In the 1890s native fisheries stood in the way of expanding industrial and sport fisheries in Canada. Federal regulations denied a commercial component to native fisheries, restricted harvesting to designated open seasons, and outlawed the technologically specialized and place-based fisheries on which native communities had depended for millennia. Although fisheries officers enforced these rules, Indian agents—the field workers of the Department of Indian Affairs—were the ones who oversaw day-to-day life in native villages, including the fisheries. This article examines the responses of Indian agents across Canada to an Indian Affairs circular sent in 1897, requesting information about native fisheries. The Indian agents' letters of reply suggest that it was the ordinary confrontations and administrative decisions over fishing spaces, gear, closed seasons, and licenses, rather than the official policies of the Department of Indian Affairs, that worked to redefine native fishing in accordance with settler interests. By extending so-called privileges to native fishers, Indian agents worked to conserve the resource for a settler society and assimilate native fishers into state management practices.

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