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Food - The Story Of The Salmon

( Originally Published 1917 )



A common all-round food. No doubt canned salmon seems to the average American boy or girl one of the most common and uninteresting articles of food that could be mentioned. Its use is almost universal. No grocery is so small, so poorly stocked that it does not carry at least a small supply of canned salmon. If you could search the shelves of any cabin far away from a railroad or a store, you would be almost sure to find there a few cans of this fish laid by for an emergency. And what camping outfit would be complete without its supply of canned salmon?

Yes, salmon is certainly common in the sense that it is to be found almost everywhere. But in many ways it is probably the most interesting and the most useful fish the sea furnishes to man. You have eaten it scores of times without giving a thought to its real value to the world or to its thrilling life story.

Now suppose salmon were suddenly cut off from the world's food supply; the result would be a calamity felt in almost every home. Literally millions of people are fed by the salmon fisheries. Neither the rich nor the poor have much to eat that is more wholesome than this familiar food a food which comes to us not in its original form but cut into pieces and packed in a tin can. This fish in its natural state is entirely unfamiliar to most. of those who eat it. Of the millions of boy and girls who have become acquainted with salmon at their own tables only a few thousand have any idea of how the fish really looks.

The next time you taste this dainty pink morsel you will no doubt have a keener appreciation of this well known food. For you will have learned something of the life history and habits of this wonderful fish something of his wanderings, his struggles, and his final dramatic journey taken in response to a compelling law of.nature. The story will seem all the more vivid if we give him a name and think of him as an individual and not merely as one of a million almost exactly alike.

Chinook, a salmon king. Chinook was a salmon king — a big, handsome, bright-eyed, elastic fellow, weighing about sixty pounds. He was king of the Oncorhynchus tribe and larger than any of his fellows the Sockeye, the Humpback, the Coho, or the Chum or Dog Salmon. His tribe lives in the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, and the rivers of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. He has a cousin in another tribe, the Salmo family. His cousin's common name is Steelhead and he is also known as the Salmon Trout. Steelhead is now found in other waters, having been transplanted from his native Pacific to the Great Lakes and northern rivers of America and the rivers of Europe. He is caught by fishermen with hook and line.

Chinook was born far up a big river where the water sparkled and flashed in the sunlight and rushed madly over cool stones. When he was four months old he started to swim down the river to the ocean. He belonged to a numerous family four thousand brothers and sisters. But now only about half of them were left and his parents had both perished.

The Chinook family had many enemies who destroyed the defenseless young salmon. Chinook had had many narrow escapes and as he saw his brothers and sisters snatched away by the score, each day he grew more wary, more resourceful.

When at last the family reached the salt water of the ocean, it had dwindled to less than five hundred. But now the young salmon were active swimmers and better able to care for themselves.

For three years Chinook enjoyed a wild, free, dashing life. But in the fourth year nature called him to the spawning grounds and with multitudes of his kind he set out on his great adventure. In obedience to nature's law, he sought the river of his birth. When that was found he swam swiftly upstream, heeding nothing and driven by a force that allowed no pause. Neither he nor his companions stopped to eat, but pushed steadily forward. As the river narrowed and became more rapid the journey grew more perilous. There were many swift currents to fight, many jagged rocks to avoid, many riffles to ascend, and many little falls to leap. Nothing but death could stop them. At last they came to a high fall over which the water leaped, roaring wildly.

Once, twice, three times Chinook tried to leap it, but each time he failed. Again and again he made a brave dash until at last, thrown back bruised and exhausted, he was too weak to try again. Just then he made a discovery. Up one side of the big dam .which blocked the way he saw-a "fish ladder." The ladder had been placed there so that the fish returning to their spawning waters might not kill themselves trying to leap the dam. Up this ladder flashed the fish, speeding toward the little fresh-water lake that nestled in the tree covered hills before them.

On their way up, King Chinook and his brothers , had met thousands of other pilgrims who were also returning to their native waters in large schools. Many of these fish were now swimming quietly in the clear, cold snow water of the lake.

Finally Chinook chose a mate. But to keep her he must first fight many a fierce and bloody battle with other valiant warriors. When at last Chinook and his mate reached the spawning grounds they were both weak from the long journey and from fasting, for they had eaten nothing since they left the ocean. While his mate rested, Chinook dug a hollow or nest in the gravel with his snout and tail, adding many more wounds to those already received in, battle. His mate placed her eggs or spawn three or four thousand of them in the nest. Now their task was done, for the cool running water would hatch the eggs without further aid from them. Then side by side they drifted tail foremost down the river until. death claimed them.

Yearly millions of salmon return and take part in a tragedy similar to that of Chinook and his mate, for all the salmon of the Oncorhynchus tribe die soon after spawning.

Hatcheries increase salmon supply. When the salmon had only the . Indians and their natural enemies to contend with, nature was easily able to maintain the supply. But the white man came, dammed the rivers, built irrigation ditches, and began to fish in ways that threatened the extinction of the fish. Therefore the United States government found it necessary to help the fish by putting. up hatcheries where millions of young are hatched and protected until they are given a good start in life. Many salmon hatcheries have been built by the federal government in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington. The state governments on the Pacific coast are also maintaining hatcheries. These hatcheries have not only prevented the serious falling off in the. number of salmon but have actually in-creased the supply. In Washington alone, there are twenty-two salmon hatcheries from which more than 100,000,000 young salmon are turned out every year.

It requires fresh running water of an even temperature to hatch the eggs. So the hatcheries are usually built near the spawning grounds, and are so constructed and located that running water constantly flows through them.

About four months after the eggs are taken to the . hatcheries, the young salmon are nearly three quarters of an inch long. They are then known as "fry" and are considered ready to be let loose. After they are turned out into the streams they soon make their way to the ocean. Often, however, they are kept in nursery ponds where they are fed until they are much stronger and better able to protect themselves from their natural enemies in the streams.

The little salmon seek the ocean and experience the same dangers as did Chinook. In their fourth year, they make the same exciting pilgrimage up the stream of their birth, and on the way they are either captured for a cannery or finally reach the spawning grounds to breed and die.

Trolling for salmon. We now come to the task of catching these fish. We shall find the camps of the fishermen known as trollers near the Salmon Banks, so called because that is where the salmon feed. Many fishermen live on their boats during the fishing season. Should we go with a troller we should see that he has several poles sticking out from his boat. To each pole are attached two or more lines provided with spoon hooks. Hooks baited with small fish are also used. The troller's catch often amounts to six or seven hundred fish in a day. But his life is not all sunshine, for in stormy weather his position is perilous. At times, too, he is unable to locate a school of fish and, after days of fruitless toil, is obliged to return to the shore stations empty handed.

Fishing for salmon with gill nets. The fishermen stretch their great nets squarely across the channel or river mouth on the incoming tide. Then as they rush swiftly forward the oncoming salmon poke their heads in the meshes and are caught by the gills.

The Columbia River "fish wheel." On the Columbia River another very curious and interesting device, the "fish wheel," is used for catching salmon. It usually consists of a shallow boat, at one end of which is a wheel about twelve feet high. This wheel, which really resembles nothing so much as a garden hose reel, is fitted with a belt of fish net. The fish are caught in this net and as the wheel revolves are brought to the surface and dumped into the boat. Stationary or fixed fish wheels are also operated at certain points along the shore. These stationary fish wheels are larger than the floating ones.

Trap or "pot" fishing. The largest catches, how-ever, are made with traps or "pots." The salmon trap is composed of wire netting or tarred webbing stretched on piles or posts leading from a point where the fish are expected to come on their way to the spawning grounds out to the "pot." This "pot" is entirely inclosed with netting except at the mouth, or opening, by which the fish enter. The general plan of the trap is like that of the "deer drive" made in early days by pioneers on the western frontier a device about which nearly every boy has read something.

The trap is so made that the fish are steered into the "pot" by the wings of the "leads" or webbing. When once the salmon enter the trap they seldom if ever escape. When it is time to collect the fnsh, the cannery "tender" or tug brings a fish scow, which has been scrubbed clean with salt water, and places it alongside the "pot." An immense "bran" or dip net operated by a power winch, or windlass, is carried by the tender and with this the fish are dipped from the "pot" and dumped into the scow. This barge or scow is usually made to hold at least 15,000 fish. As fast as one trap is emptied the barge is moved on to the next and the process repeated. In trap fishing it is not unusual for as many as 10,000 fish to be taken from one "pot" in a single day. Of all devices for catching salmon the trap is undoubtedly the surest and secures the greatest harvest.

Canning the salmon. After the salmon are caught they are carried as quickly as possible to the canneries that are always built at the water's edge. The fish are at once transferred to the butchering room. Here, by the old-fashioned method, a gang of twenty to forty Chinamen or other Orientals the number varying according to the size of the cannery open and clean each fish and cut off its fnns and head. Then the salmon are dropped into a trough of running water to be scoured by other Chinamen. This old-fashioned method is now seldom used except by the smaller canneries unable to afford modern machinery. In all of the larger canneries, the Chinese butcher has been crowded out by a machine known as the "Iron Chink." This machine is able to do the work at the rate of fifty fish a minute.

After the fish have been scoured a second time they pass under circular gang knives and are cut into pieces suitable for canning.

In most factories the salmon meat is packed into the cans by machinery. In a few, however, this work is' done by young women. Each can contains one pound of fresh salmon and a quarter of an ounce of refined salt. If smaller cans are used, salt in the same proportion is added. Nothing goes into the can besides the salmon and the salt. The cans of salmon are weighed and.sealed by automatic machines. They are then covered with hot water as a test for leaks. If a can sends up a bubble it is instantly removed and resoldered while still hot.

In what is called "old-style processing," the cans are next placed in retorts and cooked in live steam for about forty-five minutes at a temperature of 220° under a pressure of about twelve pounds. Then a small hole is made in the top of each can to allow any surplus steam, gas,.or water to escape.

This hole is closed with solder while the can is still hot. The cans are returned to the cooking retorts and given a second cooking for one hour, at a temperature of 240°. They are then cooled and tested, after which they are dipped in lacquer and labeled.

The solderless or "sanitary" can is fast pushing this old-style can out of use and therefore in many cans you will not find this second soldered vent° hole. Under the new method the surplus fluids and gases are allowed to escape in the heating process before the top is sealed tight. The cooking in the retorts then lasts for ninety minutes at a temperature of 240°. This softens the bones and completes the sterilization of the fish so that with anything like proper care it will "keep" almost indefinitely. Put up in this way salmon fully meets the high standard for wholesomeness set by the national pure food laws. Inspectors in the employ of the federal government examine the output of every salmon cannery.

Other ways of preserving salmon. Not only are canned salmon shipped from the Pacific coast, but fresh salmon as well are distributed throughout the whole country. Salmon are also frozen, smoked, pickled, and mild cured. In the mild-cured process the fish' are put in a weak brine and packed in tierces or casks containing about 800 pounds each. The mild cured are the Chinooks and the Cohoes or silver salmon. Some of the mild-cured fish are sent to Europe and there smoked. Some are also smoked in Chicago, and other cities in this country. Many American boys and girls work in the large canneries on the Pacific coast and thus help in the support of their families.

Supply and distribution. The chief sources of our salmon supply, in the order of their output, are: Alaska, Puget Sound, British Columbia, the Columbia River, and northern California rivers. About half the salmon pack is consumed in the United States and more than three fourths of the remainder in the United Kingdom, Australia, South America, and the Philippine Islands.

In one year $14,500,000 worth of salmon was canned in Alaska; $18,600,000 worth in the Pacific coast states; $9,000,000 worth in British Columbia; making a grand total of $42,100,000 worth of salmon canned on the west coast of North America that year. This supply would allow about four pounds of salmon to each man, woman, and child in the United States. If the cans were placed.end to end they would make a belt that would encircle the earth, with enough to spare to stretch from New York to San Francisco. Every year the salmon industry uses 100,000,000 fnsh, each weighing from three to twenty-five pounds or more, some of them measuring nearly five feet in length Within the last few years, several salmon canneries have been built on the Pacific coast of Siberia, but as yet the quantity of salmon packed there has not been great. The principal species of salmon packed in that country are the Humpback and the Chum.

Canned salmon is recognized as an excellent food for soldiers and during the Russo-Japanese War immense quantities of Chum salmon were bought by the Japanese government for the use of its fighting men. In the early part of the great European conflict, Canada furnished 25,000 cases of tinned pink salmon to the British army. The diet of the United States army and navy includes a liberal allowance of canned salmon.



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