THE NATIONAL IMPORTANCE OF THE
AN ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE JOHN HALL
MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OF THE
PROVINCE OF QUEBEC.
6th December, 1928
PRESIDENT FENNELL introduced the speaker, who spoke as follows :-If we allow our imagination to carry us back to the days when the red man reigned supreme in this beautiful part of Canada, and if we picture ourselves as standing on the cliffs at Niagara Valls on a bright evening in the month of June between the magic hours of seven and nine, we should have seen hundreds and hundreds of beautiful salmon playing and jumping in the crystal waters below after having completed their journey of a thousand miles and more from the deep waters of the Atlantic. If later on in the season we had skirted the shores of your beautiful lake in a little bark canoe and had ascended the Credit, the Humber and numerous other streams we should have seen there, during the months of October and November, thousands of salmon preparing to return to their winter homes at the end of the spawning season.
With the coming of the white man who brought with him new ideas of progress and civilization, with the clustering together of people in villages, towns and cities, and with the pollution of rivers and streams, the salmon have been gradually driven back until today we find them only in the lower stretches of the St. Lawrence, the Gulf, and the Bay des Chaleurs. It is in that part of our country, where I have spent most of my lifetime, that I have studied our Atlantic salmon concerning which I shall now speak to you.
It is now generally admitted that salmon, as a rule, do not wander very far away from the mouth of the stream up which they return to spawn. They spend the winter in the waters of the Bay des Chaleurs around the Island of Anticosti and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the spring there is a general movement amongst the salmon. This, according to Griswold, is caused by the development of the sexual organs of the fish. He tells us that as the sexual organs of the salmon become larger their breathing becomes more difficult and they lose their appetite. They then strike for the shore and seek other waters where they can breathe more freely, and where they spawn.
After leaving the deep water they feel their way along the shore, looking for the river to which they return to spawn. It is then that they come in contact with the first obstacle on their nuptial journey, the salmon net. These salmon nets consist of a bar net of about 150 to 300 fathoms in length which is tied to the shore with a rope which bars the passage of the fish. The bar net has a depth of eight to twelve feet, and has three traps which are placed at equal distances apart.
The salmon finding that their way along the shore is blocked by the bar net, then swim along by the side of the net. Some of the smaller salmon pass through the meshes of the bar net because these meshes, under the Dominion regulation, must not be less than six inches when extended. The first regulation of this kind originated in Scotland when in 1371 Robert the First decreed that the space between the boughs of the willows used for taking fish should be at least two inches. Some of the salmon try to force their way through the meshes of the bar net. If they do so and the mesh is too small to let them through, the fish generally die because they keep pushing against the net and in doing so the net closes the gills of the fish and they perish in a few seconds. If the salmon in such cases would back up instead of pushing ahead, they would easily release themselves.
While finding their way along the bar net, the salmon enter the traps and once they enter they have not very long to live. With the falling tide the fisherman goes over his net, and with a long pole at the end of which is attached a dip net he takes the salmon out of the traps. The fish are then taken ashore and are immediately packed in boxes with ice, two to three hundred pounds to the box, and are shipped to the various markets. Only a small proportion of our Gaspe salmon find their way to the Canadian markets. Most of them go to the American market. A few years ago, in the early days of prohibition, one of the Custom officials by chance opened one of these boxes in which the salmon were shipped and, much to his surprise, discovered that not a few of the salmon contained bottles of Scotch whiskey.
As the fish find their way along the Gaspe shores, they reach numerous rivers up which they can go to spawn. But nature has wisely provided that these fish do not all enter the first stream they come to. They seek the river in which they were born.
Some twenty-five years ago I happened to be at a fishing port when the fishermen were taking the salmon from their boats. While they were packing their fish I heard them saying that they had a number of the Grand Cascapedia fish and some of the Bonaventure river fish. They all looked alike to me. I then placed several fish side by side, marked them and approaching four fishermen, one after the other, asked them to pick out the Grand Cascapedia fish and the Bonaventure river fish. They did so, and the result was correct in each case.
The salmon do not go from salt water into fresh water as soon as they arrive at their native river. For a while they play about at its mouth and by degrees become accustomed to the fresher water in the estuaries of the river before they strike up stream.
The habits of the salmon change as they move from salt water to fresh. Whilst in the sea they travel mostly during the day. In fresh water they generally travel only at night. They take the fly in fresh water but not in salt water, although cases have been known where they have taken the fly in brackish water in the estuary, but that is the exception. The salmon do not eat whilst in fresh water; at least we have no evidence that they do, but they make up for it whilst in the sea. A salmon loses weight after he enters the stream and the longer he remains in fresh water the less beautiful he becomes. During the months of August and September his body becomes tinted with reddish spots and his silvery coat becomes dull. After a whole winter spent in fresh water, as often happens, the beautiful salmon of the previous spring is a long, lanky, dark coloured fish with very little vitality, and when hooked offers little or no resistance.
In the Province of Quebec most of our salmon rivers are leased. It is sometimes asked, " Why are these rivers leased ? Why are they not open to everybody ?" The answer is that the rivers that are leased have fish in them and those that are not leased have no fish, although in former years they were good salmon rivers. It takes a long time to make a good salmon stream. It takes only a few seasons of poaching to ruin it. I do not believe that it is possible for any government to protect a salmon river as effectively as can be done by private enterprise.
In the Province of Quebec our rivers are leased by private agreement for periods varying from five and nine to fifteen years. Some people believe that it would be better to lease our rivers at public auction at certain fixed periods. There is much to be said for both systems, but if we bear in mind that our first object would be the preservation of our salmon industry and not simply the immediate revenue derived from the rentals, then leasing by private agreement is certainly the better system. Under it the lessee has some incentive to protect and improve the stream he leases, because, he knows that when his lease expires he will reap the benefit of his care by having his lease renewed.
We have many great salmon rivers in the Province of Quebec, but I shall mention only two, the Grand Cascapedia and the Ristigouche. From 1878 to 1893 the Grand Cascapedia river was fished by the different Governors-General of Canada. From 1878 to 1883 it was fished by the Marquis of Lorne, from 1883 to 1888 by Lord Lansdowne, and from 1888 to 1893 by Lord Stanley.
In 1893, during the tenure of office of Lord Aberdeen, who was not a fisherman, the river was leased to the Grand Cascapedia Club. This club consisted originally of ten members, John L. Cadwalader, E. W. Davis, R. G. Dun, Henry W. de Forest, H. B. Hollins, John S. Kennedy, Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, Philip Schuyler, J. J. Van Allen, and W. K. Vanderbilt.
On all well organized salmon rivers a daily record is kept showing the date, the weight of each fish, the fly with which it was taken, and the name of the pool where it was killed. The records of the Grand Cascapedia River, as well as of the Ristigouche, are most interesting and instructive.
In 1879 on the Grand Cascapedia, the Hon. C. Ellis, L. Iveson and Captain G. A. Percy fished from June 9th to August 15th, and Capt. R. N. Fane and Captain Drummond, R.N., fished from July 25th to August 1st. They killed 647 fish weighing 16,288 lbs. One hundred and thirty-five of these fish weighed thirty pounds and over. The best day's fishing went to Captain Percy, who killed 17 fish weighing 465 tbs., averaging 27 lbs. In 1886 R. G. Dun killed a fish weighing 54 Is. and in 1892 Hon. Victor Stanley killed a fish weighing 53 lbs.
On the Ristigouche River, records have been kept since 1880, in which year the Ristigouche Salmon Club was formed. In 1880 the club members killed on the club waters 125 fish weighing 1,638 Is., with an average weight of 12 lbs. In 1927 the club members killed 1,315 fish weighing 23,662 lbs., with an average weight of 19 lbs. During the past 48 years the number killed on the Ristigouche was 37,908 fish weighing 637,730 tbs., with an average weight of 17.35 lbs. During the last ten years the club killed a total of 14,865 fish. This indeed is a very small number as compared to the catches during the same period in the salmon nets. It is sometimes said that the rod fishermen are ruining our salmon rivers. The very opposite is the truth. The net fishermen are taking more fish in their nets today because of the protection afforded the streams by the rod fishermen who have made very serious efforts not only to protect the rivers but who also have paid out large sums of money to the net fishermen for the removal of nets which had been allowed too far up stream, and which had prevented the salmon from ascending the rivers to spawn.
In the year 1005 Malcolm the Second of Scotland enacted the first law relating to the close season for fish, and since that time many other laws and regulations have been adopted, the enforcement of which is not always an easy matter. May I mention a few of the more common offenses ? The Dominion regulations state that all salmon nets should be tied up from sunset on Saturday to sunrise of the following Monday, the object being to leave a free passage way for the fish at least once a week. This tying up is done by means of a rope which is passed under and over the bar net, and which when tightened brings together the upper and lower ends of the net. Sometimes in order to circumvent the law, a fisherman will tie a stone at each end of a piece of rope about three feet long, and throw the stones and rope over the top of the net. This causes the top line of the net to sink a few feet and creates the impression that the net is tied up and out of fishing order, which is not the case. "Drifting" at the mouth of a salmon river when the fish are running is also another means of breaking the law. Formerly when coming down stream with their scows, the lumberjacks would drag a pool with a drift net, thus securing a number. of fish. Nets tied under the booms and logs in the rivers is another means sometimes resorted to. Dynamiting is a thing of the past on most of our salmon rivers. Poaching with flambeau and spear has a greater appeal for the poacher than any other way of taking salmon. On a dark night in the fall of the year, two Ford cars with eight or ten boys will start on a poaching trip. They will drive along the river's bank, keeping a sharp lookout for the guardians. Once they decide on the pools where they intend to try their luck, six or eight of the poachers will hide in different places along the side of the stream, in the trees, and two others will go out on the river with a canoe or raft and with flambeau and spear. The spear is generally made by the village blacksmith who enjoys the confidence of the poachers. The flambeau is made of bark, but if the poaching happens to be in a river near the C.N.R. Railway it is easier to steal the waste from the boxes of freight cars, as this makes a better flambeau. Many a C.N.R. freight train has suffered from a hot box owing to the poachers. The boys in the canoe or raft find their way down stream and when they see a salmon in a pool they spear it and take it ashore. If a guardian is seen coming along, the sentinels on the shore flash a light, blow a horn, or give some other signal, and immediately the men in the boat put out their light by dipping it in the stream. If the guardians are nearby the men in the boat have trouble in escaping. They jump into the water, if it is not too deep, and wade ashore. The guardians have strong explosive lights as well as electric lights which, when lighted, illuminate the whole river. The poachers when caught are hard to recognize; in fact it is nearly impossible to do so. They blacken their faces and change their clothing, usually using as garment an ordinary bag in which they make two holes for their arms. It is thus often impossible for the guardian to recognize his man. If there are only two guardians and eight or ten poachers, the latter, as a rule, succeed in getting their pal away from the guardians unless these latter are armed. Several cases of shooting have taken place where poachers were wounded and in one case a guardian was shot dead. Owing to very effective guardianship, poaching with flambeau and spear is seldom heard of nowadays. Even with flambeau and spear, the poachers do not secure many fish, but the poaching, if not kept down, would cause great damage to a salmon river. The penalties in these cases are never very heavy. Times have changed since Robert the Third punished with death any one caught killing a salmon out of season.
In order to protect our salmon rivers against the dangers of poaching, numerous guardians are employed. Some clubs protect only their own waters. On other rivers the guardianship of the river is carried on by an association composed of the various fishing clubs or anglers on the river. The largest organization of this kind exists on the Ristigouche river. In 1915 the Ristigouche Riparian Association was incorporated by a special Dominion Act and since then the guardianship of the Ristigouche river has been carried on by this association. It employs over one hundred and twenty-five guardians, at an annual expenditure of over thirty-three thousand dollars. Since 1915 the association has spent over seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars to protect and improve the river. The people who live along our salmon rivers are kind and sympathetic, and when good fellowship exists between the anglers and the people, which is happily nearly always the case, the problem of guardianship becomes a very simple one.
In order to improve the rivers most of our clubs have adopted rules and regulations limiting the number of fish that may be killed. For instance ' on the Grand Cascapedia the club has placed a limit of eight fish per rod per day. If a member has a guest and the latter kills say five fish in one day, that member can kill only three fish the same day. Some years ago the suggestion was made that the law should be amended to fix the number of salmon that any one may legally kill at not more than eight per day. It was considered advisable not to have the law so amended but to obtain the same result by means of the various clubs adopting a rule to that effect. It was felt that additional restrictions in virtue of the law to the right of fishing should not be multiplied.
When the time comes for the salmon to spawn they select a part of the river where the bed is composed principally of sand and gravel and where the water is fairly swift and about 18 to 20 inches deep. The female fish deposits her eggs in a hole which she makes in the sand and gravel and the male fish then fertilizes them with his milt. The eggs are very porous and being very heavy sink quickly to the bottom of the river. While the female fish is awaiting the time to deposit her eggs the male fish takes up a position a few feet below her, and as soon as she deposits some of them the male fish leaps forward to deposit his milt. If any time were lost the eggs would fill with water and would be destroyed. The female does not deposit all her eggs at once, the time taken extending over a few days. When the spawning is over, the fish return to the sea. It often happens that the fish are trapped by ice forming over the pools, and when this takes place they are imprisoned until the ice goes out the following spring. I have heard the guides tell of some one hundred fish and more being trapped in a small pool and how during the winter months they could on certain days see the fish through the ice.
Much has been learned in recent years concerning the habits of salmon, due to the work of investigation carried on in Scotland. In 1904 Mr. Johnson made the important discovery that the age of a salmon can be determined by counting, under the microscope, the number of rings formed yearly on the scale of the fish. As a rule the salmon in European waters spawn only once. A few years ago the scales of about three hundred of the river Moisie fish were sent over to Scotland for examination, and it was then ascertained that thirty-five of these fish had spawned once, eleven had spawned twice, sixteen had spawned three times and one had spawned four times, thus establishing the interesting fact that in the Province of Quebec even the salmon have large families.
In my opening remarks I mentioned that in the early settlement days of Ontario, salmon abounded in Lake Ontario and the streams that empty therein. It is not necessary to go so far back to find evidence of the existence of salmon in these waters. Writing in 1860, Sir James Edward Alexander referred to the fact that "salmon ascend the St. Lawrence and enter the St. Francis, the Credit, the Humber and other streams beyond Toronto, and are then speared and taken in nets."
In 1890 the Ontario Government appointed a commission to enquire into the condition of the fish and game in this Province. In the report made by the Commission in 1890 we find a statement officially recording the fact that "the sea salmon can hardly be said nowadays to be an Ontario fish." Mr. Samuel Wilmot, of the Dominion Fishery Service, recorded its disappearance from Lake Ontario fifteen years previously, that is to say only seventeen years after the time when Sir James Alexander stated that the fish still ascended to those waters.
May we not pause and ask ourselves if the same conditions that did away with the salmon in these splendid lakes and streams do not exist today in connection with our other inland fisheries.
What is the greatest danger with which we are obliged to contend at the present time as regards our fisheries ? It is undoubtedly the pollution of the streams, particularly from pulp mills. The reason why is a very simple one. In order that fish may live in a stream there must be oxygen in the water. Remove the oxygen and all forms of fish life become impossible. The pollution of a stream as regards fish by a one hundred ton pulp mill is equivalent to the pollution thereof from domestic sewerage from a city of the population of one hundred and sixty thousand people. The sulphuric acids from a pulp mill rob the water of its oxygen.
In this connection various experiments have been carried out. In 1915 Wells of the University of Illinois experimented with blue gills. He mixed sulphuric acid with water, the mixture consisting of seven parts of sulphuric acid to one million parts of water. The fish placed therein died in sixty hours.
In 1907 Dr. Marsh, of the United States Geological Survey, experimented with perch, bass and trout fry. He took the liquor direct from a pulp mill digester and mixed it with water in the proportions of one to ten and one to two hundred. The fish placed therein died in periods of two and a half hours to eighteen days according to the strength of the mixture.
Last summer it became known that the International Paper Company proposed building a one hundred and fifty ton pulp mill at Dalhousie at the mouth of the Ristigouche River, and that the Fraser Companies also intended building a pulp mill of the same capacity at Athol, some twenty-five miles farther up the stream. The fishing interests were naturally disturbed and immediately set about examining what the effect would be upon the salmon that enter the Ristigouche. I was retained to inquire into the situation in order to see what could be done to save the fisheries. After examining numerous rivers where pulp mills had been erected I had the advantage of going over part of the ground with Mr. Bernard Phelps, of Columbia University, one of the outstanding authorities in the United States on stream pollution. Professor Phelps proceeded on the assumption that if there is a sufficient flow of water in a stream in order to dilute the acids, a pulp mill can exist even on a salmon river provided that the screenings, etc., from the mill are not allowed to enter the stream. He measured the flow at Dalhousie, where the International Paper Company also proposed building, the quantity of water going in and out daily with the tide, and found that a one hundred and fifty ton pulp mill can be safely built at the mouth of the Ristigouche.
As regards the Fraser mill at Athol the situation was a more serious one because the mill site is at the head of the tide. The fishermen were anxious to find some solution by means of which the acids from the mill would not destroy the fishing in the river. Different suggestions were made. One was that the mill should be built further down stream at Campbellton. Another was that the acids should be pumped to a point farther down stream as is done in connection with certain oyster beds in the United States. Still a better and cheaper method was sought and Professor Phelps finally suggested a method which is cheap in construction and effective as regards the results to be expected. It consists of making a pond outside the mill, having a superficial area of fifty thousand square feet, the pond to be five feet deep and twice as wide as it is long. This would require a pond a little over 150 feet by 300. The acids from the mill while passing through this pond, by being exposed to the air and cooled, improve thirty-five per cent as regards their dangerous effect upon fish life. While the margin of safety is small, if the pond is built and all screenings are kept out of the river it will still be possible to have this mill at Athol. This goes to prove that fishing and industry under certain conditions can exist together on the same stream.
The law as it now reads prohibits pulp mills from diverting even a drop of its acids into a stream where there are fish. It is impossible for a pulp mill to operate without diverting the liquor from the digesters somewhere. The result is that nearly every pulp mill in the country is violating the law. The time has arrived when the law should be amended so as to permit industry to make use of a stream up to the point where it will not endanger fish life, but when once that point has been reached no further use should be made of the stream unless we are prepared to sacrifice one of our greatest national assets, our fisheries.
Gentlemen, I had intended telling you something about the actual fishing for salmon with rod and line. May I suggest instead that one and all of you come salmon fishing with me next spring and I will then have the pleasure of giving you a practical lesson instead of a technical one.
The HON. MR. PRICE expressed the thanks of the Club to the speaker for his interesting address.