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1899 and After

Fish and Fishing


Fish is a year-round mainstay for all northerners. Net fishing is the usual way to catch fish in both summer and winter. Few northern native people use a hook and line, as sport fishing. Netting is more effective.

WhitefishMany species of fish were and are still available in northern lakes and rivers. Some lakes abound in trout, while others are best known for pickerel or whitefish. Not many northern natives eat northern pike (jackfish). Although it is favored by many fish eaters in other cultures, northerners regard it as inferior - basically dog food. On the other hand, whitefish, lake trout and walleye (pickerel) are enjoyed by all northerners.

Particular varieties of fish are preferred simply on the basis of their availability. If the fish is abundant in the region, the taste preference is for that variety. For example, people who live near a lake that has mainly whitefish develop a preference for whitefish. So also, other people develop a taste for trout for no other reason than that trout is the food most readily available to them in their area. It is simply the food that one comes to prefer though local availability.

Soloman Shortman fishing in his SkiffFish are also preserved for dog food. The fish are hung outdoors and dry-cured in the air and sun without heating or smoking. To do this, a rack is built outdoors well above the ground out of the  reach of dogs and natural predators, and the fish are suspended in the rack to dry out. A willow stick about 25 mm in diameter and 1 m long is pushed though the fish near the tail to suspend it, and another seven to eleven fish are added to make a "stick" is roughly 10 kg, and it is put on the rack for drying along with many other sticks. A trapper-hunter may preserve more than enough sticks of fish for his own use. The surplus fish are marketed to other trappers and hunters, either in exchange for another commodity, for example - or for cash. Fish sticks may be traded as an IOU, meaning that "When I am at your camp I will receive enough fish 'sticks' to complete my journey; when you come to my camp I will repay you with the same number you gave to me." This trade-off reduces the need to carry a full load of food for people and dogs form one camp to another.

Smoking FishAn average-sized dog, 30-35 kg, needs about 1 kg of dried fish or about 3 kg of fresh fish per day. In trapping regions the exchange of one commodity for another has more value to the people doing the exchanging than does the exchange of a commodity for cash.  

Reprinted from Bush Land People with permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin 1992-2002.

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