Date: August 30, 2016 at 5:42:34 PM PDT
Subject: History of Atlantic Salmon in New York
The Atlantic Salmon
The Pacific Salmon
HISTORICAL COMMENTARY ON THE ATLANTIC SALMON"The narration of the previous abundance of the salmon in Lake Ontario and its tributary streams read like a romance ... " So wrote Hugh M. Smith for the U.S. Fish Commission in 1890 (Smith, 1892:195).
Consider the following sampling of 17th, 18th and early 19th century writings on the subject.
The Jesuit Fathers Lemercier and LaMoyne ascended the Oswego River in July 1654. They met Oneida Indians--
"with their canoes filled with fresh salmon ... one of our men caught twenty large salmon and on the way up the river our people killed thirty other salmon with spears and paddles. There were some many of them that they were struck without difficulty" (Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, 1899:151).
Another early account is found in the Van der Kemp Papers and pertains to the year 1792--
"Both Salmon Rivers, emptying into Lake Ontario ... and the Fish-creek in Oneyda lake are in the spring and fall [full] of Salmon. You may form of this assertion, a pretty accurate opinion after I have informed you, that one Oneyda Indian took with his Spear 45 Salmons within an hour; another in the presence of Captain Simonds 65 during one night, and another 80" (Van Der Kemp, 1880:64).
In 1817, one Elisha Clark built a dam across the Genesee River at Rochester. Thousands of salmon were killed by people using clubs, spears and pitchforks on the salmon that collected below the dam (Follet, 1932:367). The following also attest the abundance of this species in the early 1800's.--
"In October, 1836, two men took [on the Salmon River at Pulaski] two hundred and thirty Salmon between 8 p.m. and 12, with spears and fire-jacks, and after 12 til morning two other men in the same skiff took two hundred odd, the average weight of the entire lot weigh fourteen and three-quarters pounds. We have had fifteen hundred fresh Salmon in the fish-house at one time. When a freshet occurred [sic] in June few would always come up, and sometimes a few early in the spring. Any time from June till winter when there was a freshet they were sure to come. The principal time, however was in Fall, during September, October and November. Twelve skiff in one night have taken an average of three hundred Salmon each" (Goode, 1884:473).
"It was nothing uncommon for teams fording the rivers and creeks at night to kill salmon with their hoofs. An older settler living in the town of Hannibal told Mr. Ingersoll that one night while driving across Three-Mile Creek the salmon ran against his horses' feet in such large numbers that the horses took fright and plunged through the water, killing one large salmon outright and injuring two others so that they were captured. The farmers living near the smaller creeks easily supplied their families with salmon caught by means of pitchforks" (Smith 1802:196).
"My father and Uncle Asa ... for a number of years could catch every fall from 15 to 20 barrels of salmon ...They would come up the creek sometimes as early as September and then would be very fat.. The largest that I ever saw caught in Salmon Creek weighed 42 pounds after it was dressed and was sold for &1.00 ..."(Simpson, 1949:176)
"Salmon were so abundant that men stood on a log across Salmon Creek and speared them with pitchforks in the 'fish shoal'. Women often caught a salmon with their hands or in their aprons" (Simpson, 1948:154).
"Forty years ago the salmon fisheries on this [Salmon] River brought more money to the people than all the machinery now on the river" (Written by a Mr. Cross and quoted by Goode, 1884:474).
Similar Eloquent documentation of salmon abundance on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario can be found in contemporary Canadian publications (Parsons, 1973).