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TESTIMONY OF CAPT. SYLVANUS SMITH.
GLOUCESTER, Mass., October 4, 1886.
By Senator EDMUNDS:
Q. You have lived here a long time?-A. I am a native of the Cape, and I have lived here in this town thirty years.
Q. What is your occupation?-A. I am carrying on the fishing business at present.
Q. Do you mean as master of a vessel?—A. No, sir; as owner and fitter. I was master of a vessel seventeen years, fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Q. Do you buy and sell fish?-Á. Yes, sir.
Q. And fit out vessels?-A. I own a fleet of vessels, and buy to some extent outside of the fish that my own vessels catch.
Q. How many vessels have you?-A. I have 13 at present.
Q. Have you ever been a fisherman yourself?-A. I went until I was 35 years of age; I began when I was 10 years old; I was master for seventeen years.
Q. And you quit fishing what year?-A. In 1864.
TREATY OF 1854.
Q. Then you had experience in fishing both before the reciprocity treaty of 1854 and during its existence?--A. I was fishing in the Bay of St. Lawrence in 1849, and all the time after that until 1864.
Q. What was the effect of the treaty of 1854 on the American fishing interest?— A. Well, I don't know as there was any particular effect on it at all. There was some little point about the privilege we had in the fall of the year, in windy weather, of going into harbor, if we got a deck of fish, to cure them. Before the treaty they didn't allow us to do so. I never caught many fish inshore; very few were caught where I fished.
Q. Were you fishing for cod in those days?-A. I was cod-fishing on our shore the forepart of the year; after July we changed our business and went to mackerel fishing; that was the general custom at that time.
Q. But so far as the right to catch fish inside of the 3 miles was concerned, the treaty of 1854 made no practical difference?-A. I don't think it made much difference; occasionally there would be some fish inshore, and where they fished it might have affected them. Where I fished, mostly around the Magdalens, we fished where we were a mind to. In the fall sometimes the fish would get near the shore around Cape Breton, and there would be some days that the fish would be inshore; that would be along from the middle of October until November. The rest of the year the fish were mostly offshore.
Q. Taking the general run of the year, in and out for ten or twenty years together, according to your observation and experience, the value of the inshore fishing is very small, is it not?-A. It is very small; that is, to a master of a vessel and fitter; I have been having vessels running since that time.
Q. While the treaty of 1871 was in operation, what occasion was there for fishermen to fish within 3 miles on those shores; how much practical advantange was that?-A. It wasn't any to me. I had several vessels along there during those years, and they made a failure of it, and came home to fish on our shores. Previous to this year, for the last ten years, mackerel have been plentiful on our shores. This year it has been almost a total failure; some few that went into the Bay didn't get anything.
Q. Do your knowledge and information cause you to agree in opinion with the other gentlemen whom you have heard-and in fact with all the people we have seen, from Provincetown up-as to where the great bulk of the mackerel, take it year in and year out, caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, that they are caught outside of the 3 miles with purse seines?—A. When I went there fishing we caught ours, as I say, outside the 3 miles, but I never went seining; knowing the character of the bottom there I shouldn't suppose it would be practicable to fish with a seine.
S. Doc. 231, pt 5-47
By Senator FRYE: Q. You fished with hook and line?-A. With hook and line. I shouldn't suppose it would be practicable to fish with a seine there; it has a very rocky bottom and shoal water.
CURING FISH ASHIORE,
By Senator EDMUNDS: Q. Perhaps you have been along those shores up there enough to know whether or not they are occupied now by people?—A. I think it is pretty well settled all around the coast, so far as I know.
Q. In that case, under the old treaty, the question might arise whether you would be obliged to arrange with the shore men for labor in drying your fish or anything else that you wanted done on shore, or otherwise it might be an invasion of the rights of private property?-A. That mode of fishing has much changed. There are no fish cured ashore; it is a thing of the past. I don't think there has been anything of the kind for thirty years.
Q. Are there not some cured ashore at St. Pierre?-A. Those are cured by the natives there, not by Americans.
KENCH-CURED AND PICKLE-CURED FISH.
Q. What do you think of the value, respectively, of shore-cured fish as compared with those that are kench-cured, as it is called, I believe, and brought home and pickled?-A. For our market here their fish haven't much value. We have what we call the pickle-cured fish; that is what suits our market. Their market is more for the Brazils and West India market, and the foreign trade generally.
Q. How are they, in respect of quality, as a good food?-A. They are good food enough for the climate they go into, but they are not good for our trade here.
Q. What I want to get at is this: Assume that you keep house, or, at least, eat meals somewhere; if you want to have to-morrow morning for your breakfast the best possible salt codtish, would you have a good St. Pierre cured fish, or a kenchcurecì fish?—A. If I was going down to my warehouse to take out fish I should take out a Georges pickle-cured fish. In no case would I take a St. Pierre fish to carry it away, because it is not the kind of fish that I want at all. They do cure some for table use to cut up and eat raw; sometimes a few are used that way.
Q. For the general consumption of people who eat fish you think this method of kench curing is just as good as any other?-A. We have no call in our trade for any other kind.
Q. Now, come to exportation. The dryer the salt fish is, I suppose, the better it will bear a warm and humid climate?-A. They have to be dry-cured for exportation.
Q. Can you treat these kench-cured fish when you get them here to Gloucester in such a way that they could be sent to the West Indies or to the East Indies and not spoil?—A. They have to go through that process of pressing and drying more. One way would be to put them into brine in butts; the other way is to wash and dry them and put them out on the flakes several times in order to get the requisite dry
At times we make large quantities for the Boston market; they are made by the same process that they make them at St. Pierre and Nova Scotia.' I think they make a specialty of that, and I think their fish of that class are fully better than ours, because they make a large quantity of fish that way, and it is not often we make them. Sometimes when the market is poor we have a call from Boston.
Q. There is nothing in the fact that you bring them in in brine?-A. Our fish are handled in the same way that theirs are until they are brought ashore.
Q. Are these particular kind of fish we have been speaking of called the dun fish?—A. No; it is the age that gives the name of dun.
Q. Take a dry-cured fish and put it through the process, and it then becomes the dun fish?—A. It would after it had the age on it.
Q. From your observation what advantage would it be to the fishing interests of the United States to make this sort of an exchange between United States and Canada: Canada to give us the right to cure fish on her shores, the right to ship fish by rail, the right to fish within her 3-mile shore line, the right to buy bait, tobacco, and everything else desired by the fishermen; we in return to give the provincial men the right to do the same things on our shores and the right to bring their fresh or salted fish in free? You would hardly make a trade of that kind, I suppose?-A. I should say it would be a very hard trade for us.
Q. For the cod fisheries, do you want to go there now for bait?-A. I have some seven or eight vessels that have been cod fishing this year, and I think they have not been to the provincial ports at all for bait; they have caught most of their bait on the Banks.
Q. Have you generally sent out a quantity of clam bait?—A. We haven't fished that way, but we used to years ago.
Q. Clams are used on trawls?--A. Not a great deal.
Q. What do you use on trawls?-A. Sometimes we carry salt herring and mackerel, and they fish with what they call shack, and birds, too. I had a vessel that went this year that way-cut up small fish and anything of that kind for bait. Buying bait is a thing that has come up more recently. Vessels used to go to the Banks with salt bait, and fish with clams or with birds and shack and such bait as they could take from the fish. Some ten or fifteen years ago the vessels began to go in on the Bank trips and get their hait in Newfoundland. I am speaking more particularly of the Grand Banks. But I doubt if that has been any benefit to us. We have paid out a large amount of money there, while the Cape Cod vessels that have pursued the old way of fishing have made better voyages, I think, than ours have, because they have saved large expense; and if we are unable to get our bait there, as has been the case for some time, we will go back to the old method and adapt ourselves to circumstances.
Q. There is bait enough to be caught in our waters, is there not, taking clams, menhaden, and what herring we have?-A. We have no trouble in baiting our vessels without going there to buy it. The vessels have in past years often gone in there just because it has been the custom, and some of them started this year the same way, but after they found that they were prohibited from going in for bait they have adapted themselves to circumstances, and have got bait on our own coast and on the Banks.
Q. And I suppose it is rather a temptation, when there is the right of free entry, to the fishermen, because they rather like to go ashore at a pleasant little village and have a good little time?-A. We think that operates against us as owners.
Q. Have any of your fleet been molested or disturbed in any way since the expiration of the treaty?--A. None of my own fleet particularly. Tlie Adams was a ves. sel from my wharf; she was owned by her captain.
Q. Where is the captain of the Adams?-A. The captain was not aboard at the time; it was Captain Lewis who was aboard. But both the captains are away.
Q. And none of the vessels in which you have an interest were disturbed?-A. I have had five vessels fishing in the Bay of St. Lawrence this year for the first time for several years. My fishermen have fished on this coast for mackerel for several years, but in the absence of mackerel on this coast they have had to go into the bay with the rest of them. I have been advised that they got their fish, all of them, from 6 to 10 and 15 miles offshore, and, so far as cutters were concerned, they hardly saw one. They hadn't any occasion to go inshore, and, on the whole, they thought it was an advantage to be prohibited from going in-bore.
COST OF VESSELS AND Ol*TFITS.
Q. About how many men compose the crews of your vessels?—A. Fifteen to 18 in each.
Q. What would be about the average tonnage?--A. Seventy-five to 80 tons.
Q. What would be the average cost of those vessels, hull and spars?--A. Hull, spars, and sails, about $8,000 for mine.
Q. How much does the outfit cost?--A. About $2,500 to $3,000 with the seines.
LIFE OF SEINES.
Q. How long will one of these purse seines last?—A. About two years, I should say.
Q. Then they get rotten?-A. Then they get rotten. They are made of very fine twine, and some portions of them have to be rounded in that time; perhaps in one season some portion will give out.
Q. Even when the net has met with no serious accident?-A. Yes, sir. Perhaps a third of it would have to be taken out the second year, out of the middle of it, the bunt.
NATIONALITY OF FISHERMEN.
Q. What is the nationality of your crews?-A. From observation I should think about one-third are foreigners of different countries, and two-thirds American. I speak more particularly of the seining vessels. I think the seine tishermen are more largely American than the cod fishermen; perhaps half of the cod fishermen are Americans.
By Senator FRYE: Q. And two-thirds in mackerel fishing?-A. Yes, sir. I have got one man that has about the whole of his crew Americans.
By Senator EDMUNDS:
EFFECT OF DUTY ON PRICES.
Q. Has there been any change in the retail prices of salt fish, so far as you have observed, which you can refer to the fact that a duty has been put on since 1885?— A. I don't know about the retail price; I am only familiar with the wholesale. So far as my knowledge goes, I know no difference.
Q. What has been the effect on the wholesale prices?--A. The duty went on a year ago last July; I think the price of codfish is about 25 per cent lower than a year ago last July. As to mackerel, there has been a very short catch of mackerel, so few that there has been quite a large advance in price.
Q. Has the advance gone up quite beyond the duty?–A. You might say there has been comparatively no mackerel; there has been none on this coast; and, altogether, there has been a short catch, so that the duty has not affected it.
Q. Did you notice any sudden rise immediately after the 1st of July, 1885, in the wholesale prices of any kind of fish as a consequence of the duty going on at that time?-A. There has been no rise in fish on that account.
Q. None of your dealers put up your prices on account of that fact?-A. No; it has been the other way. We had laid in large stocks of fish, the general impression being that we might get some advance, but it went the other way; it was ruinous, and our prices have gone down to almost nothing that is, where fish fetched two years ago $3.50 a quintal, the price went down to $1.75—that is, while the duty was on the price was $3.50, and the same fish went down to $1.75 and $2 for 114 pounds.
EFFECT OF QUALITY ON PRICES.
Q. How was the mackerel catch last year?-A. It was quite large last year. There is another thing that has affected the price, and that is the quality. Last year they were No. 2, and small ones at that, and the price was very low; this year the mackerel that have been caught are very large and of better quality, so that a portion of the advance in price has been due to quality.
Q. But the quantity has been much diminished?-A. Very much diminished; the catch has been very small. The statistics of the Fish Bureau show that.
FRESH AND SALT FISHI.
Q. Where do you sell the most of your salt fish?--A. I sell mine on the markets here, to the dealers mostly.
Q. You do not ship to distant points?-A. Not to any great extent.
Q: Do you deal in fresh fish at all?--A. No more than that my vessels go fresh fishing and their fish are sold to the dealers in Boston, that is all.
LAY. By Senator FRYE: Q. I would like to have you give the exact lay of the fishing business with your sailors, you own so many veseels.-A. In hand-line fishing each man has his own tish, and one man can make a large trip while another man will make quite a small
Then they have what they call a half line. The crew pay the cook's wages, the ice, and the bait, and perhaps some other little bills, which are called stock charges. After those stock charges are taken out the rest is divided among the crew according to their catch.
Q. How divided? What proportion of the whole catch does the whole crew gethalf?-A. One-half of their own catch; half of each man's catch. After taking out the stock charges the crew gets one-half of the whole.
Q. Then each man has of that half the proportion that he takes with his line?-A. Yes, sir. Among trawl fishermen some go that way, and some heave altogether and then average.
Q. Now mackerel.-A. In the mackerel fishery, taking the average of mackerel sold here and put into barrels, the barrels have to come out of the stock; some few other little trivial charges come out of the stock, and out of the remainder comes the cook’s wages and the crew's half, and the rest is divided equally among them, the owners paying the master his commission. His lay is a percentage on stock of 4 to 6 per cent, whatever he may ship for.
6 Q. That comes out of the owner? A. That comes out of the owner.
Q. The owner furnishes the vessel and outfit, seines, &c.?-A. He furnishes everything
Q. Insurance and everything of that kind?-A. Everything of that kind.
COMPENSATION OF FISHERMEN.
Q. What are the average annual earnings of these fishermen?—A. I have not looked it up, but I should say that during the last two years $200 would be about an average.
PROFITS AND LOSSES.
Q. What have been, during the last ten or fifteen years, the average profits of your vessels engaged in that business?-A. I haven't figured it up that way. I know the average profits have been very small, and I believe it has been the other way.
Q. Losses?-A. There have been losses; during the last five or six years more particularly we lost. I can explain that in this way: Previous to the treaty of Washington the Canadian fleet was small, and the general business of this country of course was better. We then got some profit from our business. After the treaty of Washington had been in force some three or four or five years we began to feel the effect of their competition, in our cod fishing more particularly; it has been ruinous to us, and I don't know but it has been so to them. They have a very large fleet of vessels, some 300 or 400 sail, I understand, and the business since then has been very poor. A great many people have gone out of the business, and some fishing towns have almost gone out of it.
Q. What is the reason you can not compete with them?-A. Cheap labor is one thing. Five or six years ago, I don't know just the date-fish were quite high; every Nova Scotia banker that came here with fish sold them on the market without paying duty, and every man who was a carpenter went to the woods and got out wood to build a vessel with, so that every spring there were from 50 to 75 new vessels launched. Those vessels were built of spruce and cheap qualities of hard wood, and were got up in every way cheap as to material. Those vessels were fitted out and manned. Of course their men went on the lay the same as ours, but they were fitted out cheaper. The iron, manila, and such stuff that went into the construction made their vessels cheaper. Then began the labor of curing fish. They hired their labor very cheap; our labor is costly, while theirs is of almost nominal value. The whole business is expensive with us compared with what it is with them. Our local taxation, as well as national, is high, and it has all got to come out of the proceeds of the business somewhere.
Q. Is it possible for Canada to give the fishermen of this country anything that you would regard as an equivalent for allowing her fish to come in here free of duty?-A. I can't see where there is anything.
Q. You do not know of anthing you want?-A. I do not. All I should ask, as a vessel owner, would be civilized treatment of our vessels, to have the same rights and privileges accorded to us that all civilized nations accord to each other, and indeed you might now say all the nations.
SALT AND FRESH FISH.
Q. As a matter of fact, has not the immense increase in the congumption and sale of fresh fish injured the market for salt fish?--A. I think it has to some extent.