Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Salmon and Trout at Fraser's Lake

I am looking at all of Anderson's writings over the years, to uncover some personal items that refer to his time at Fraser's Lake post.
He was in charge of this post from spring 1836 (Outfit 1835) to spring 1840, but wrote little about his time there.
But in later writings, Anderson often mentioned the fish he found at the posts he served at.
In particular he wrote about the salmon that were so important to the fur traders in this region, where there were no large animals to hunt, and where starvation was often a problem.
In the end, his interest in the salmon and other fish he found in the interior lakes resulted in his obtaining his final position as the Dominion of Canada's Inspector of Fisheries -- a position he held from 1876 until his death in 1884.
In his article in BCHQ, Spring 2003, Rod Palmer calls Alexander Caulfield Anderson "an Ideal First Inspector of Fisheries."

In his published manuscript, The Dominion at the West; a Brief Description of the province of British Columbia, its Climate and Resources (Victoria, Richard Wolfenden, 1872), Alexander Caulfield Anderson described the new colony of British Columbia as "a Land of Lakes," and continued with, "It would be a vain attempt to describe the beauties of many of these superb sheets of water: and impossible to enumerate even a tithe of their number. In the aggregate there are many hundreds, varying in dimensions from seventy miles and upwards in length, by four or five miles in breadth, to the mere mountain tarn of a few acres in extent. Abounding with fish, the water of these lakes in generally very pure...."

Here's a word about the fish he found at Fraser's Lake (I will identify the fish as far as I am able, at the bottom of the page):
"The Peet is a red-fleshed Trout, frequenting the larger lakes, such as Stuart's and Fraser's. It grows to a great size, frequently exceeding 20 pounds in weight, and in some positions, I have been assured, weighing as much as forty, though I have never myself seen any nearly so large. They are usually caught with hooks, baiting with a small fish, during the season of open water. In early spring the natives catch them by making holes in the ice and roofing them over with pine-boughs so as to exclude the surface-light. In this way the fish, attracted by a lure, is readily detected and speared."
His footnote says: "This device, it may be noticed, is merely a modification of the Norwegian water-telescope; and shows how readily Man, in exigency, arrives through different processes at a common end."
To continue: "The Sha-pai is another variety, equal in all respects to the last; but differing in appearance, its fin being marked with faint orange-colored spots, and the flesh having a yellowish tint.
"The Peet-yaz, or Salmon-trout, resembling generally the ordinary trout caught elsewhere. There are, however, several varieties, differing in size and quality, as well as appearance, according to their habitat.
"The Talo-yaz (ie. Little Salmon), is a peculiar variety of Trout, of excellent quality, confined to certain lakes of the Upper District, and found, I think, in the Great Okinagan Lake -- a sheet of water abounding also in the larger species.
"In addition to hook and spear, weirs are employed to capture the various descriptions of Trout as they enter the rivers from the lakes to spawn. The gill-net, too, set in favorable positions, is employed for the small varieties. The artifical fly and the spoon-bait, which the angler bent on sport would employ, were of course unknown to the native fishermen, whose devices I have mentioned."

There were no carp in Fraser's Lake at this time, and so to understand this next paragraph, you can refer to my June 21, 2009, entry "The early fur traders' Carp."
"There are immense numbers of Carp of several varieties. These, when they enter the streams from the lakes to spawn, commencing in April, are caught by the natives with ingenious weirs, and sun-dried in vast quantities.

"The Sturgeon of British Columbia (Acipenser transmontanus of Richardson) differs widely in all respects from the common Sturgeon of the Atlantic (A. Sturio). This noble fish is common both to the Columbia and Fraser River; but does not by the former stream penetrate to the British Columbia frontier -- interrupted apparently by the Kettle Falls at Colvile, near to which point some have been known to reach. The fish appears in Fraser River in early Spring, following the shoals of certain small fish, called by the natives Oola-han, as they resort to the lower parts to spawn. The Western Sturgeon attains an enormous size: in the upper part of Fraser River, about Stuart's and Fraser's Lakes, having been caught weighing as much as seven or eight hundred pounds. These fish do not, there is reason to believe, always return to the sea; but, finding abundant food in the upper waters, continue to dwell and propagate there, frequenting chiefly the neighbourhood of the two lakes mentioned, and probably other localities. Unlike the Salmon, which constantly deteriorate as they ascend, the Sturgeon conversely improve; and are invariably fatter when caught in the upper waters, than in the vicinity of the sea.
"On the Lower Fraser these fish are caught by the natives in a singular but very effacious manner. A canoe, manned by two persons, one of whom acts merely to keep the light vessel in position, is suffered to drift along the deepest channel. The fisherman, seated in the bow, is armed with a jointed staff which may be lengthened at pleasure, and to the end of which a barbed harpoon attached to a cord is loosely affixed. With this he feels his way, keeping the point of his weapon constantly within a short distance of the bottom. The fish, slowly swimming upwards, is detected by the touch: and instantly struck, is afterwards readily secured. In the Upper Fraser the bait is chiefly employed; but in the larger eddies strong nets are found very effective. At the effluence of Lakes Stuart and Fraser, near which the Hudson's Bay Company's posts are situated, long stake-nets are set during Spring and Summer, and by means of which a fish is occasionally caught, the more highly prized for its comparative rarity: for while the Sturgeons grows to larger dimensions in these vicinities, it is very much rarer than in the lower parts of the river.

"The Salmon entering Fraser River are of several varieties, making their appearance successivly at various periods from early Spring to the end of summer. As a general rule it may be asserted that the earlier shoals are the stronger and richer fish. For clearness sake I shall confine my remarks chiefly to two principal varieties, called by the lower Indians Saw-quai and Suck-kai, by the upper Indians Kase and Ta-lo; by which latter names I shall distinguish them. The first, equal in size and quality to the large Salmon of Europe, enter the Fraser in May; the latter, a very much smaller and not so rich a fish, arriving a month or so later.... "

Kase (Fraser's Lake), or Saw-quai (Fort Alexandria) = Chinook (also called the Spring)
Ta-Lo (Fraser's Lake) or Suck-kai (Fort Alexandria) = Sockeye
The trout Anderson named the Peet; the Sha-pai; the Peet-yaz or Salmon Trout; Tao-Yaz or Little Salmon = Rainbow Trout, Cut Throat Trout, Lake Trout or any other of the many trout or chars that live in these lakes.
Oola-han = eulachon
Talo-Yaz might be the Kokanee salmon, a land-locked salmon which does not return to the ocean as the others do.

Anderson finishes this section of this manuscript with the comment: "I am not, however, to write a treatise on natural History, but to confine myself to such notes as may tend practically to a useful end. Nevertheless I may be pardoned if I have dwelt passingly upon a fact which, if for its singularity alone, is worthy of record. Before quitting this branch of the subject, too, I may supply some memoranda which will convey the idea of the productiveness, in favorable years, of the salmon-fisheries on the Fraser. At the post of Fraser's Lake, in 1836, 36,000 dried salmon were purchased and stored for use; and at other Posts proportionate quantities were likewise secured out of the superabundant provision made by the natives. This year in question it is true, was one of great abundance."
No one living at Fraser Lake today would be able to catch 36,000 salmon. Our Fraser River salmon fisheries is in crisis. Fewer and fewer salmon are returning to the river every year, and our salmon fisheries may never recover from years of mismanagement and over-fishing. The salmon which supported our fur-trading ancestors might soon disappear.

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