Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When kids used to go down to the Kennebec River to get Atlantic salmon for breakfast.

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

At page 109:

"An aged woman, who formerly lived on the banks of the Kennebec in Vassalboro, and who, at that time, had a large family of children to support, once told me that, in spring and early summer, the fish from the river were a very essential aid to them -- that many times she has sent one of her boys down to the river early in the morning to catch a salmon for breakfast, with as much certainty that he would bring one home in season, as if she had sent him with the money to a city fish market, where she knew they were kept for sale."

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."

How Maine's Sea-Run Fish were Overfished to Oblivion

A few early to mid 1800s historic references I just came across illustrate how early and quickly the sea-run fish of Maine rivers were wiped out by over-fishing:

Citation: William Durkee Williamson. 1832. The History of the State of Maine. Vol. 1. Glazer, Masters & Co. Hallowell, Maine.

At p. 158, describing striped bass:

"The Bass is a large scale fish, variable in its size from 10 to 60 pounds. They are striped with black, have bright scales and horned backs, and are caught about the coasts. They ascend into the fresh water to cast their spawn, in May or June, being lean afterwards and fat in the autumn. In June 1807, there were taken at the mouth of the Kenduskeag, 7,000 of these fishes, which were of a large size -- a shoal, either pursued up the river by sharks, or ascended in prospect of their prey, or to cast their spawn."

Smelt at p. 160:

"They are caught in abundance, after March, in our rivers; 20 barrels of them have been taken at the mouth of the Kenduskeag at a sweep, and sometimes they are worth no more than half a dollar a bushel."

At footnote 3, same page: "On the 2d of May, 1794, at the mouth of the Kenduskeag (on the Penobscot) were taken at one draft 1,000 shad and 30 barrels of alewives."


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. 117:

"Three years ago, in the month of May, in company with a friend, while passing by the lower lock of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, in the city of Portland, our attention was drawn to the a crowd of men standing by the side of the lock, several of whom had long-handled nets, with which they were fishing, or rather dipping out fish from the water. On coming up, we saw that they were catching alewives in great numbers. It appeared that these fish, in their peregrinations along the coast, had been attracted by the fresh water of the canal, and instinctively entered it in order, as they supposed, to follow up to its source, (Sebago Lake,) but were brought to a standstill by the upper gate of the lock. The men engaged there then shut the lower gate, and commenced catching them. As soon as those of them that were confined in the lock were all caught, the men opened the lower gate again, and admitted a lot more of them, and thus a wholesale destruction of them went on. I supposed that some of them might possibly work their way up, when the several locks should be opened for the passage of boats, and thus Sebago made a breeding place for them, but on inquiry, am told that there are few or none seen there. Now it would be a very easy matter to stock that lake with young herrings (alewives) by proprietors of the canal forbidding any of them to be caught on certain days, and placing men along the route to let them go through the gates into the lake. Indeed, it seems that by renting the privilege of fishing for them on certain days, some considerable revenue might accrue to the company, while the production of the fish would again become a benefit to the section of country through with the canal passes. The same system might be adopted on many streams by having fish-ways or fish-locks, to aid their ascent, with much benefit to the country and no detriment to the mill interests."


Citation: Twelfth Annual Report of the Maine Board of Agriculture, 1867. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State.

At page 90: "In Monmouth they [smelt] run into some very small rills that lead into Cochnewagon Pond, and are dipped out in considerable quantities. In May, 1867, after it was supposed they were all gone, a fresh run occurred, that yielded thirty barrels."