“Maybe. But that’s been tried and didn’t work. Every buyer that ever cut in on Gower soon found himself up against the Packers’ Association when he went into the open market with his fish. And a wise man,” old Manuel grinned, “don’t even figure on monkeying with a buzz saw, sonny.”
Not long afterward Jack MacRae got old Manuel in a corner and asked him what he meant.
“Well,” he said, “it’s like this. When the bluebacks first run here in the spring, they’re pretty small, too small for canning. But the fresh fish markets in town take ’em and palm ’em off on the public for salmon trout. So there’s an odd fresh-fish buyer cruises around here and picks up a few loads of salmon between the end of April and the middle of June. The Folly Bay cannery opens about then, and the buyers quit. They go farther up the coast. Partly because there’s more fish, mostly because nobody has ever made any money bucking Gower for salmon on his own grounds.”
“Why?” MacRae asked bluntly.
“Nobody knows exactly why,” Manuel replied. “A feller can guess, though. You know the fisheries department has the British Columbia coast cut up into areas, and each area is controlled by some packer as a concession. Well, Gower has the Folly Bay license, and a couple of purse-seine licenses, and that just about gives him the say-so on all the waters around Squitty, besides a couple of good bays on the Vancouver Island side and the same on the mainland. He belongs to the Packers’ Association. They ain’t supposed to control the local market. But the way it works out they really do. At least, when an independent fish buyer gets to cuttin’ in strong on a packer’s territory, he generally finds himself in trouble to sell in Vancouver unless he’s got a cast-iron contract. That is, he can’t sell enough to make any money. Any damn fool can make a living.
“At the top of the island here there’s a bunch that has homesteads. They troll in the summer. They deal at the Folly Bay cannery store. Generally they’re in the hole by spring. Even if they ain’t they have to depend on Folly Bay to market their catch. The cannery’s a steady buyer, once it opens. They can’t always depend on the fresh-fish buyer, even if he pays a few cents more. So once the cannery opens, Gower has a bunch of trollers ready to deliver salmon, at most any price he cares to name. And he generally names the lowest price on the coast. He don’t have no competition for a month or so. If there is a little there’s ways of killin’ it. So he sets his own price. The trollers can take it or leave it.”
Old Manuel stopped to light his pipe.
“For three seasons,” said he, “Gower has bought blueback salmon the first month of the season for twenty-five cents or less—fish that run three to four pounds. And there hasn’t been a time when salmon could be bought in a Vancouver fresh-fish market for less than twenty-five cents a pound.”