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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 47



In speaking of the fisheries of British Columbia, one may almost be said to be speaking of something which has no existence. With the exception of a small attempt at putting up salmon in tins on the Fraser River, and one or two whaling enterprises of a few years' standing, no attempt whatever has been made to develop the actually marvellous resources of this province in the way of fish. I will, therefore, proceed to give a list of the fish that are to be found in quantities that would warrant the establishment of fisheries, adding a brief description of the habits, locality, and commercial utility of each class of fish.

Description of fish found in British Columbia and Vancouver Island:—Whale, sturgeon, salmon, oolachan or houlican, cod, herring, halibut, sardine, anchovy, oysters, haddock, and dog-fish.

There is no law governing fisheries in British Columbia. Fishing is carried on throughout the year without any restrictions. This state of things is well suited to a new and thinly populated country. The restrictions of a close season would be very injurious to the province at present, and for many years to come.

Whale.—On this subject the Hon. H. L. Langevin, C.B., reports:—

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"I saw one of the whalers, the' Byzantium,' in Deep Bay. She was an English brig, commanded by Captain Calhoun, and on board of her was Captain Roys, the inventor of an explosive ball, which is used in the whale fishery, and which, on penetrating the marine monster, explodes, and throws out a harpoon. The first whale against which this projectile was used was killed in 1868. In 1869 and 1870, the company made use of a small steam-vessel; and their success last year induced them to devote to the trade a brig of 179 tons, manned with twenty hands.

"I was assured that, if that expedition proved a success, there is room in our Pacific waters for at least fifty undertakings of a similar character. I observe that, since my return, the whaling schooner 'Industry' has arrived at Victoria with 300 barrels, or about 10,000 gallons of oil, after an absence of only five weeks. One of the whales killed during the expedition was sixty feet long, and would certainly yield nearly seventy barrels of oil.

"On this subject the Blue Book of 1870 contains the following:—

"'During the year there were three whaling companies in existence (one of these has since broken down). Thirty-two whales were killed, yielding 25,800 gallons of oil, worth 50 cents per gallon. There was one vessel with boats, and there were two stations with boats, altogether employing forty-nine hands. The capital invested in this interest amounted to about 20,000 dollars.

"'The dog-fish catch exceeds in importance that of the whales. 50,000 gallons of dog-fish oil were rendered, worth 40 cents per gallon. This branch of industry is steadily progressing.'

"From another source I have obtained the following information respecting 1871:—

"'There are three whaling expeditions now in action in the waters of British Columbia, viz.:—

"'1st. The British Columbia Whaling Company, with the 'Kate,' a schooner of 70 tons, outlay 15,000 dollars. They have already secured 20,000 gallons; they expect 10,000 more. The value of oil here is 37 cents a gallon. In England it is worth 35l. a ton of 252 gallons. This company have in addition secured already 30,000 gallons of dog-fish oil, worth 37 cents here per gallon, 55 cents in California, and 35l. a ton in England.

"2nd. The brig 'Byzantium,' 179 tons, expenditure 20,000 dollars. Their take for the year is not known.

"3rd. Steamer 'Emma' and screw 'Industry,' expenditure 10,000 dollars, estimated take 15,000 gallons.'"

This coast is considered by an old whaler from Providence to be one of the best fields in the world from whence to start whaling enterprises. The mildness of the climate as compared with northern Atlantic climates, and the sheltered coasts of British Columbia, offer great advantages to whale-fishing companies.

The Sturgeon abounds in the rivers and estuaries of British Columbia. It attains a gigantic size, over 500 lbs. in weight. The flesh is excellent, both fresh and smoked. No attempt, that I am aware of, has ever been made to put the fish up for market. Its commercial value is derived from the isinglass and caviare which can be made from it. I am not aware of there having been any attempt made to manufacture isinglass in the province. Caviare of page 88 excellent quality has been produced. At present I should be inclined to believe that there is no person in the province capable of making isinglass, which is, therefore, a resource entirely undeveloped as yet.

Salmon.—The salmon in the waters of British Columbia are excellent in quality, varied in species, and most abundant. In the rivers, which they penetrate up to their head waters, they are caught by a drag-net in the deep waters, and by a bag-net in the rapids. In the sea they are generally caught with hook and line; a canoe at certain seasons can be filled in a day by the latter method. The Fraser River salmon is justly famous. They begin to enter the river in March, and different kinds continue to arrive until October, the successors mixing for a time with the last of their forerunners. There is a greater degree of certainty in the periodical arrivals of each kind in this river than at the coasts and islands. The salmon is used fresh, salted, pickled, smoked, and kippered, and for export is put up salted in barrels, and fresh in one or two pound tins; the latter process has only been commenced during the past three years. The article produced is of a most excellent description, and will doubtless prove a source of considerable export trade when it becomes known in suitable markets. There would appear to be no limit to the catch of salmon.

Oolachans or Houlicans.—This small fish, about the size of a sprat, appears in the rivers of British Columbia and about certain estuaries on the coast, towards the end of April. Their run lasts about three weeks, during which time they may be captured in myriads. Eaten fresh they are most delicious, and they are also excellent when salted or smoked. This fish produces oil abundantly, which is of a pure and excellent quality, and which, some think, will eventually supersede cod-liver oil. The fish are caught with a pole about 10 feet in length, along which are arranged, for 5 feet at the end, nails like the teeth of a comb, only about inch apart. The comb is thrust smartly into the water, brought up with a backward sweep of the hands, and is rarely found without 3 or 4 fish impaled on the nails. I have seen a canoe filled with them in 2 hours by a couple of hands.

Cod.—Several kinds of cod are found in the waters of British Columbia, which are excellent both fresh and cured. It has been often asserted, I cannot say with what truth, that the true cod is found on the British Columbian coast. That, however, remains to be proved. The true cod is found in the waters near Behring's Straits.

Herring.—This fish also abounds during the winter months, and is of good sound quality. It comes into the harbours about March. It is largely used in the province, both fresh and smoked, but nothing has been done in the way of export.

Halibut.—There are many halibut banks in the waters of this province. The fish attain an enormous size, and are caught by deep-sea lines. They are only used in the province at present. They are of first-rate quality and an excellent article of food.

Sardines.—These are found among the herrings. I cannot state if they are precisely the fish known to commerce under that designation, or in what quantity they exist; but they are firm in flesh and excellent in flavour.

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Anchovy.—This fish is only second to the oolachan, or houlican, in its abundance. During the autumn it abounds in the harbours and inlets, and may be taken with great ease in any quantity. Eaten fresh they have rather a bitter flavour.

Haddock.—This fish, called in the country "mackerel," to which, however, it has no resemblance, is a great favourite both fresh and cured. It is caught in the winter months, and when smoked forms a luxurious addition to the breakfast-table. A very large trade will be done some day in exporting this fish to the southern ports of America, where fish is highly valued in a smoked or cured state.

Dog-Fish.—This species of fish can be taken with great facility with a line and hook in almost any of the numerous bays and inlets of this province. The oil extracted from them is obtained in abundance, and is commercially of much value. It is produced in moderately large quantities by the Indians, and exported. (See Mr. Langevin's Report, quoted above.)

Oysters are found in all parts of the province. Though small in their native beds, they are finely flavoured and of good quality. When, in course of time, regular beds are formed, and their proper culture is commenced, a large export will, no doubt, take place both in a fresh and canned state. There is a large consumption of oysters in cans on the Pacific coast.