Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Killing Fish by Explosion"

A good title, and one that is found in the papers of James Robert Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson.
Why I am speaking of this now is a long story, and here it is:
When I spoke at Hope last week, two of the attendees were re-enactors for the Royal Engineers.
I had met them previously at Fort Langley, when these flintlock gun enthusiasts -- the Royal Engineers and the Victoria Voltigeurs -- demonstrated their flintlock guns and told us how they worked.
One of these Royal Engineers read my book, and noticed the caption of the picture on page 61.
The picture shows men standing on the fish weir at the outflow of Fraser Lake (with the post in the background); the caption read: "Anderson was amazed to learn that Natives who fished at the salmon weir on Fraser's Lake, shown here, also killed fish by submerging the barrel of a flintlock gun up to the breach in the water and pulling the trigger.
"The resulting explosion stunned the fish, which floated to the surface, and the gun never burst as it would have done if only the muzzle was submerged."

You who are not sportsmen/fishermen would not have paid much attention to this caption -- but this flintlock gun aficionado perked up.
"I was most amused by your anecdote re: the Natives "fishing" with their flintlock guns."
Now the scary sentence .... "I mentioned that to [his contact] suggesting that some of his Trade Gun writers give it a go."

Well, at first I thought it would be interesting to hear how it worked -- then I thought about liability.
What would happen if one of these guys actually attempted this, and in that attempt blew off their hand or face?
The Royal Engineer assured me their guns were far too expensive to blow up for an experiment like this, and finished with a story about shooting fish in a shallow stream with a .22 rifle. "It works! The concussive force made them rise to the surface momentarily, and we were able to grab a few."

I hope that if anyone reads that line and is silly enough to try it with their flintlock gun, that they will do it safely and from a distance -- a la Mythbusters!
Flintlock guns are not toys!

By the way, if anyone of you wants to catch up on my article re: flintlock guns, you will find it in this blog under "Flintlock Guns and Percussion Guns," Sunday, February 7, 2010.
I just about cried when my editor cut this from my manuscript.

This where this caption was sourced -- James heard many of his father's stories, and wrote some of them down.
This is one:
"My father who was for many years situated in the Upper Country in great part of which was then known as New Caledonia in the service of the Hudsons Bay Co. relates how he found the Indians obtaining fish by exploding their guns in the water.
"This was done by submerging the barrel of the gun up to the breach otherwise the gun would certainly burst.
"How the Indians discovered that fish would be stunned by the explosion or that the gun would certainly burst if only the muzzle were immersed, could not be discovered." [Mss. 1912, vol. 13, file 6, BCA]

Anyway, if the Natives were catching fish by exploding their guns in the water, these are the fish they would have caught -- in Alexander Caulfield Anderson's writing.
I leave it up to you to figure out which fresh and salt-water fish he is speaking of....

"As may be surmised from the enormous coast-line, and the great extent of the inland water, the fish of British Columbia enter largely into the consideration of her resources. Of the former the Salmon may be regarded as the chief in place; but as it will require a more extended notice than the rest, I shall first proceed to mention the other varieties frequenting the lakes and rivers. Trout of many different kinds, varieties of Carp and other Cyprindidae; the Methy or Loche; and many others, including that Prince of fresh-water fishes, the White-fish (Coregonus), are generally distributed.

"The varieties of Trout, in the next place, demand attention; and for want of more legitimate nomenclature, they will in most cases be distinguished by the native names, adopting those of the Ta-Cully [Dakelh] of the Upper Fraser, to the writer the more familiar.

"A variety of excellent Trout frequent the upper waters; and the Carp-fishery in Spring is a great resource for the support of the native population. Two varieties of Trout, called by the Carriers [Dakelh] Peet and Sha-pai, are taken in the great lakes.

"Trout differ from each other materially in size and quality; those in the principal lakes are much larger than the varieties found in the smaller. All the different kinds (chiefly varieties of the Salmo Ferox) have distinctive names applied to them by the natives of the Upper District.

"The Peet [Rainbow Trout] is a red-fleshed trout frequenting large lakes, such as Stuarts, and Fraser's. They grow to an great size, frequently weighing between twenty and thirty pounds, and in some positions, I have been assured, weighing as much as forty, though I have never myself seen any so large.

"They are usually caught with hooks baited with a small fish during the season of open water, in the winter or early spring, 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 as it swims below, and the fisherman dexterously spears it. This is a modification merely of the Water-telescope used by the Norwegian fisherman, and tends to show how readily man, in exigency, arrives through different processes at a common end.

"The Sha-pai is another variety, equal in all respects to the first named. It differs, however, in appearance; its skin being studded with light orange-coloured spots and the flesh having a yellowish tint.

"The Peet-yaz or Salmon-trout is of smaller size, 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, which is not found in the lakes generally, but is confined to certain lakes of the upper District. They seemed to be very abundant in the Great Okinagan Lake; a sheet of water abounding also in the larger species.

"In addition to the hook and spear, weirs are used for catching the various descriptions of Trout as they enter the rivers from the lakes to spawn. The gill-net, too, set in favorable positions in the shallower places which the fish frequent, is employed for the small varieties. In most of the lakes there is excellent fly-fishing, but the artificial 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.

"The White-fish (Coregonus Alba of Richardson), by many esteemed the Prince of fresh-water fish, found generally throughout the northern continent, is common to most of the lakes in the upper part of British Columbia (though not common to all). It varies very much in size, and no less in quality, in different localities: a variation arising doubtless from the nature of their food. Those in Upper British Columbia rarely exceed from two to three pounds, but in the large lakes East of the Rocky Mountains they are caught more than twice as large. Thus the fish produced in Fraser Lake, though no larger, are in quality far superior to those of the neighbouring lakes of Stuart; while those of the small lake of Yoka, in the depression of the Coast range between the latter lake and Babine, are superior to both. Far excelling these again are the fish caught in a small lake near Jasper's House on the Athabasca, a little outside of the northern frontier of the Province. Eastward of the mountains it is a staple article of food at the different posts; and though a rich and succulent fish, it has the peculiar quality of not cloying the appetite like the salmon and other fish of a like description. The White-fish is, however, peculiarly a Northern fish; and I question whether it be found in any of the waters of British Columbia south of Alexandria. In the Atlantic waters, it is caught considerably farther to the south.

"The Common Loch (Gallus Barbatula) called also the "Fresh-water Cod," is found commonly in the lakes and rivers of the Central and Upper British Columbia, preferring dull, sluggish streams and the shoaler lakes. Its flesh is highly esteemed by some; and its liver, which appears to be its sole depositary of its fat, yields a fine well flavored oil, equal in all medicinal respects to that of the Sea-Cod, while far less nauseous. A fish, on the whole, of very little mark.

"The Pike (Esox Lucius) common to the eastern waters, is unknown in the western watershed -- and, I need not add, is not regretted. To the above list may be added, as frequenting the waters of Manitoba, the Cat-fish, the Sun-fish, and divers[e] others, some of which are found elsewhere.

"There are immense numbers of Carp of several varieties. These when they enter the rivers to spawn, commencing in April, are caught by means of ingenious weirs and sun-dried in large quantities. The natives dry the roes which, cooked, with berries, afford them an important addition to their summer fare. After the spring fisheries are over the Carp is caught in common with the smaller Trouts, the white-fish, and others, in the gill nets before mentioned -- and thus till the arrival of the Salmon."

I should here interrupt Alexander Caulfield Anderson's writing to let you know that the carp he saw in the Fraser River are not the common carp [cyprinus carpio] that are in the upper Fraser River today. The fish Anderson saw were probably the Northern Pikeminnow, a bone-filled and edible member of the minnow family, or its close cousin, the Large-scaled Sucker.

"Two varieties of Sturgeon are found, one in the waters of Lake Winnipeg, the other a fish of enormous dimensions in the Columbia and the Fraser. The Sturgeon of British Columbia (Acipenser transmonanus of Richardson) differs widely in all respects from the common Sturgeon of the Atlantic (Acipenser Sturio) in size, quality and appearance. 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 Fall at Colvile, near to which point some have been known to reach.

"The fish enters Fraser's River in February, following the shoals of a 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 parts of Fraser River about Stuart's and Fraser's Lakes, having been caught weighing as much as seven or eight hundred pounds. I was informed of one caught in Stuarts' Lake, the length of which was fourteen feet; but I never saw one nearly so large. These huge fish, I have reason to believe, do not return to the sea, but finding abundant food in the interior waters continue to dwell and propagate there. I do not, however, give this as an ascertain fact, but as an assumption, inferred chiefly from the following circumstances: --

"1st -- That they are caught until very late in the Autumn, and very early in the spring.

"2nd -- That the young fish (called by the voyageurs "Escargo"), a foot or two in length, are caught occasionally in nets set for other fish early in the summer. These doubtless descend to the sea, even admitting the grown fish to remain.

"3rd -- That Sturgeon of the size mentioned as inhabiting the Upper Lakes are rarely, if ever, caught in the lower Fraser. Be this, however, as it may, the Sturgeon, unlike the Salmon, continues to improve in condition as it ascends; for after the return of the Oola-han to the sea after spawning, the shoals of Salmon begin to ascend, yielding an abundant prey to their gigantic fellow travellers. Caught in the interior, the Sturgeon is extremely fat and, intrinsically a food fish, is on account of its fatness the more highly esteemed by the natives.

"There are several modes of taking the Sturgeon, varying accordingly to the locality. On the Lower Fraser, these fish are caught by the natives in a singular but very effacious manner.

"Two fishermen embark in a canoe; one merely steadying it with his paddle; the other crouched in the bow, provided with a long light rod -- a jointed staff -- which can be lengthened by the additional joints whenever the increased depth of water requires it. At the lower end of the rod a barbed harpoon, attached to a cord, is loosely affixed. The canoe is then suffered to drift down the centre of the channel; the harpooner carefully and constantly sounding so as to keep the point of his implement about a couple of feet from the bottom. The fish, slowly swimming upwards, is detected by the touch; and instantly struck. The rod is at once disengaged, and the fish is hauled in by means of the strong line attached to the harpoon.

"In the Columbia River, this plan is not available. The sturgeon is there caught with set lines, baited with a small fish or, what is better, a piece of Lamprey-eel.

"Throughout the remainder of Fraser River the bait is chiefly used; though in the large eddies strong nets are found very effective. In the shallows 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, by means of which a fish is occasionally caught, the more highly prized for its comparative rarity: for while the Sturgeon grows to larger dimensions in these vicinities, it is very much rarer than in the lower parts of the river. These nets are made, of course, of very strong twine, of the description called Maitres de Rets; and withal are frequently broken by the larger sturgeon. It is, however, a comparatively sluggish fish, and does not exhibit the spirited struggle of the captured salmon.

"A very valuable fish entering Fraser River to spawn in the early spring, is the Thalcicthys (or preferably Osmerus) Richardsonii -- locally known as the Oola-han. I was long under the impression that this fish was a variety of Pilchard (Chupandon Thrissa) peculiar to the Pacific; and am indebted to Dr. Robert Brown, of Edinburgh, formerly in command of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, for the correction adopted above.

"The Oola-han is, in the estimation of most people, one of the most delicious products of the sea. Smaller than the Herring, it is of a far more delicate flavor; and so rich that, when dried, it is inflammable -- so much so, indeed, that in Alaska, where it is likewise found, it is I believe called the "Candle-fish."

"The merits of this fish are peculiarly worthy of note both for its delicacy of flavour and the unctuous richness of its flesh. Equal, if not superior to the sardine of Europe, this fish must eventually become of great mercantile value. From the fact of its being strung on long lines for drying by the Chinooks, it was formerly called, by the Voyageurs, Poisson a la Brasse -- or Fathom fish; and under this name, sometimes varied by that of "Anchovy," it is mentioned by Franchere, in his account of the Columbia River, under the name of Outhelekane, from which its present designation is modified. They were formerly very abundant in Spring on the lower Columbia; but suddenly, about the year 1835, none frequented the river. I have  been informed, however, that they have since reappeared, and that there is now a regular supply as formerly.

"The Oola-han does not ascend Fraser River far beyond its mouth. It enters this river, as well as other rivers along the Coast, and especially the Nass near Fort Simpson, in immense shoals at the spawning season in April. It appears in immense shoals, and is caught either with the scoop-net, or, like the Herring on the sea-board, with the rake. This simple device is merely a long light pole, flattened in one direction so as to pass readily through the water, with the edge set towards the lower extremity with a row of sharply pointed teeth. The fisherman, entering the shoal, passes the implement repeatedly through the water, with a rapid stroke, each time transfixing several fish. Thus a copious supply is soon secured.

"Those caught at the mouth of the Nass are of a quality even richer than those of Fraser River. The natives, who assemble there in great numbers in Spring to prosecute the fishery, besides drying them in large quantities, extract from the surplus a fine oil, which is highly prized by them as a luxury, and forms a staple article of barter with the interior tribes. This oil, of a whitish colour, and approaching to the consistency of thin lard, is regarded by those of the faculty who are acquainted with its properties, as equally efficacious with the Cod-liver Oil so commonly prescribed, and it is said to have the great advantage of being far more palatable. With the exception of a few scores of casks salted annually for local sale, and a quantity prepared like the Red-herring, this fish has not yet, I believe, been systematically cured or become an article of exportation. There can be no question, however, than when more widely known and properly prepared, it will be the object of much extraneous demand.

"But we have dwelt sufficiently on them, and must proceed to notice the other products in which these waters are notably prolific. And first of the Herring. This valuable fish resorts in prodigious numbers at the spawning season in early spring, to the bays and inlets of the Gulf of Georgia and elsewhere along the coast. The method by which the natives capture them at this season, mentioned before while treating of the Oola-han, suggests an idea of their scarcely conceivable numbers. In appearance they do not perceptibly differ from the European variety, though rather smaller. At the period in question the quality of these fish is inferior; but when caught during their prime, with the net, on the banks which they permanently frequent, they are, to my conception, fully equal to their congeners of the Atlantic sea-board. This remark applies at least to some of the localities bordering on the Gulf of Georgia; and I fancy is generally true. The spawn, attached to sea-weed or to branches purposely sunk in the shallows for its reception, is gathered in large quantities by the natives, and dried for food.

"The Cod caught in the narrow waters are inferior to the Atlantic fish. There are, however, certain outlying banks upon which they are found abundantly, of a quality, it is said, approaching, if not fully equal to, the last.

"The Halibut attains upon this Coast a very high degree of perfection. On the outer shore of Queen Charlotte's Island, especially, it is found of a very large size; frequently exceeding 100 pounds in weight, and not unseldom, I am assured, of twice that size. Caught with the hook, these fish are dried in large quantities by the natives, especially of the more northerly parts of the Coast.

"To these may be added the Smelt, the Rock-cod, the Flounder, Whiting, and a host of others, with which, in season, the markets of Victoria are constantly supplied -- chiefly through the industry of Italian fishermen, who appear here to enjoy a prescriptive monopoly of the trade. Oysters are very abundant. those dredged near Victoria are of small size, but well flavoured; northward in the vicinity of Comox, a large sample is procured. Of Cockles, Mussels, and other shell-fish there is a copious supply.

"Crabs and prawns are not wanting; but there are no Lobsters, save a small kind found in fresh-water streamlets. Oil-producing fish such as the Ground-shark and the Dog-fish, are common to the whole Coast: the latter so abundant as to give lucrative employment to many fishermen and afford a boundless resource prospectively to others. Of the Phocidae, the Hair-seal is the most numerous; while the fur-seal, the Sea-lion, &c, are found chiefly on the outer shores.

"The Whale fishery has of late attracted much attention, and has been prosecuted with a certain degree of success; though, from want of experience, probably, less than one might have been justified in expecting. On the outer Coast Whales of the larges description are numerous; which, by the native inhabitants, who combine in parties for the purpose, are harpooned and captured by an ingenious process which it is unnecessary here to describe. In the inland waters of the archipelago a variety known as the Humpbacked Whale is very numerous. These yield from 30 to 50 barrels, or more, of oil; and so far have been killed by the whaling-parties with the harpoon-gun and shell. Many wounded victims, however, through some mismanagement of detail/ or perhaps unavoidably under the system, have thus escaped. The system, however, from its assumed wastfulness is, I am informed, declared illegal by the general laws of the Dominion: in which case it will of course be interdicted, and give place to other schemes less liable to objection. On the whole the pursuit of whales in these waters, vigorously prosecuted, with a competent knowledge of the business, will doubtless prove ere long a lucrative and extensive branch of the Provincial industries."

Anderson became the Dominion of Canada's Inspector of Fisheries in 1876, and continued in that position until his death in 1884. His fisheries reports are fascinating reading, filled with facts and descriptions of some of the fisheries. But those I will leave for future reports; you must be satisfied with this listing of fresh and salt water fish for now.

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