The following are transcriptions from the early U.S. Fish Commissioner's Reports
about Atlantic salmon and other fish. The information greatly bolsters our resolve to
reconnect Sebago Lake with the ocean. Friends of Sebago Lake would gratefully accept and post any pertinent or interesting information about Atlantic Salmon and Sebago Salmon history or related anadramous fishes. We can be contacted at email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Material source is the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project
United Fish Commissioners reports 1871
p.57 Samuel Albro-”We get a half dollar a pound for salmon”.
p. 70 In 1819 I saw a school of menhaden out at sea, when I was going to Portland that was two miles wide and forty miles long.
p 218 “History of Hadley” Massachusetts by Sylvester Judd
the Shad and Salmon Fishery in New England, pp. 313-318
1872 p.22 “Of late the attention of the legislatures of the New England States has been called to this fact, and to the importance of restoring their fisheries, and a great deal has been already accomplished toward that end. Unfortunately, however, the lumbering interest in Maine, and the manufacturing in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, are so powerful as to render it extremely difficult to carry out any measures which in any way interfere with their convenience or profits; and not withstanding the passage of laws requiring the construction of fish-ways through the dams, these have either been neglected all together , or are of such a character as not to answer their purpose. The reform, therefore, however imperatively required, has been very slow in its progress, and, many years will probably elapse before efficient measures will be taken to remedy the evils referred to.
It would , therefore , appear that while the river-fisheries have been depreciated or destroyed by means of dams or by exhaustive fishing , the cod-fish have disappeared in equal ratio. This is not, however, for the same reason, as they are taken only with the line, at a rate more than compensated by the natural fecundity. I am well satisfied, however, that there is a relation of cause and effect between the present and past condition of the two series of fish; and in this I am supported by the opinion by the opinion of Capt. U. S. Treat, of Eastport, by whom, indeed, the idea was first suggested to me. Captain Treat is a successful fisherman, and dealer in fish on a very large scale, and at the same time a gentleman of very great intelligence and knowledge of the many details connected with the natural history of our coast-fishes, in this respect worthily representing Captain Atwood, of Provincetown. It is to Captain Treat that we owe many experiments on the reproduction of a;alewives in ponds, and the possibility of keeping salmon in freshwater for a period of years.”
p.22” the general conclusions which have been reached as the result of repeated conversations with Captain Treat and other fishermen on the coast incline me to believe that the reduction in the cod and other fisheries, so as to become practically a failure , is due,
to the decrease off our coast in the quantity, primarily of alewives; and, secondarily, of shad and salmon, more than to any other cause. It is well known to the old residents of Eastport that from thirty to fifty years ago cod could be taken in abundance in Passamaquoddy Bay and off Eastport, where only stragglers are now caught. The same is the case at the mouth of the Penobscot River and other points along the coast, where once the fish came close in to the shore, and were readily captured with the hook throughout the greater part of the year. That period was before the multiplication of mill dams, cutting off the ascent of the alewives shad, and salmon, especially the former.
U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries
Report of the Commissioner for 1872 and 1873
Certain bodies of water in Maine, especially the upper lakes of the Saint Crook, Reed’s Pond, are inhabited by a variety of the salmon in general habits and appearance closely resembling the true sea-salmon but differing in size. Their average weight in most of the localities mentioned is from 2 to 4 or 5 pounds, sometimes, however, being taken weighing form 10 t 15 pounds . The Sebago Fish is , however, much larger, the mature fish weighing 6 to 8 pounds. A similar fish occurs also in the lakes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
“About forty years ago fresh-water salmon were caught in great numbers in Sebago lake.
The Indians in earlier times speared them in immense quantities in autumn on the shoals below the outlet; the early colonists caught them by the cartload during the spawning period, but the thoughtlessness and carelessness of civilization have reduced then so much n number that they are now quite rare. Still, a few may be take with the minnow as they run up the rivers into the lake, and may then be taken with the fly. Some weighing thirteen and one half pounds have been taken with the minnow. Last summer one was caught of ten pound weight. Others of much greater weight have been speared at night while in the act of spawning. the spear in the hand of the poacher has contributed more than any other cause to the scarcity of this fish. Two years ago two poachers speared in three nights in Songo River more than half a ton of salmon. No fish, however prolific can long stand such a drain as this upon its numbers. A little protection and care in artificial breeding would make this lake with its connecting streams, one of the most delightful places of resort for the angler in the world. Down below the outlet the water of the lake, which is of the purest quality, rushes swiftly down and over primitive ledges, and forms magnificent pools and eddies , which are the favorite resorts of trout and salmon. One bright morning last June found me rod in hand and casting the fly at the locality above mentioned, but it was too early in the season, and the gaudy insects failed to attract even a glance from the lurking fish. I substituted a minnow, and trolled him across the boiling eddies below.
A whirl in the foam, a splash of spray, and a strong tug at the line told the story. The hum of the reel as the line swiftly spun out indicated a large fish. Checking his speed for a moment , I could see his sides of silver and pearl glistening in the distant waters below. Alas for human expectation! The log on which I stood, swayed by the current, caused me to lose my balance for a moment. The line slackened for an instant and the salmon, relieved of the constant strain, disengaged himself quick as a flash, and was off in a moment to a safe retreat.
My companion, however, was more fortunate, and landed a two pound fish. The first glance at this fish indicated a distinct variety from the salmon form the Schoodic and other lakes; for its sides were very much spotted, even below the lateral line, and some of the deep spots were underlaid with deep crimson, which appeared in rich contrast with the black and pearl of the sides; the dorsal fin was also very much checked with large and distinct black spots. It would remind the angler of the Salmo trutta marina and (h)ucho trout of Europe, so distinctly marked was the dorsal fin. But the examination of five other specimens at a later day proved that the spots were not constant; for notone of the five exhibited more spots that the fish of the Schoodic and some of them not so many. The appearance of the dorsal fin was also much changed, and in some fish the spots had quite disappeared which leads me to believe that the excess spots is due to food and locality.”
Bangor, me. September 11,1872
Dear Professor: yours of the 4th is at hand. the number of Lippincotts Magazine containing my article on the salmon is May, 1869.
Since I wrote this article, I have satisfied myself that the non-migratory salmon have been seen in Schoodic, Penobscot, and Union ‘River waters only since forty years/ Concerning the Sebago Salmon, I am not so positive, but am quite sure the variety is not one hundred years old, or since the erection of impassable dams on it s outlet. The Schoodic salmon are about forty years old , and the old Indian hunters have given me the precise time of their appearance and disappearance of the migratory salmon, which coincides with the erection of impassable dams.
Migratory salmon of large size were at that time speared on the same grounds where the small salmon are now taken in great numbers, and which are never over five pounds in weight.
I have published but one other paper on the Salmonida, that on the togue, which is printed in the Maine Geological Reports of Hitchcock’s survey, and I have no doubt but that the description is correct and the fish new to the scientific world. The Salmo Gloveri is nothing but a parr. I examined the fish several years before Girard saw his specimen, and recognized it as the young of the migratory salmon. They have disappeared from the Union River since the extinction of the salmon.
Yours , Truly,
Atkins, Charles G. The river fisheries of Maine. Report on the Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States sec vm vol 1 pp673-728
Broadhead, J. M Upon the abundance of fish on the New England Coast in former times Report for 1871-72 1,pp 169-170 1873 (Out of Print)
p.20 US FISH report 1906
Cumberland County 110 pounds salmon commercially caught Cumberland County value $19
p. 588 NOAA p. 536
“The most formidable and indeed insuperable obstacle to the ascent of the salmon were the innumerable dams constructed on almost all the streams near their mouths. These were usually of perpendicular height
so great as to utterly repel the attempts of the fish to overcome them.
This cause of the disappearance of the salmon is so paramount and obvious that the discussion of any other would be superfluous were it not that it seems appropriate in a paper like this to present every possible view of the question before us, and for the very conclusive reason that several streams , of which the Au Sable river is a striking instance, that have equally suffered with the others from the abandonment of the salmon, have never impeded the run of the fish by dams or any other artificial obstruction. Had the advent of the salmon in the rivers been coincident with the season of high water, their ascent of these impediments would have been immensely facilitated, but their run was was precisely at the usual occurance of the lowest flow of the streams. The volume of water was almost totally exhausted by the flumes, and at times scarcely trickling over the apron of the dam, without furnishing any supply to the slopes or slices constructed in accordance with the statute. the popular excitement became at length so deeply inflamed by acts which were then regarded as encroachment on public immunities that the grand jury of Clinton County, New York, were impelled, in the year 1819, to present an indictment against the proprietors of the dam erected at the mouth of the Saranac River in Plattsburg. The indictment, among other averments, alleged that previous to the erection of this dam “ salmon were accustomed to pass, and actually did pass, from Lake Champlain into
and up the Saranac River for a distance of twenty miles; 888 that before the dam was built salmon were seen above the site;”.” that salmon begin to ascend the river form the lake in June and July, but largely in August and September”. It appeared the dam was fourteen feet high, and the sluice-way forty feet long: and arranged at an angle of 30 degrees.
This indictment was vehemently pressed, and resulted in protracted and bitter trial in the circuit court. It was calculated to open a thorough investigation of the habits and movements of the salmon in connection with that particular stream . A great mass of the witnesses, embracing , embracing most of the early settlers then living, were introduced, and had the great volume of testimony taken on that occasion been preserved, we should now be in possession of all the essential facts and incidents necessary to form a history of the salmon fishery of that period and locality. Although the case was elaborately argued in the supreme court (Johnson’s reports, 17 page 195) both on the merits of the law, the decision which was in favor of the defendants, unfortunately rested on purely on legal and technical views, and we have but slight references to the facts in the report. We detect, however, faint glimmerings of the evidence in the arguments of counsel. It seems to have been in proof that the water in the sluice-way was too shallow to admit the passage of fish.
It is worthy of remark that one point of Mr. Walworth, the future eminent chancellor, as counsel for the defense, and evidently based on some features of the testimony, was that “no fish visit the lake from the ocean; the salmon ascend from the lake, and are fresh water fish”
And it appears from a point made by the opposing counsel that “the evidence in the case is that salmon abounded at the foot of the dam, and would ascend the river if not hindered by that obstacle”.
We may perhaps appropriately refer, as a subordinate cause of these results, to the depredations of other fish upon the salmon by assailing them on their spawning grounds, destroying the ova, killing the young fish on their passage to the sea, and frightening the salmon from their usual haunts. this cause, of course, always existed, but circumstances might have stimulated its development.
These changes in the physical condition of the region seem adequate to producing the abandonment by the salmon of the Champlain waters, but they were entirely local. The eccentric and capricious nature of all fish, which produces many strange phases in their movement, and from the general operation of which the salmon is not exempt, may be a possible cause of their disappearance from these waters. The idea is probably fanciful; but as my purpose is to unfold the whole subject, it may not be unworthy of a moment’s inquiry. Is it wholly improbable that the abandonment of the Champlain waters by the salmon may be due to their finding more genial resorts and fresh and more attractive feeding ground? I will venture to present a few facts in support of this suggestion. During my long residence on the borders of Lake Champlain, I have observed that a particular kind of fish will occasionally, through several successive seasons , be very abundant; that the supply gradually will diminsh, until, in the end, they nearly disappear, while another variety becomes predominate., rapidly increases as the first decreases, and they also pass through the same changes. The smelt, a marine fish, was, until, a comparatively recent period, almost unknown to the fisherman of the lake; but in late years it is often taken in vast quantities through the ice, while in some seasons it is rarely seen. Such, also, has been largely the history of a choice fish known in the region as the lake-shad.
3. traits of the Salmon
The perinacity of the salmon in renewing, after repeated failures, their attempts to leap up fall too high for their powers,
and the vast muscular force they exhibited, was witnessed by the settlers with equal wonder and admiration. I do not know that the myth, which once prevailed in the popular faith of New England and Scotland, that the salmon taking the tail in its mouth formed a wheel and thus rolled up the cascade, ever obtained in this region; but the stories of the pioneers and old fishermen were almost equally marvelous. The fish ascended the precipice by the mere exertion of physical strength; but the method which they adopted to secure a safe descent reveals a wonderful instinct or a rare exercise of sagnacity and intelligence. They were accustomed, it is related, to approach very near the verge of a fall, and instead of allowing themselves to be precipitated headlong or rolled sideways down the current, with the imminent peril of being dahed upon the rocks below or drowned, they would deliberately turn their tails toward the cascade and by the vigorous action of their fins and motion of their bodies would maintain their position and be borne safely down the obstacle.
The progress of the salmon in their annual migration from the sea to the tributaries of the lake seems to have been singularly slow and methodical.
Instead of diffusing themselves at once promiscuously throughout the lake, the advance from the north was apparently controlled by a system or some law of instinct. the old fishermen all concur in the recollection that a considerable interval, varying in their statements form one week to a month, always occurred between the time of arrival in the Saranac and their appearance in the Au Sable, although the mouths of these streams are only separated by a space of about twelve miles. Incidents in the habits of the salmon, which came under my personal observation more than 50 years ago, expose some traits which possibly may be regarded in the measures in progress to rehabilitate the streams with these fish. A high bridge spanned the Saranac, near its mouth, in the village of Plattsburgh; a massive dam stood a few rods above, asi it did at the commencement of the century; on the west end of the dam, the statuatory trough or slope had been constructed , and on the opposite end was situated a large- mill,
which discharged a strong and impetuous volume of water through a race-way. I saw schools of salmon swimming below the bridge the bridge, and individuals speared from it at a height of fifteen or twenty feet. They seemed to wandering in confusion, ascended to the foot of the dam and returned, paying no attention to the sluice way, which was impracticable for their ascent from the slight supply of water that passed down the slope. They were constantly attracted to the raceway, and plunged into it as if its rushing current was congenial to their habots, or perhaps in vain hope of reaching by the channel their appropriate breeding grounds. A weir was built in this raceway, in which, during the season, salmon were daily captured.
p 93 US Fish Commissioner Reports 1871 part 1 NOAA 142
As early as 1719 the general assembly passed an enabling act empowering each town council “ to take care for the preservation of the fishery within their respective jurisdictions, and to remove all obstructions made in any rivers that may prejudice the inhabitants by stopping of fish from going up the stream.”