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February 2, 1912

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Anderson describes the fishes of the Arctic which are caught by the Eskimo and how they they have different values based on their fat content. "The very large, fatty liver of the Ling is considered the best portion for food."





My Life with the Eskimo - Fishes

Vilhjalmur Stefansson


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Fish play probably a more important part than anything else in the domestic economy of the Eskimo of the western Arctic coast . The list of food fishes is not large, but the number of individuals is so great that a family supplied with a gill-net or two can travel in summer along practically the whole Arctic coast, and be reasonably sure of catching enough fish for themselves and dogs at nearly every camping-place. When all the food required for a family can be obtained by merely putting out a fish -net every night and clearing it every morning, making a living is not a difficult matter. The Mackenzie delta is preëminently a fish country , fish being the staple food throughout the year — fresh in summer, and usually in a tainted or semi-putrid state in winter. Fish taken early in the fall are stored away in large caches, and generally become more or less tainted before they freeze. The tainted fish are always eaten raw and frozen . As usual where game and fish are very easy to obtain in season, the natives generally underestimate their needs for the winter, and have a period of shortage in the early spring. 

West of Franklin Bay the common method of fishing is by gill nets, set along the shore or across the mouths of rivers and creeks, rigged with sinkers and floats, and set from a kayak or shoved out into the water with a very long pole made of driftwood sticks spliced together. In winter the usual method is by “ jigging" through holes in the ice with barbless hooks of bone, ivory , or silver, although sometimes nets are set under the ice. Nets are set under the ice by cutting a series of holes through the ice, a few feet apart, and poking a line under the ice by means of long, curved willow poles, or by putting a long stick float with line attached under the ice and working it along from hole to hole with another forked stick. After a stout line has been passed beneath the ice, connecting the two holes at opposite ends of the line, the net is easily drawn under the ice and taken out and cleared of fish at will by merely chopping open the two end holes, the intervening holes being useless after the line has once been passed under the ice. 

East of Dolphin and Union Straits, the Eskimo do not use fish for food so extensively as do the natives farther west. They have no fish -nets, and catch fish through the ice with crude copper and bone hooks, or spear them while ascending shallows or rapids in the streams during the summer . 

Our collection of fishes is not at all complete, and although most of the important food fishes are represented , a few were unavoidably omitted. The specimens brought were kindly determined by Mr. John Treadwell Nichols, Assistant Curator of Recent Fishes, Department of Ichthyology and Herpetology, American Museum of Natural History , New York City. 

  • Catostomus catostomus ( Forster). Long -nosed Sucker. Mil-lū'i- ak-— name given by Eskimo of northern Alaska and the Mackenzie delta. Mi'luk —milk ; mil- lū'i -ak — he milks, or sucks. Found commonly in parts of the Mackenzie delta ; not valued very highly as a food fish by the Eskimo, and used only for dog food when other fish are obtainable. Specimen taken in Colville River, Alaska, July 4th, 1909, identified by Nichols. 

  • Argyrosomus tullibee ( Richardson ). Tullibee. Toolaby. No specimens of this fish were brought back, but from the general appearance of the fish , it is probably the species known to the Mackenzie Eskimo as pi-kök'tók. This fish is taken commonly in branches of the east side of Mackenzie delta, and we caught large numbers in nets set under the ice of a large lake south of Langton Bay. It resembles some what another fish called the An - ark’hlirk . The An-ark'hlirk is much more highly regarded by the Eskimo than is the pi-kok'tok, because the former species is usually fatter. The pi-kok’tok is usually without much fat, and the flesh is rather coarse and tasteless. Leucichthys lucidus (Richardson) . 

  • Great Bear Lake Herring. Kak'tak (pl. Kak'tat) , the name given by all Eskimo from northern Alaska east to Cape Bathurst. The most common food fish , found almost everywhere along the coast, and for some distance up into the larger rivers. We found the species common as far east as Coronation Gulf. It is generally taken in gill-nets, during the whole summer, but in early spring at the time when the ice-sea opens up into cracks (early in June, and later) , large numbers are caught with hooks through holes or cracks, or from the edge of floating or grounded ice- cakes near shore. This fish is the species commonly spoken of as “ Whitefish ” by white men and English - speaking natives along the Arctic coast. Specimen from Herschel Island, Yukon Territory, identified by Nichols. Clupea pallasiï Cuvier and Valenciennes. California Herring. Great numbers come into the Cape Bathurst sandspit during the latter part of August. Only occasional stragglers appear during the middle of the month. On August 3d, 1911 , we ran one end of a 200 - foot sweep -net out from the beach with a dory, and drew in about thirteen barrels of Herring (about 3000 fish ) at one sweep . A very few Leucichthys lucidus were taken in this haul. Three days later, at the same place, two hauls brought in about a barrel and a half of Herring and about two barrels of “ Whitefish.” The Herring were very fat, one Herring being as satisfying as two much larger “ Whitefish . ” The Baillie Islands Eskimo say that the Herring were never caught here before the white men came (a little over twenty years ago) , and think that the Herring followed the white men in. The explanation seems to be that the Herring schools come in only periodically, and not often close inshore, while the Eskimo did not use long seines, confining their fishing operations to short gill-nets along the beach. 

  • Stenodus mackenzii ( Richardson ). Inconnu . Connie. A -sjhi-ū' rok, commonly called Shi ( shee ) by Mackenzie River Eskimos. Common in the Mackenzie River, Great Slave Lake, and up the Slave River as far as the Grand Rapids at Fort Smith, 60° N. Lat. Found in brackish and salt water as far west of the Mackenzie mouth as Shingle Point, and occasionally as far west as Herschel Island, on the east side of the delta to Toker Point. I have seen specimens taken in the mouth of Anderson River, Liverpool Bay. Did not observe the species west of Herschel Island or east of Cape Bathurst. Large numbers are caught in gill-nets in brackish water at Shingle Point, Mackenzie Bay, in July and August, but the flesh is rather soft and flabby at that season . Eskimo catch many with barbless hooks through the ice on the east mainland side of Richard Island in October, November, and December. The Connies are fat and firm of flesh at that season. Not many are caught in midwinter, but they bite better again after the sun comes back, later in the winter. The average weight here is eight or ten pounds, but I have seen a specimen taken at Fort McPherson, Peel River, weighing nearly fifty pounds. 

  • Salvelinus malma (Walbaum ). Salmon Trout. Ek -kal-lûk pik , name given by Eskimo from northern Alaska to Coronation Gulf. Found in most of the larger streams where the water is clear. Not so common in salt water, but quite frequently taken at Herschel Island, Cape Bathurst, and Langton Bay. Specimens from Herschel Island and Hula - hula River, Alaska, identified by Nichols. While seining some pools in the Hula -hula River, in the foothills of the Endicott Mountains, Alaska, together with the common form we caught a large number of what may be a dark phase of this variable species, or perhaps another species. The common form seen near the coast has back dull grayish green, sides pale silvery green, with numerous round, pale pink spots, and belly silvery white. The others had back very dark olive, almost black , with very faint, small, obscure, pinkish spots, some irregular, some comma- shaped, etc.; sides bright olive-green , with brilliant vermilion spots ; belly bright vermilion, sometimes inclined to crimson, slightly paler along median line, and fading to salmon color on breast and throat; pectoral and ventral fins with anterior border white. Females were duller colored, belly pink or rosy, sometimes with a yellowish tint, and the lower jaws were less strongly hooked ; most of the fish were spawning at that time (September 11th, 1908) , the large yellow eggs being about the size of No. 1 shot. These brilliantly colored Trout were seen only in the Hula -hula River, and no specimens were brought out. 

  • Cristivomer namavcush (Walbaum ). Lake Trout. Kal-ū - ak'pŭk, Mackenzie River Eskimo name for fish brought from the Eskimo Lakes. Also called Siñ-a -yo'ri-ak by Mackenzie River and Baillie Islands people. I -shi-ū'mặt, Coronation Gulf Eskimo name. Found in most large inland lakes from Alaska to Coronation Gulf. At Great Bear Lake the people claim that they are often taken of forty pounds weight, and occasionally run to sixty pounds. They are taken on set -hooks, or by "jigging" through the ice, or in nets. One specimen from northern foothills of Endicott Mountains, Alaska, and three specimens from lake at head of Coal Creek, Horton River, about forty miles south of Langton Bay, were identified by Nichols. 

  • Thymallus signifer (Richardson ). Arctic Grayling. Sū -lûk -pau' rak (Alaskan Eskimo), or Sū - lûk -pau'yak (Mackenzie River Eskimo). Observed the Grayling in the Hula - hula and Chandlar rivers, Alaska, in the Horton River and its tributaries, and in the Dease River. It was not observed in the delta of the Mackenzie River, as the water seems to be too turbid, but caught one and saw several in the Mackenzie at Fort Providence, where the river water is quite clear. The Grayling is commonly called Bluefish on the Mackenzie . 

  • Osmereus dentex Steindachner. Arctic Smelt. Very rarely taken along the Arctic coast . One specimen, taken at Cape Bathurst, was identified by Nichols, who says : “ The smelt is Osmereus dentex, as it agrees pretty well with the type description of that species, and perfectly with specimens from Vladivostock , which is not far from the type locality. It is quite unlike the description of that fish from Alaska, but probably those descriptions are inaccurate. At any rate, it is the Alaskan fish , not our specimen, which may be different." 

  • Esox lucius Linnæus. Pike. Jackfish . Shi-ū'lik, name given by Eskimo from northern Alaska to Cape Bathurst. Found abundantly in the Mackenzie delta and other rivers, also in lakes as far east as Coronation Gulf. Specimens from lake near Horton River, south of Langton Bay, identified by Nichols. 

  • Platichthys stellatus ( Pallas) . Starry Flounder. Small Flounders were occasionally taken in our nets at Langton Bay only, and we did not find them very common. Specimens identified by Nichols. 

  • Microgadus proximus (Girard) . Tomcod . O'gak (pl. Õ'kat), by Eskimo as far east as Coronation Gulf. At Toker Point, on the east side of the mouth of the Mackenzie River, the species is apparently rare. Locally common in Liverpool Bay. Tomcod are very abundant in certain spots near the eastern end of Langton Bay, and are very easily hooked through the ice all winter with almost any kind of hook . In Coronation Gulf they are common in certain localities. The Copper Eskimo catch them with a very large, barbless, gaff- like hook which is " jigged ” up and down. On the shank of the hook, two or three inches above the point, small bangles of white bone are suspended . When the fish come to nibble at these swinging bangles, the hook is jerked sharply up, usually catching the fish in the throat. A species of Rock Cod, growing to eighteen inches in length, is occasionally caught in the Tomcod fishing place at Langton Bay, and is called U - ga'vik. The Rock Cod was not observed elsewhere. 

  • Cottus punctulatus (Gill). Blob. Miller's Thumb. One specimen, taken in the upper portion of the Chandlar River, Endicott Mountains, Alaska, February 23d, 1909, was identified by Nichols. 

  • Oncocottus hexacornis ( Richardson ). Six- horned Bullhead . This Sculpin was described from specimens collected at the mouth of Tree River near the Coppermine. Sculpins or “ Bull heads” are found almost everywhere along the Arctic coast, but are only occasionally eaten by the Eskimo, at times when other fish are scarce. They are quite common as far up the Mackenzie delta as Kittigaryuit, but I did not notice any farther up the river. They are frequently taken on hooks while fishing in salt water for Tomcod and other fish . The common , universally distributed spe cies is dull drab - colored , paler below . In Langton Bay we occa sionally caught another species, averaging a little larger, and lighter colored , mottled with yellowish . Kā -nai'yūk is the Eskimo name for the Sculpin from northern Alaska to Coronation Gulf. 

  • Lota maculosa (Le Sour ). Ling. Loche. Known as Ti-tal' lirk by the Eskimo from northern Alaska to Cape Bathurst. It is probably the favorite food fish of all these Eskimo, and is universally distributed in fresh and brackish waters, but seems nowhere to be taken in very large numbers. The very large, fatty liver is considered the best portion for food. It is caught both in gill-nets and on set-hooks on the bottom . Specimen from Horton River, about thirty - five miles south of Langton Bay, was identified by Nichols.

Topics: (click image to open)

Man The Fat Hunter
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Facultative Carnivore
Facultative Carnivore describes the concept of animals that are technically omnivores but who thrive off of all meat diets. Humans may just be facultative carnivores - who need no plant products for long-term nutrition.
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Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet involves eating only animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, marrow, meat broths, organs. There are little to no plants in the diet.
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