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Handbook to Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba
The Fish and Fisheries of Manitoba by Professor Edward E. Prince.

Dominion Commissioner of Fisheries and Canadian Representative on the International Fisheries Commission.

IT has been justifiably claimed for the fishing industries of Manitoba that they are the greatest fresh-water fisheries in the world. The earliest fishery was carried on by the native Indian tribes for food for themselves and their dogs, but the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, at their numerous posts in this region, de-< pended upon fish very largely, and since 1811, when the first white settlers were brought to the banks of the Red River by Lord Selkirk, a regular fishery has been pursued, which has grown to enormous dimensions, especially during the last thirty years. The species of principal importance are the lake whitefish (Coregonus clupei-formis), the pike-perch or yellow pickerel (Stitzostedion vitreum), the sturgeon (Acipenser), and the pike or jackfish {Lucius). The whitefish of Manitoba, especially of Lake Winnipeg, have an envied reputation in the markets of this continent; and the caviare and flesh of the sturgeon from these waters have always ranked very high. The relative economic importance of the following species may be judged from the figures given below.

During the last twenty years the annual value of the fisheries of the Province has risen rapidly, partly owing to the exploitation of new waters, and partly owing to the higher market value of food-fishes in recent years. Thus, in 1887, the total value was $129,084, in 1897 $261,120, and in 1907 it was $800,015. While a proportion of the catch is sent to local and to Eastern Canadian markets, the greater part (fully 75%) is sent to the United States markets, certain large foreign “fish combines” having undoubted control over the handling of these supplies of Canadian fish. The last official returns (1907) credit the Province with a total catch of 10,538,500 lbs. of fish of all kinds for that year.

The total area of the waters fished is not less than 20,000 square miles, the three largest lakes, Lake Winnipeg (9,460 sq. miles), Lake Winnipegosis (2,068 sq. miles), and Lake Manitoba (1,775 sq. miles) exceeding the Netherlands in extent, but other lakes, St. Martin, Dauphin, Shoal, Swan and Waterhen, contribute their quota, these lakes ranging from 100 to 200 square miles, while Moose (552 sq. miles), Cedar (285 sq. miles), Play-green (223 sq. miles) and other more distant lakes, though beyond the Provincial boundary, must be included in the Manitoba fisheries, all the catches being sent down to the main shipping points in the Province. It is interesting to note that the Manitoba lakes are exclusively in Canadian territory, and are not shared, as are the Great Lakes to the east, with the Republic to the south. Hence, while Lake Superior is more than three times the area of Lake Winnipeg, Huron twice, and Erie almost of the same area, yet the superficial extent of the Canadian portion of these eastern waters does not greatly exceed the total area of the Manitoba fishing grounds.

To develop the fishing industry on an adequate scale, in waters so vast, large capital was essential Fishing companies were accordingly organized, with fleets of steam tugs, immense outfits of nets, ice houses and stores, refrigerators and other necessary equipment. Fishing on a limited scale had always been engaged in by the settlers and Indians, and the numerous Icelandic colonies in more recent years have assiduously continued this practice. Much of this fishing is carried on through holes in the ice in winter. But even so recently as 1899 the Winnipeg Board of Trade stated that the fishing industries of the Province were only “in their infancy," and undoubtedly, with proper safeguards against depletion, these industries, which have increased, like the population of the Province, more than sixfold during the last twenty years, are still capable of further development. The productiveness of the waters of the Province is proved by the fact that from 1890 to 1907 84,000,000 lbs. of whitefish were shipped from Manitoba and 5,329,000 lbs. of sturgeon, including a large quantity of caviare, much of it exported to German)'' to be sold as the best Russian product. Like all fisheries, those of this Province have been subject to fluctuations ; some branches, such as the sturgeon fishery, have alarmingly declined, while others, like the pike-perch or pickerel fishery, have greatly expanded. The whitefish supply, in the opinion of many, has decreased, and the large annual catch, in 1906 exceeding 5,000,000 lbs., was, it is held, due only to more persistent fishing and the use of excessive amounts of gear. All fishing operations are carried on under license from the Dominion Government, and under the supervision of a staff of Federal fishery officers, who have authority to enforce the laws and regulations under the Dominion Fishery Act.

The parties who carry on fishing consist of (1) large fishing companies in which United States firms have very considerable interest, they operate in the northern parts of Lake Winnipeg and the more distant lakes, chiefly in summer and in extensive areas where fishermen without capital, tugs, fish-houses and refrigerators could not take or handle the fish. (2) Settlers, largely Scandinavians, with a proportion of Austrians and Germans, who fish in summer in small boats, and, on a vastly more extensive scale, through the ice in winter, mainly in the shallower southern parts of Lake Winnipeg and in the smaller lakes. (3) Indians and half-breeds, who fish from their reserves for food but also for sale, and have specially carried on .a sturgeon fishery. In the rivers, such as the Red River, settlers and others use seines and other apparatus for catching pickerel or pike perch, catfish, gold-eyes (an excellent fresh-water herring), perch, and coarse fish.

It is estimated that at least 5,000 persons are more or less engaged in the fisheries, but the number of regular fishermen is now about 2,000, as compared with 850 twenty years ago. In 1887, it may be noted, there were 7 steam tugs, 550 tons total, valued at $26,500; and 65 fishing boats, 118 tons, valued at $6,785; whereas there are now 22 tugs of 1,034 tons total tonnage, valued at $132,000 and employing about 150 men, and in addition 530 boats, valued at $24,000, with crews totalling up to 1,800 men. Fishing by means of baited lines, fyke or hoop nets, etc., is extensively pursued, and the takes are principally coarse fish, the present annual catch of which amounts to no less than 5,000,000 lbs. The cleaning of the fish, icing, and other processes are carried out at various points on the lakes, such as Spider Island, Black River, Eagle Island, Poplar River, Beren's River, Snake Island, Bull Head, Horse Island, and Warren’s Landing, these resembling busy villages, with wharves and crowded dwellings. Warren’s Landing is about 400 miles from Winnipeg city. About ten years ago fresh fish, in broken ice, were first brought from Selkirk Island (at the north en<J of Lake Winnipeg) and shipped from the town of Selkirk in refrigerator cars, and were found in some United States cities to be preferred to the frozen fish heretofore imported. A large business has been since then maintained. The main catches brought from the fishing grounds by tugs and sail-boats to the various islands referred to, after being cleaned, packed, and iced, are brought down to Selkirk from Lake Winnipeg, and to Winnipegosis Town, from Winnipegosis, Cedar, and other lakes. From over a hundred of these remote establishments, with plants valued at nearly $250,000, the principal summer catches are received at the large refrigerators. That of the Dominion Fish Company at Selkirk is said to be the largest in Canada, if not on the whole American continent, having a capacity of two million pounds, though many times that amount passes through the freezing rooms in a single season. In the large freezers the fish are neatly laid on flat trays, subjected to a temperature of 15° below zero, and exported by the carload when the markets are favourable. The ammonia process has been adopted, the ammonia being forced by powerful engines into vacua, thus reducing the temperature, and the cold gas is then driven through circulating pipes, which pass along the insulated store rooms, where a temperature of 20° below freezing can be readily attained, but the usual temperature is only about zero. The ammonia, after circulating, is restored to its original density by the action of running water and is ready for the circulating process again. In the large refrigerator establishment just mentioned about 3,000 lbs. of ammonia are used, emptying and re-filling being carried out several times in the course of the year.

Unlike the fisheries of Ontario and the eastern Provinces and British Columbia, in which each Province has property rights, the property and jurisdiction are, in Manitoba, vested solely in the hands of the Dominion

Government; and the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Ottawa, issues licenses, authorizes restrictions, close seasons, etc., for the preservation of the fishery resources. As an effective safeguard against depletion the Federal Government has erected fish-hatcheries (at Selkirk, Beren’s River, Winnipegosis, and other places), and vast quantities of fry of whitefish, and various valuable species, are planted each season from these establishments.


Apart from their commercial importance, the fishes of the Province have a scientific interest arising from the fact that they form a fish fauna distinctly marked off from that of the great lakes and eastern waters, and have nothing in common with the Pacific fish fauna. None of the ancient fresh-water types of Canada such as the Gar-p;ke (.Lepisosteus osseus, Linn) and Bowfin (Amia calva, Linn) occur, though sturgeon of two species are found, but the sturgeon is doubtless, primitively, an anadromous ocean fish. The speckled char or brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis, Mitch.), the lesser whitefish (Argyrosomus artedi, Le Sueur), the sea salmon (Salmo salar, Linn.), as also the black spotted trout (S. clarkii) of Albertan waters, the Inconnu (Stenodus mackenzii, Richardson) of the Mackenzie, and certain Arctic and Pacific salmon and trout are absent, and bear out the geologist’s view that the Manitoba system of lakes and rivers is unconnected with the eastern and western drainage systems, and really comprises the remnants of a northern expansion of the Missouri and Mississippi system with a former outflow to the south. Geographi oally these lakes are the western members of the great lake chain lying, for a thousand miles, along the southern margin of the vast Archaean shield which dips, to the north, beneath the waters of Hudson Bay. Geologi cally they are all that remain of the vast post-glacial Lake Agassiz, of an estimated area of 110,000 sq. miles, the sediments of which, as the late Dr. George Dawson said, “constitute the richest wheat lands of Manitoba.” Near the Cypress Hills on the west and in the opposite direction (south of Lake of the Woods) the Manitoba waters still maintain communication by muskegs and marshy streams with the Mississippi system to the south.

The presence in abundance of a lesser whitefish, not found to the east or the west, viz., the Tullibee (Argyro-somus tullibee, Richardson), a soft inferior lesser white-fish or lake herring, and of the Gold-eye (Hiodon chrysop-sis, Richardson), an ally of the Clupeidas, a very plentiful and excellent food-fish, emphasises the separateness of this aquatic area, while the presence of the sturgeon and of the Methy or Lake Ling (Lota maculosa, Le Sueur) indicates that connections with the sea, such, as geology demonstrates, have occurred, owing to subsidence at various epochs. Certain universally distributed species are found, e.g., the pikes or jack-fishes (of which two species occur, Lucius lucius Linn., and Lucius masquinongy, Mitchill), both of exceptionally good table qualities, as well as the bearded cat-fishes and carp-like suckers; but the glutinous nature of their eggs may explain their wide dispersion, probably by water birds.

The following list of species is believed to include most of the fishes authentically known to occur, but many other species await discovery in this extensive area, of waters where investigations, so far, have been fragmentary and inadequate.

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