Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How Maine's Sea-Run Fish were Dammed into Oblivion, 1864.

Citation: Boardman, Samuel L. 'Aquaeculture': in Ninth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture. 1864. Augusta, Maine. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State. Also pub. in Maine Farmer, March 23, 1865.

At p. 109-110:

"Everyone now knows that salmon, shad and alewives, and indeed all the other kinds of migratory fishes -- those that spend winters in the salt water, and come up out of the sea at certain periods, as if sent by a kind Providence, to spend the spring and summer in fresh water -- are now very scarce indeed, and in some streams totally extinct. Everyone knows, too, that many of the species of fishes which remain permanently in our fresh waters, have very much decreased in numbers, as well as in size and fatness. People say that this is a necessary consequence of the building of dams and mills, and filling the streams with obstructions of various kinds for the industrial pursuits of a civilized community. No doubt it is a consequence of these obstructions, but it not need be a necessary consequence. I hold that dams and mills might be constructed, and continued, and yet by a little concession on the part of dam and mill proprietors, and a more general diffusion of the knowledge of the natural history fishes, more intimate acquaintance with their peculiar habits, instincts, and wants of life, the mills might remain and the fish continue to perform their annual pilgrimage to and from their breeding haunts, if not in so great numbers as in former times, yet in such numbers as to afford a vast amount of provisions and even luxury to the communities which are now wholly deprived of them.

"I am also aware that this subject has been discussed over and over again -- that for years and years past, every session of our Legislature was thronged, and committees were worried and teased by mill owners on the one hand and fishermen on the other -- one demanding the privilege of building dams and mills without let or hindrance as to the fish, and the other pleading for some reserve, some fish-way, or some accommodation to the annual flow of the fish, which had been of such signal service to the support of the people on the banks and vicinity of the waters in question. I am also aware that our Legislators, actuated by a sincere desire to do justice to all parties, and to give equal rights to all, have, in most instance, made provisions in the several charters and private acts pertaining to mill owners, for the passage of fish at certain times and seasons, with a hope that, while it encouraged the establishment of mills and machinery, there would be also at the required times a safe and successful transit for the various species of fishes that required such passes as one of the indispensable requirements for the continuation of their existence. And we are all aware also that, either from ignorance of what habits of the fish demand, these ways have not always been properly constructed, or from selfishness in mill owners in not keeping them open at suitable times, these provisions in most cases failed, and the destruction of the fish is the inevitable result."

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