The present paper is a digest of the work accomplished in a salmon investigation conducted under the authority of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries of the California Division of Fish and Game. Active work was begun in 1919, and is still in progress. At the outset the investigation was so planned as to contribute as directly as possible to the solution of certain questions relating to the conservation of the fishery. The work has progressed in a fairly satisfactory way in some directions as will appear, while in others the results are not so good. The information now most needed relates to the seaward migration of young salmon, and to the relative contribution of natural and artificial propagation to the population of the river.
It may seem that the matter of depletion is overstressed in this report, since its progress has been evident for years. A condition of increasing depletion was not sufficiently evident on the Klamath however, to be convincing to those most interested. In fact, opinions to the contrary were commonly held, some asserting that the "run" was not only maintaining itself but that it was gradually building up. There is very little exact information concerning fishing operations on Klamath River previous to 1912, and no really dependable statistics are available relating to the catch before that time. During the period of placer mining on the river, large numbers of salmon were speared or otherwise captured on or near their spawning beds, and if credence is given to the reports of old miners, there then appeared the first and perhaps major cause of early depletion. In 1912 three plants operated on or near the estuary and the river was heavily fished, no limit being placed on the activities of anyone. A resume of commercial fishing near the mouth or the river appears on page 88.
In the collection of statistical data relating to the ocean catch of salmon, the state authorities have not been able to separate the different species. Four occur in the state, but only two species are of commercial importance—the king salmon, or chinook, and the silver salmon or coho; hence all statistics relating to ocean fishing include both of these fishes in unknown proportions, the king salmon certainly predominating in a large measure.
Commercial fishing is now confined to the lower part of the estuary of Klamath River, partly as a matter of convenience and partly because of legal restrictions. Formerly nets were used at certain places as far up stream as Blue Creek, and occasionally beyond. Advantage was taken of slack water below the swift riffles, and much work was done at Ferry Drift and at Hollow Tree Drift. An official tide limit, above which fishing was illegal, was first fixed at the mouth of McGarvey Creek. Later it was moved down stream at the point where the highway bridge stands. Salmon are caught by means of drifting gill nets, which are laid out across the river mostly between the lowermost island
and a safe distance from the jaws. It is the habit of the fishermen to start the layout at a signal from the cannery whistle, usually about eight o'clock in the evening. The nets are laid from the decked stern of a large rowboat, one man at the oars and another at the net. Occasionally a skilful man manages both boat and net. Layouts are accomplished simultaneously from both sides of the river, the nets thus interdigitating across the stream. After the layout the nets drift with the current until recovered. The fisherman passes slowly from end to end of his net removing the entangled fish, evidence of which is apparent from the movements of the corks. often the fishing is over in a short time, and in rare cases the fish become entangled so rapidly that no time is lost in bringing in both net and fish. Too often however, drift after drift is made with poor success.
Occasionally a large sturgeon runs afoul of the nets, harbor seals have been caught, while small sharks, skates, and almost any fish of small size may become entangled. The capture of some steelheads can not be avoided.
The number of fishermen varies somewhat from year to year, and also during the season, more boats operating after the migration is well on, some fishermen being perfectly willing to allow others to do the prospecting and preliminary exploring when fish may be scarce, and hidden snags not definitely located. Fishing is not usually accompanied with success when there is a bright moon overhead.
The actual fishing and the work in the cannery is to a considerable extent in the hands of Indians who are the descendants of members of the small aboriginal tribes which inhabited the region. Salmon have always furnished a great part of their food, and they have come to depend pretty largely upon the money earned during the fishing season for the few necessities of a simple life. They are skilled in the production of artistic baskets, and formerly, dugout canoes of large size and fine proportions were made by them. Some of these were beautifully carved. The lore of these people is replete with legends relating to the things about them. They were greatly restricted in their geographic outlook, but they seem to have been closely acquainted with every detail of their own land. They were essentially nature worshipers, and the fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals were adopted into intimate spiritual companionship.