Skip to content

Why a Hatchery at Miramichi?

Joseph Gubbins, sent to inspect the local militia on 21 July 1813, is quoted: "I proceed in the morning with the tide up the Miramichi. Major McDownell had one of his sons with him, whom he had left at the mouth of the Bartibog River, as we went past it to attend to his salmon net that he had previously placed there. In the course of our voyage I observed that every land owner had salmon nets projected into the water about a quarter of a mile in length and from thirty to forty feet in width. These are supported perpendicularly by rows of strong poles or rather young trees, and the quantity of salmon that are daily taken in them is prodigious. Indeed nothing but an ample return could cover the expense of such extensive apparatus for catching them. Such Fisheries as I have noticed occurred within every five or six hundred yards on each side of the river during the whole of this morning's sail of five and twenty miles." (The Atlantic Salmon in the History of North America by: Robert W. Dunfield)

During the years following the American revolution, commercial harvest of Atlantic salmon from the Miramichi River alone had reached a dizzying height of 1.8 million pounds annually, most of which was pickled and shipped in barrels by the thousands to London or the West Indies. By 1855, however, habitat destruction from logging and fires, together with a seasonal stranglehold of setnets, would drive exports to a mere 400 barrels - approximately 126,000 pounds of salmon when fresh. The long downward spiral had commenced.

Consider for a moment the numbers.

Runs of Miramichi salmon are of two components: fish that have gone to sea as smolts and return to freshwater after one winter, commonly called grilse and weighing on average 3.4 pounds; and smolts that have dutifully migrated to the North Atlantic and stayed two or more winters, homing as a salmon weighing 9.8 pounds average. Although modern spawning runs are nearly 80 percent grilse, biologists believe that the historical run composition was probably closer to 60 - 40 larger salmon to grilse.

If, for the sake of argument, the mean weight of a Miramichi salmon was indeed 7.2 pounds in that pre-1800 haul of 1.8 million pounds, some 250,000 fish were one year! The Stories were true.

By the mid 1860's the Atlantic salmon of the New England sates were suffering. There the stocking of hatchery-reared fish was thought to be the answer and the fisheries administrators looked to Canadian waters for a source of eggs. The first step was taken in August 1866, when a Dr. Fletcher of Concord,New Hampshire, went to the Miramichi River in New Brunswick for the purpose of collecting live parent salmon which he wished to take home for planting as brood stock in the waters of his home state.

The trip was unsuccessful in collecting any salmon but Fletcher returned in the autumn of the same year when he gthered about 25,000 "impregnated ova" from the spawning beds of the Miramichi River. He planted the majority of these eggs in the Merrina River of New Hampshire with unknown results but hatched a few hundred which he kept until 16 months of age and then released into the Pemigwassett River. He returned to the Miramichi again in 1867 and collected about 100,000 eggs which he packed in moss and carried back to the United States in four champagne baskets. Only 12 per cent of the eggs were fertile but of these it was claimed that 99 per cent hatched.

Reconizing, as had Samuel Wilmot, that there was a low fertility among eggs removed from the spawning beds, it was decided that a salmon breeding establishment should be built on the Miramichi River under the direction of the most famous of American fish culturists of the 19th century a man called Livingston Stone. In 1868, some 183,000 eggs stripped from parent fish, fertilized, and sent back for hatching and distribution in the States of Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont. Lesser numbers were taken in 1869 and 1870. By 1870, the activities of the American fish culturists on the Miramichi River had so aroused the indignation of the local people that they abandoned the exploitation of the Canadian salmon stocks and turned their attention towards the rivers of Maine as a potential source of eggs.

On August 30th, 1872, Livingston Stone makes a collection and fertilization of salmon eggs at Baird Station on the McCloud River in northern California and ships them to the east coast by rail. He is also appointed Secretary of the American Fish Culturist's Association.

The American Fish Culturist's Association was formed in 1870, and significantly, Samuel Wilmot (who later became the Superintendent of Fish Breeding in Canada in 1876) was named as honorary member in 1872. This Association broadened its mission in 1884 with a change of name to the American Fisheries Society.