanese, with their floating canneries, may soon be doing to this industry.