The salmon were worth the price. They were worth double to a cannery that lay mostly idle for lack of fish. The salmon, now, were running close to six pounds each. The finished product was eighteen dollars a case in the market. There are forty-eight one-pound cans in a case. To a man familiar with packing costs it is a simple sum. MacRae often wondered why Gower stubbornly refused to pay more, when his collecting boats came back to the cannery so often with a few scattered salmon in their holds. They were primitive folk, these salmon trollers. They jeered the unlucky collectors. Gower was losing his fishermen as well as his fish. For the time, at least, the back of his long-held monopoly was broken.
MacRae got a little further light on this attitude from Stubby Abbott.
“He’s figuring on making out a season’s pack with cohoes, humps, and dog salmon,” Stubby told MacRae at the Crow Harbor cannery. “He expects to work his purse seiners overtime, and to hell with the individual fisherman. Norman was telling me. Old Horace has put Norman in charge at Folly Bay, you know.”
MacRae nodded. He knew about that.
“The old boy is sore as a boil at you and me,” Stubby chuckled. “I don’t blame him much. He has had a cinch there so long he thinks it’s his private pond. You’ve certainly put a crimp in the Folly Bay blueback pack—to my great benefit. I don’t suppose any one but you could have done it either.”
“Any one could,” MacRae declared, “if he knew the waters, the men, and was wise enough to play the game square. The trouble has been that each buyer wanted to make a clean-up on each trip. He wanted easy money. The salmon fisherman away up the coast practically has to take what is offered him day by day, or throw his fish overboard. Canneries and buyers alike have systematically given him the worst of the deal. You don’t cut your cannery hands’ pay because on certain days your pack falls off.”
“But canneries and collectors and every independent buyer have always used any old pretext to cut the price to the fisherman out on the grounds. And while a fisherman has to take what he is offered he doesn’t have to keep on taking it. He can quit, and try something else. Lots of them have done that. That’s why there are three Japanese to every white salmon fisherman on the British Columbia coast. That is why we have an Oriental problem. The Japs are making the canneries squeal, aren’t they?”
“Rather.” Stubby smiled. “They are getting to be a bit of a problem.”
“The packers got them in here as cheap labor in the salmon fishing,” MacRae went on. “The white fisherman was too independent. He wanted all he could get out of his work. He was a kicker, as well as a good fisherman. The packers thought they could keep wages down and profits up by importing the Jap—cheap labor with a low standard of living. And the Jap has turned the tables on the big fellows. They hang together, as aliens always do in a strange country, and the war has helped them freeze the white fisherman out on one hand and exact more and more from the canneries on the other. And that would never have happened if this had been kept a white man’s country, and the white fisherman had got a square deal.”