By Gregory Clark, March 24, 1928
Mr. Fred Roy of Peterboro startled the committee of the legislature on fish and game the other day when he stated:
“Bank clearings last season showed that tourists had left, during the two summer months, in Peterboro and district the sum of $507,000!”
The Ontario government announced that last year tourists had left in Ontario the sum of 80 million dollars.
Premier Ferguson is known to have made a separate estimate. His guess is that the tourists left in Ontario last season 150 million dollars.
In 1910, at the request of the late Sir James Whitney, a special commissioner made a two-year investigation of the fish and game question in Ontario, and brought in a report demanding many fundamental changes in the system of administration.
At that time – 1910 – the commissioner said more importance should be attached to fish and game, since the tourist traffic was estimated to be bringing into Ontario something like $800,000.
Of course, the report was filed. Nothing was done about it. The tourist traffic has swelled from less than a million to 150 millions.
Each year, since 1910, has seen a vaster tidal wave of tourists overwhelming the lakes and streams of Ontario.
The motor car has pushed into the farther wilderness. The motor boat has advanced with the car.
Nature cannot stand such overwhelming onslaughts – all the northern states testify to that.
Oddly enough, it is not the bankers and boards of trade, merchants and hotelkeepers who to-day are roaring at the tops of their voices about the dangerous situation as regards the game fisheries of the province. It is the sportsmen. They are anxious about the tourist traffic. But they are anxious merely because they see their own sport on the verge of ruin.
This week there was founded in Toronto an organization of sportsmen known as the Ontario Federation of Anglers. It embraces a large number of local sportsmen’s clubs.
And all they want from the government is an investigation.
They want to know why the government always takes half the yearly revenue of fish and game and puts it into the general treasury? Why the hatcheries of the province are still turning out commercial fish almost to the exclusion of game fish? Why the hatcheries are still functioning on a theory that has been exploded for at least five years? Why there are only 75 game overseers in all Ontario, from Manitoba to Quebec? Why the game overseers are not on a proper police basis in regard to age and qualifications? Why middle-aged and sometimes elderly men are actually appointed to the warden’s job? Why the department has not kept in proper touch with propagation work in adjoining states?
Our Hatchery Practice a Joke
The sportsmen want a commission – a small, powerful, thoroughly financed commission that can get action before that hour, somewhere within the next five years, when successive and overwhelming tidal waves of tourists shall have skinned the game fish of the province to the vanishing point.
Certainly the most unfortunate factor in the whole situation is the general belief, cheerfully entertained by the government as well as by the public, that plenty of hatcheries and generous restocking would make up, at any time, for the wholesale slaughter of game fish.
It is rather a horrible discovery that we have recently made.
We have discovered that a point may easily be reached where restocking is impossible.
In the first place we have fished, for forty years, for the game fish alone, bass, trout, muskies. We have left the rival fish to multiply unchecked.
Now the few remaining bass try to propagate. They raise their broods. The little bass less than an inch long are suddenly left to shift for themselves. But there are, in the shore waters with the little bass, a thousand sunfish and perch where, in the old balance of nature, there used to be ten. And the chances of any of those baby bass maturing are practically nil.
It is the same with other species of fish. The rivals or enemy fish have been left unmolested. Their normal enemy, the game fish, are nearly gone. It must be a great day for a sunfish!
Then we have dammed lakes and changed their levels, altered their temperatures thereby. Weeds are growing in lakes that never know of weeds fifteen years ago.
Pollution by mills, factories, creameries, is doing its share.
And instead of diminishing, the rods that eternally seek the game fish are increasing in a sort of geometric rate of progression every year.
What is the government doing?
It is busy with its solemn business. It continues to rake off half the income of game and fisheries and turn it into the treasury.
Instead of spending a few dollars to send its officials down to Pennsylvania or New Jersey to see what hatchery practice has come to, it continues to raise millions of fry and distribute them according to a theory that has been disposed of long ago.
Ontario’s hatchery practice has been a great joke for many years. Rather than continue the farce, the sportsmen of Ontario would rather see them all closed up until such time as they can be organized on a proper basis.
Planting Fry is Wrong
In the first place, the hatcheries of Ontario produce almost exclusively the fry of commercial fish -whitefish, herring and pickerel. These fry are taken out in cans almost as soon as they hatch – poor, frail, infinitely small wrigglers of a quarter of an inch or so – and are dumped into the lakes. Whether they live or not nobody can possibly tell.
In the first place, these twelve-gallon cans of water are supposed to hold 50,000 fry, at least. Now, before this can of fry can be dumped into the open lake the water temperature in the lake and in the can must be equalized. If you dump the can as it comes from the hatchery right into the cold lake the fry will be instantly killed by the shock. The job of equalizing the temperature of the water in that can of 50,000 fry is a very delicate one. It requires care and cleverness.
Care and cleverness, of course, may be applied.
Why does the government plant this tiny fry? Why not hold the fry until it is older and better able to shift for itself when dumped loose in the middle of the lake?
Because they cannot hold them. They would die if held at the hatcheries beyond a certain time.
Now! Game fish.
For years Ontario has raised a fine showing of speckled trout on its annual reports.
Page after page of the blue book shows speckled trout distributed – ten thousand here, twenty thousand there. At the rate in which trout have been distributed over old and new Ontario in the past ten years the streams should fairly be bursting with fish.
But they are not. The trout that were shipped out, all these years, were fry, mostly. They were shipped in twelve-gallon cans, to those who applied – with political assistance – for trout fry.
The best possible practice nowadays for planting even advanced fry or small fingerlings is so complex and careful a procedure that it is very doubtful if a fraction of one per cent of all that tremendous planting of trout fry has been effective.
It you had a stream in which you felt you would like to plant some speckled trout, you filled out a proper application form.
In due time you would receive telegraphic notice that the fry would be shipped on a certain train. You must be there to meet the shipment and transport it to the stream.
A hatchery employee usually went with these shipments, but his duty was to accompany a large number of cans, aerate them during the train journey, and see them safely off the train at a series of destinations. Hatchery men did not accompany each shipment. The government did not even know the nature of the stream the fry were going into. Six or seven or more lots would be shipped in the care of one man, and the minute he had unloaded a set of cans at a station platform that was the last of it, as far as he was concerned.
What the recipient should have done was this. He should be right there to meet the cans with a conveyance. The cans should have been transported at once to the water they were destined for. During the drive one man should have constantly aerated the water by means of a dipper.
An Out-of-Date System
On arriving at the stream the cans should have been placed in the stream to cool, and by means of dipping water out of the cans and dipping stream water back into the cans, the temperatures of the water in the can with that of the stream should have been equalized.
Then, carrying a can at a time, the fry should have been taken to what are called “feeder brooks” – small, sheltered little runnels leading into the main brook, sheltered, free of enemy fish, with a known constant supply of fresh, spring water.
And into these feeders the fry should have been dipped, a few here, a few there, so scattering them where they could survive enemies as well as find a fair food supply.
The number of these thousands of cans of trout that have been received at the station, left standing about for hours and finally carried to the open stream and just dumped in any way would unquestionably exceed those that had been handled with scientific care.
Yet – it is now doubted If five per cent of the fry handled in the foregoing so-called proper method would survive!
In other words, how much of this hatchery hocus pocus for years past has been merely a waste of time and public money?
A few examples of what has been going on in regard to hatcheries is worth recounting.
The fish car “Beaver” was bought second-hand from the United States. It never was up to-date in its equipment. Now it has been condemned even from the railroad point of view, and can only be operated on the tail-end of a way freight. For handling live fish, it is hardly the thing, so most of the shipping is done via the baggage cars of the C.N.R. or C.P.R.
The Glenora hatchery, which was opened a few years ago with much whoop and hurrah, is so unsuited to hatchery work that all the fish in it have to be got rid of before June, because the temperature of the water then rises so high as to kill the fish. When it was opened 100,000 trout were shipped from the Soo hatchery. Fifteen thousand are said to have died in transit. Eighty thousand are reported as having died in the water of the hatchery. The remaining five thousand were hurriedly got rid of in the nearest crick to the hatchery.
For several years past all the states bordering on Canada have known that fry planting has been useless and they have equipped their hatcheries with rearing ponds into which the fry from the troughs are transferred and raised to fingerling size before being distributed to the streams.
Some of the acts connected with hatcheries seem incredible. In 1924, in the month of June, when the trout fingerlings were two inches long or better, 50,000 of them were shipped to the Fleming river, in the Thunder Bay district, from the Mount Pleasant hatchery, near Brantford, Ontario – something like seven hundred miles.
These 50,000 were shipped in forty cans – that works out at 1,250 fingerlings to a twelve-gallon can – for a 700-mile train journey!
A hatchery man went with the shipments, and no doubt he sat up all night in the baggage car, refreshing the water and icing it.
The Fleming river may or may not be a trout stream. It is believed to have plenty of pike in it.
The distance from the railway station which this one hatchery man had to transport those forty twelve-gallon cans containing 50,000 trout was about 300 yards. No doubt, also, he distributed these 50,000 trout carefully over several miles of the stream! No doubt each of the forty cans was carefully equalized in temperature with the stream.
From the same hatchery, the same month, another 50,000 shipment, in 40 cans, went to the White Sand river in Thunder Bay.
We’re Importing Trout Eggs!
In the same month, from the same hatchery, 50,000 June fingerlings were released in Eugenia Pond, near Flesherton. Mount Pleasant produced a great quantity of trout that season, and they were widely distributed. Those anglers who have fished patiently by the hour in Eugenia Pond and never caught one trout would be interested to know where the 50,000 went. In 1922 122,000 speckled trout fry were released in Eugenia Pond. In 1923 100,000; in 1924, 50,000. By the time the pond was opened to fishing, in 1926, those fish should have been well grown. Nothing points the finger of mockery at Ontario’s hatchery practice more than Eugenia Pond.
The speckled trout try and fingerlings raised, according to the government reports since 1921, were:
The story of Ontario’s effort to raise bass is not even as heroic. The Mount Pleasant hatchery has seven ponds, but instead of employing these for rearing trout to advanced fingerling stage or better, they were the scene of an attempt to propagate black bass. The parent bass, about 1,500 of them, were taken in pound nets, either from Port Rowan or Mitchell’s Bay in Lake St. Clair, and transported by crate, truck and the fish car “Beaver” and by truck again, to the Mount Pleasant hatchery. Here they were released in the ponds, and those which nested after their unhappy journeying in barrels were robbed of their babies few days after they hatched and rose from the nests, and these tiny bass fry, after being kept a short period within the troughs of the hatchery, were shipped to their various destinations by the same process as the trout, and liberated with the same element of chance or mischance, and about an equal hope of them surviving.
In distributing fry the government was doing merely what the sportsmen have been doing, and from the same motive – ignorance. The sportsmen, starting to fish on June 15, have been catching the male bass off the nest, where he was engaged for two or three weeks, in guarding the nest until the fry were old enough to hide in the weeds. The fry distributed from the hatcheries were often so small they had not absorbed the yolk sack and could not swim!
Two years ago the government employed its first trained biologist. A new principle was adopted whereby the biologist inspects all water before applications for trout fry are filled. There is also a new note to the effect that the hatchery man who takes the shipment of fry must see it distributed according to the best theory.
This has greatly cut down the amount of fry produced by the hatcheries. And it will take a little time to tell whether there is any good effect felt.
But in the meantime the government visits such places as Eugenia Pond, which it has stocked so handsomely, in the effort to collect trout eggs, and fails with nets to catch enough trout to get eggs for any purpose. It visits Dorset, with the same result.
So it imports trout eggs from the United States hatcheries!
For several years past it has purchased large quantities of trout eggs, running into several thousands of dollars, from United States hatcheries with which to stock the depleted trout streams of Canada for the benefit of the American tourist!
American Plan Far Better
A full Investigation of the hatcheries of Ontario is long overdue.
New Jersey, which has the most advanced hatchery practice in America, under the direction of Charles O. Hayford, does not believe in distributing fry at all. Last season New Jersey raised and distributed from its 192 ponds as Hackettstown 297,200 speckled trout from 6 to 16 inches in length, and 533,900 fry and fingerlings sent to sportsmen’s organizations to be reared in the rearing ponds kept up by the sportsmen, who will distribute the adult fish to the public waters of the state.
And New Jersey also raised last season 498,083 small mouth bass two to three inches long before they left the hatchery at all.
Ontario raised no bass at all in 1925, and reports 12,500 bass fry for 1926, fry, of course.
One of the quaint touches in regard to the bass raising by Ontario is the rumor that a goodly percentage of the bass shipped from Mount Pleasant were sticklebacks, which never grew to more than minnow size.
There is a way out of this muddle. Ontario could take some of the three million dollars to has saved in annual surpluses in the last ten years off fish and game and apply it to building modern hatcheries with rearing ponds for the raising of the fish to adult size before distributing them. A modern fish car should do the distributing, with a staff of biologists – cheap at a hundred times the price – to supervise all planting.
Or Ontario could adopt the American plan of game restoration.
This lets everybody help.
It is a very simple scheme. The government breeds and produces the fry.
The sportsmen take the fry and rear them to safe size for transplanting.
In other words, all the sportsmen’s organizations in the province – if they really mean business – would get together, under expert government biologist’s supervision, build a series of rearing ponds in their locality, and assume full responsibility for them.
Then the government would ship the fry from the hatcheries to these rearing ponds. When the fish were of sufficient size to be released – say in the fall of the year – the government biologist would again supervise the distribution the fingerlings in the public streams of the neighborhood. The sportsmen would have to help. Toronto associations, not being on the spot – could support its rearing pond somewhere up the country. The smaller local organizations could actually turn out and help dig the ponds, cart the gravel, and do the work of distributing the fish in the fall. It would be fun.
And the streams would then have fish in them.
The game restoration plan is already being worked in Ontario in connection with pheasants. Farmers are doing with pheasants what the associations should do with trout and bass. They should rear them.
This removes a tremendous expense from the government. And under this scheme the government could cut down its hatchery production to the exact quantity asked for by the sportsmen who have the rearing ponds. Quality of product, not quantity, would then be the rule.
Sportsmen in Ontario are now looking forward to a small compact commission or committee to investigate the whole problem of game fish. Such a commission would meet the sportsmen’s organizations and be in a position to put it up to the sportsmen to undertake a fair share of the work of restoring fish to our waters.
If sportsmen are not willing to undertake the job then the whole problem must subside one more into the political pickle it has been in for thirty years past.