February 20, 1934 (17th Parliament, 5th Session)


Henry Herbert Stevens (Minister of Trade and Commerce)

Conservative (1867-1942)


I am coming to an explanation of that point. In part my hon. friend is correct, but not wholly so. The point I am making for the moment is that the sooner the fish are caught after they come into shallow water, the better, and the longer they remain there, the softer they become. No one will dispute that fact.
Another factor enters into the matter. During the years our United States friends-and in saying what I am about to say, I am not criticizing them; that is their business-knowing these fish come right by their door to enter the Fraser and not having very much interest in that river, simply set themselves to catch as many salmon as they could while they were in waters adjacent to their own territory. I think I am correct in saying that 90 per cent of the fish that run up the Canadian waters of the Fraser would for many miles pass United States territory contiguous to British Columbia. What is the result? Huge canneries developed at Belling-

ham, Blaine and other places just south of the boundary and the United States authorize not only gill net fishing, which is done in a comparatively small way, but the installation of fish traps and) seines. A fish trap is one of the most murderous contrivances ever invented so far as catching fish is concerned. It consists of long reaches of piling with nets stretched along. My hon. friends will correct me if I am stating this inaccurately. I think in some cases a mile or perhaps more of this will be stretched out crossing the known pathway of the fish. As the fish sweep up the coast and strike one of these barriers which are placed at an angle across the pathway they are following, they are guided into what is known as a trap, a trap being quite a huge area of piling with nets down quite deep so that there is no possibility of the fish escaping once they are in it. When they are in the trap, they are lifted out of it by machinery and literally hundreds of tons of fish are taken out of traps in that way. I have seen this and have no doubt hon. members have seen pictures of it. It is a most murderous system of fishing, but it is followed quite commonly and has been to my knowledge for the last ten years.
That is as far as trap fishing is concerned. Then they have another system of fishing with purse seines, a huge net, the dimensions of which are obtainable from the department,- I do not carry them in my mind. This net is thrown out in deep water. When they sight a shoal or when they know that fish are running,-and the men become very skilful at that,-they throw out one of these nets. It is very long, a boat will run in a circle and when a large section of this net is out it is gradually drawn together and pulled tight at the bottom and the whole net drawn into the boat; and fish are taken out by the ton, not individual fish as in gill net and similar forms of fishing. This purse seine fishing is carried on very extensively by our American friends. That again is not a point I am criticizing, it is just a statement of fact. It is done by them before the fish reach Canadian waters at all, before they get near the Fraser river.
A few years ago the government of Canada, largely at the instigation of the government of British Columbia and the fishing interests generally there, worked out what is known as the Sockeye Salmon treaty. This treaty has been discussed pro and con. In any case it was signed and passed this parliament, but it has never been ratified by the United States congress, and therefore is not in effect. The object of the treaty was to deal with this situation, which in British Columbia was felt

Salmon Fishery-Mr. Stevens
to be unfair, because we were spending thousands of dollars to maintain the quantity of fish spawned in the Fraser by supplementing nature with hatcheries, we were restricting our own fishermen so that a certain number of fish could escape up the river for spawning, but while we were doing that our American friends by a system of trap and 'purse seine fishing were taking unlimited quantities of fish. Had the Sockeye Salmon treaty become effective it would to a substantial degree have rectified this condition, but it has not been ratified and we are faced with the stubborn facts. The catch on the Fraser river fell off year by year until in 1931 it was, I think, only 20,000 cases. My hon. friend from New Westminster (Mr. Reid) knows these figures probably more accurately than I. At any rate the catch had fallen to a lamentable degree.
Then the suggestion was made that, inasmuch as there was apparently no possibility of a modus vivendi with the United States, this treaty which we had passed in good faith not having been ratified by the American senate, why should not Canadian interests be permitted to seine in the parallel area on the Canadian side? I admit very frankly that it is a matter for debate whether purse seining should or should not be allowed. I ask my hon. friends to accept that as a fair statement, but not an admission that the whole thing is wrong, I do not want to be so interpreted. However I can see their side of the question. I submit that if the facts as I have stated them are accurate-and I think no one will question them-then it stands to reason that the Canadians might just as well catch a certain amount of fish with seines in the same manner as the Americans do and thus increase the quantity of fish that we can put up. That is on the one hand. On the other hand I think it is demonstrated beyond any question that the fish so caught are of a superior quality to those caught in the river. I will admit with my hon. friend from New Westminster that such gill net boats or individual fishermen as go out of the mouth of the river and fish on the sand heads may catch fish practically equal in quality to those caught by the seiners, but I think generally speaking those caught by the seiners are superior. As my hon. friend knows, you will see fishermen fishing with their gill nets above the Fraser river bridge, twenty miles from the mouth of the river, but in that area from the mouth of the river to as high as the gill net fishermen operate, there will be a larger proportion of soft or inferior fish than would be caught outside the mouth of the river. Therefore I think it cannot be questioned that the fish caught by the seine fishermen in the area referred to in
this order in council are of a firmer and superior quality.
Another thing I want to say-and which to my mind is of greater importance than almost any other point-is that we have in British Columbia salmon fisheries a very fine industry. Perhaps I should say we had, because it was better years ago than it is to-day. But we still have in the salmon fisheries an important industry. However, the competition that we are now confronted with is much keener than it was ten or twenty or thirty years ago. Some years ago our only competition came from the Americans, and at first they competed with us only on Puget Sound. I remember very well when there were very few American canneries in the north. But gradually the American interests extended their canneries in Alaska, where they catch a very fine type of sockeye as well as other kinds of salmon, sockeye being the most attractive for the market. One of my hon. friends said a moment ago that he could not see why Canadian packers could not compete successfully with the American, but my hon. friend must at least do the Canadian packers this justice, that the salmon packed in Alaska, as well as in northern British Columbia, are generally speaking in better condition when caught, owing to the water being colder and clearer, than those caught at the mouth of the Fraser or of the Columbia. Inasmuch as the American pack is largely an Alaska pack we are therefore faced with keener competition from Americans to-day than we were twenty or twenty-five years ago. That is one point. Then in the last ten years the Japanese have come on the world market, they now catch salmon on the Siberian coast and the Asiatic coast quite similar, and quite as good, I am told by those competent to judge, as the Alaska and northern British Columbia salmon. In fact they are the same general type of fish.

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