Canada's Fishery Resources
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 23 Nov 1916, p. 288-298
Prince, Professor Edward, Speaker
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Canada fisheries, ranking amongst the greatest in the world. This discussion is divided into sections with the following headings: Canadian and Australian Waters Compared; Value of Our Fisheries Underestimated; Seven Fishery Divisions; Three Unique Features in Our Fisheries; Fisheries Our Most Permanent Resource; Reckless Waste in Fishing Industries; Canadian Fish-Ration Appreciated by Our Soldiers; Evil Influence of Fish-Combine; Why Fish-Food is Best and Cheapest; How to Make Fish Popular and Cheap; Government Methods of Conservation; Public Opinion Needed; Conclusion.
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23 Nov 1916
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 23, 1916

MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--No one glancing with an intelligent eye over the map of Canada can doubt that her fisheries rank amongst the greatest in the world. With two oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, washing her eastern and western sea-boards, with a silver network over her interior expanse, of lakes, lakelets, rivers and streams, comprising half the fresh water of the globe, it is no marvel that the Dominion fisheries are unrivalled. Think of the Great Lakes (comparable to, if not surpassing, the superb lake-system of equatorial Africa),--think of the noble rivers which close at hand, or through her remotest limits, speed their course, the colossal St. Lawrence, famed in history as in commerce, the giant Mackenzie, 2,500 miles long .; the Saskatchewan (including the Bow), 11,200 miles, the Nelson, 1,600 miles, the Peace and Churchill, each 1,000 miles, the Fraser, 695 miles, the Ottawa, 685 miles, and fifty other noble rivers, the Restigouche, the St. John, the Miramichi, the Saguenay, the Natashquan, which for scenery and salmon angling are without rivals, unless they be the lovely historic rivers of "Bonnie Scotland ! "


Canada's area as you all know is 3,729,665 sq. miles, an area bigger than the United States by 112,000 sq. miles, even with Alaska included; and nearly 200,000 sq. miles of it covered by fresh water. I have been over nearly all this immense territory, and know well the waters and their finny tribes from the Alaska boundary on the North-West, and the Peace River and Lesser Slave Lake, away east to the Bay of Fundy and Grand Manan, and I try in vain to picture to myself the exhaustless riches we possess beneath the waves. What a contrast with Australia, with her 3,063,000 sq. miles of land, having practically one great river only, the Murray, 1,200 miles long, and its giant tributaries, and twenty or thirty inferior rivers, and few lakes, excepting salt ones!

I have been in that distant and noble part of our Empire and saw something of her parched condition in time of drought, even the Murray River, 70 feet deep in some places, was dried up here and there.


But, gentlemen, it is not my intention to burden this short address with fishery statistics, imposing though the figures may be. I will only say that the $35000,000 officially stated to be the annual value, falls far short of the actual value. We must remember that whole tribes of Indians, Eskimos, remote trading posts (especially Hudson's Bay forts), mining and hunting camps, trappers, prospectors, lonely settlers and explorers, consume large quantities of fish, impossible to record or even to estimate. Let me give one example. Near the mouth of the Mackenzie River in 1905, an official found 20,000 dried fish, chiefly the "Inconnu," the peculiar Mackenzie River salmon, praised as a food fish one hundred years ago by Dr. Richardson. These fish range from 15 lbs. to 40 lbs. each, and this catch, at one camp on Arctic Red River alone, must have. weighed about 200 tons. Over 100,000 persons are engaged in fishing, curing and handling fish, nearly 2,000 large fishing vessels and 38,536 smaller craft, 11,097 being gasoline motor boats, are employed.


A bird's eye view of the fisheries may be best afforded by dividing Canada up into seven fishery divisions (1) The Atlantic deep-sea fisheries, including the famous codbanks, extending from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador to Sable Island and Brown's Bank, off Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy. Cod, mackerel, haddock, halibut, herring, hake, seals, and whales, are taken of an annual value Of $12,000,000. (2) The estuarine and inland waters of the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Salmon, shad, gaspereaux, striped bass, smelt, fresh-water salmon, trout, lake trout, pickerel or dore, etc., form the catches, valued at $4,000,000. (3) The Great Lakes and tributary waters. Lake whitefish, lesser whitefish, erroneously called lake herring, pike-perch, or yellow pickerel, black bass, maskinonge, catfish, etc., are the principal species, $3,000,000 value. (4) North-West waters from Lake of the Woods to Lesser Slave Lake. Whitefish, sturgeon, tullibee, pike and gold-eye, an excellent true freshwater herring, sturgeon (and caviare), $1,000,000 in value. (5) The Rocky Mountain Plateau, embracing little developed fisheries. Lake varieties of Pacific salmon occur, whitefish, trout, including the splendid red throat, the sluggish Dolly Varden, the handsome rainbow, and fine grayling, one of which is really a Rocky Mountain whitefish of good game qualities, though called grayling. (6) Pacific Coast fisheries, under which come the great salmon canning and curing industries, the immense halibut fisheries, also black cod, herring, oolachan or candle fish, smelt, rock-cod, dogfish, whale, and other fisheries. The value is $14,000,000. (7) The Peri-Arctic and Hudson Bay division (Ungava Bay to the Mackenzie River) embracing whale, walrus, sea-trout, herring, sturgeon, inconnu, a large river whitefish, pike or jackfish, pickerel or dore, and possibly cod and salmon. The richest whale and walrus grounds in the world occurred in these tidal channels of Canada's arctic archipelago,which, as Sir John Schultz nearly 30 years ago said, are "the last home of the leviathans, which within the memory of living men, have been driven from Newfoundland latitudes to the places where their survivors have now sought retreat."


There are three features characteristic of our fisheries, in which no other fisheries can equal them, viz.:

(1) The purity and coolness of our waters, all being north of the 45th parallel of N. latitude. In such waters the inferior fish of warmer climes cannot live. Salmon, trout, cod, whitefish, the best food and game fishes, the very aristocracy of the fishworld, are native of our waters.

(2) The cold winter-conditions provide Nature's own refrigeration on a vast scale. In no other country can fish be so effectively kept fresh, transported and preserved, cheaply and perfectly. Our winter means millions of dollars to the fishing industries.

(3) Fish are everywhere. Mr. J. B. Tyrrell, the distinguished Canadian explorer, whom I am glad to see present on this occasion, has told us that some remote northern lakes, practically frozen over the whole year, were found by him to be crowded with fine whitefish.


Fishing can be carried on by even those with the least capital, and with a small outfit--a boat, a net, baited hooks. These are all, excepting, of course, a fishing license! When one realizes that this harvest of our waters, is sown, grows, increases without man's aid or effort, unlike agriculture, or mining, or lumbering; no labour or great capital needed, just the equipment and skill needed to reap the harvest and secure the crop, how should our people value it! Moreover, the harvest of our seas and lakes is almost independent of national and international crises. The herds on the pastures, the grain in the fields, the hay on the prairies, the fruit in the orchards, the produce of the land generally, may be destroyed in time of war, or by natural calamities. We think of the fields of continental Europe now, devastated and yielding no bountiful food products, while the storm of war rages. It is otherwise with the fisheries. The silvery legions of the sea, the finny armies in our lakes and rivers are little affected by war on land, or sea, or in the air. They are amongst the most available, reliable, and lasting of our natural resources.


Yet how prodigally, how criminally have we wasted these treasures of the sea and lake and river. Wasteful methods of fishing, destruction of fish at spawning times, slaughter of immature fish, ignorant and incompetent handling and preservation of fish, evasion and violation of laws and regulations for protecting and conserving fish-such has been our policy.

Not long ago lobsters were looked-upon as a nuisance by eastern salmon-trap fishermen, crushed under foot, and thrown on the land. Sturgeon and smelt were used for fertilizer. Even sportsmen would pile up black bass and trout on rocks and on the beach, in haste to make "record catches," and leave them to rot and putrefy. I have myself seen 20,000 salmon thrown from a wharf in Northern British Columbia because the fishermen would continue to catch them, and the canners would not can them, being of a less valuable kind than the esteemed "sockeye salmon." Today such salmon, the "Pink," or humpback, are of such importance that in recent years they have formed about one-sixth of the total British Columbia pack.

The shad is an esteemed and valuable fish, but so scarce in Canada now that they bring a high price. Years ago in one spot, Scott's Bay, at the upper end of the Bay of Fundy, 50,000 shad were taken on a tide. In 1872-73 no less than 100,000 were taken by three seines in the same place; today a few hundred is all that can be caught. The "shadmen" (said one witness before my Shad Commission in 1908) could not take care of their big catches, and had to let some go adrift. Thousands were wasted because they had not enough salt to cure them. Michael Doyle, the father of the Toronto fish trade, who came here in 1862, told of Toronto Island fishermen bringing in boats loaded down with lake trout and with whitefish. They glutted the market and were piled outside on the sidewalks. On the Prince Edward County shore 1,000 to 6,000 Lake Ontario whitefish would be seined at one time. That was fifty years ago, and it sounds like a fairy tale. I have no time to point out the wasteful methods of curing of fish, resulting in vast money losses every year. Canadian saltherring I have known sell for $z or $3; indeed $4 or $5 per barrel was a good price; but Scotch and Norwegian herring (better packed, that is all) brought $10, $15, or even $20, per barrel. Again, great quantities of good fish are used as offal. "Five fish are thrown away for each halibut caught in British Columbia," said a well-known authority. Some people will not eat an eel, others will not eat a "lawyer" (I can understand that because a lawyer may be tough). It is the lake cusk or freshwater ling and could be utilized on our tables; but the wolffish, the rock blenny, the angler or goosefish, the skate, and twenty other kinds, are of great value as food. Dr. Huntsman, who is in charge of the Atlantic Biological Station, arranged to place on the dinner table there recently many of these despised fish, and somewere exceedingly good and none of the staff were poisoned or he and I would not be here today!

Some of these excellent fish, despised by us, have been included in the great shipments sent to our soldiers in Europe, and all have been appreciated. We have deliberately thrown away millions of tons of fine edible material. But we have polluted and obstructed our waters, too.--I have tried on my part, as Commissioner of Fisheries, to stem the tide of this waste. It seems often a thankless task. One feels like the soldier in the trenches, who described the risks of warfare to a friend: "If yer stand up (he said) yer gets sniped. If yer keeps dawn yer gets drowned; if yer moves about yer gets shelled, and if yer stand still yer gets court-martialled for frost-bite!"


I have one more disagreeable thing to say and that is,-" We have allowed foreign firms to monopolize our fisheries." Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, these cities have dictated our prices, and great combines in those centres have secured our catches and taken our fish from us. Agents are everywhere, sparing no effort to prevent Canadians getting their own excellent fish, because big United States cities want them. That has been dealt with officially, and will be more effectively dealt with, in the future.

A word or two on the fish-food question. People have the impression that fish are not as nutritious, and not so substantial a food, as butcher meat. It is a gross popular error. The Norsemen 'are all fish eaters, so are the Highlanders, and the Eskimos, and a majority of the Indian tribes, and where are stronger, braver, more stalwart men? The Japs are fish-eaters, and we know how courageously they fought the Russians. My friend, Major Hugh Green, as most of you know, carried successfully through a great scheme for supplying fish to our Dominion troops across the sea. In spite of difficulties, our Canadian boys in khaki have had an abundant fish ration provided, and the prowess and bravery of the heroes of the "Maple Leaf" have not diminished in consequence. Why, since the fishration was served, I think the Germans have found them more to be feared than ever! Moreover, many of the fine fish shipped for the army are the very fish I referred to, i.e., in many cases fish not in favour in Canada.


The great cry, in these times of hardship and sacrifice, is for cheap food. Fish is positively the cheapest, and why? (1) It has less waste (no fat or large bones). (2) It is more easily masticated and digested, the fishmuscle breaks up easily after being swallowed. Compare, gentlemen, a choice cut of halibut, or salmon, with a tough, skinny piece of steak, the bullock that provided it having probably ploughed many a furrow, not alone. (3) It is as rich, practically, as beef or mutton in essential qualities. Even the homely herring (the most recent authority, Professor Hopkins, F.R.S., Cambridge, England, tells us) is fully equal to beef or mutton in nutritive value to man. Its protein is 18.6%, as compared with 22.4% in lean beef. The fat in the herring is 3.44%. The fat in beef is 4%. His experiments showed that, so far as proteins are concerned, smoked fish is as digestible as fresh fish, and salting diminishes this quality a little, but not much. How often in country hotels I have longed for a herring or a bit of fried haddock, when a tough piece of steak, or a leathery mutton chop, or hard piece of fried liver, was placed before me to make me ill. With the war, a meat shortage has threatened us, and we must turn to the food-supply from our waters, where a never-failing source of the best quality awaits us.


But I may be told that fish is dear. If so, it is the American combines who make it so. I know that the finest whitefish in the North-west lakes are sold by our fishermen for 1 1/2 or 2 cents per pound, and, on nearer waters, for a 2 1/2 cents to 3 cents, rarely more, and no Canadian should be asked to pay 12, or 15 to 20 cents or even 25 cents per pound for Canadian fish anywhere. Ten cents should be the price, and less. Let our M.P.'s be asked to personally look into the matter and do, as one Manitoba M.P. did, compel the big firms to give Canada the preference rather than Chicago, and compel them to sell at half the usual prices now charged. Our fish should reach us in the best condition, better than it often does. Even smoked fish, like kippers or finan haddies, are not equal to the article one gets in Scotland. But the Biological Board of Canada, of which I am chairman, in some recent experiments, produced some of the finest of these fish I ever tasted. Professor Macallum had the experiments in hand, and Dr. Huntsman took part, and Miss Patterson, an M.D. of Toronto University, and they found no reason why our fish should not equal the best produced in Scotland.

Four requisites seem to be necessary

(1) Getting rid of foreign control of our fish and fisheries.

(2) More energy and enterprise on the part of our fishermen and dealers.

(3) A more fair and generous policy on the part of railways and express companies.

(4) Better handling of fish, more expedition and care, from the moment the fish are caught, till placed in the hands of the cook.


Gentlemen, you remember the Scottish church officer who was asked by the visiting minister from another parish if he had preached too long, and the reply was " Well, I canna say ye preached too long, minister, but I will say ye passed several fine stopping places." Gentlemen, I fear that I have passed several fine stopping places, and a few words more will end my hasty sketch of a vast subject. The Dominion Government have without question tried to conserve the fisheries since Confederation. This has been done by

(1) A system of fishery licenses and leases.

(2) By fish hatcheries, 65 in number, and turning out over one billion, six hundred million, fry each season.

(3) By regulations providing close seasons, specifying kinds of gear, prohibition of pollutions, dams, etc.

(4) By bounties to deep-sea fishermen:

(5) By a Fisheries' Intelligence Bureau, telegraphing daily the state of bait supplies, movements of fish, etc.

(6) By Fishery Research Stations, with which I have special relation as Chairman of the Biological Board, which has supervision over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Great Lakes Stations. Staffs of workers from all our universities, 30 to 40 each season, are occupied with fishery investigation's of the highest value, and publish technical papers.

(7) Instruction in curing fish, etc., by qualified practical experts, for example, the herring curing and packing work, 1904-1907, by a Scottish staff.

(8) By the Fisheries' Inspection and Pure Fish-Food regulations.

(9) By bait freezers, and Government aided fish refrigerators.

(10) By Fish Oil and Fertilizer Works, and Experimental Fish-Drying Establishments.

(11) By aiding in the rapid and cheap transportation of fish from the sea coasts to the interior.


With all these active means operating, you may well ask, "What lack we yet? " The only thing really lacking is the support of the public. A clearly-expressed public opinion is vitally needed. I once told Lord Grey that fishermen and anglers who violated the fishery laws, or evaded or abused them, were often viewed as martyrs, and the fishery officers who prosecuted them and secured convictions were regarded as cruel, vindictive and worthy of dismissal by the Government. The Fishery Service, Dominion and Provincial, has a hard task; but the lack of public opinion has made it harder.


"Nature," Wordsworth said, "never did betray the heart that loved her,"--nor the hand (I would add) that helped her. The seas and inland waters are prodigal of life to a degree which baffles our powers of calculation. A cod annually produces five to nine million young (more than the population of Canada), a mackerel three millions to five millions; a herring 30,000 to 40,000; a salmon 5,000 to 25,000. The finny population would overcrowd the waters beyond even their vast capacity; but Nature provides her own remedies. Man is one destructive agency. Let him then wisely aid by harvesting the fisheries rationally and conserving them effectively.

A vote of thanks was heartily carried.

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Canada's Fishery Resources

Canada fisheries, ranking amongst the greatest in the world. This discussion is divided into sections with the following headings: Canadian and Australian Waters Compared; Value of Our Fisheries Underestimated; Seven Fishery Divisions; Three Unique Features in Our Fisheries; Fisheries Our Most Permanent Resource; Reckless Waste in Fishing Industries; Canadian Fish-Ration Appreciated by Our Soldiers; Evil Influence of Fish-Combine; Why Fish-Food is Best and Cheapest; How to Make Fish Popular and Cheap; Government Methods of Conservation; Public Opinion Needed; Conclusion.