G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

The fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) online

. (page 111 of 146)
Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 111 of 146)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


is variously called the "Johnny Grindle," "Bowfin," and "Dogfish." The Bowfin is an object of
great interest to naturalists on account of its affinities with the great fossil group of ganoid fishes.
It is exceedingly tenacious of life, like its allies, the garfishes. It attains the length of two feet
and the weight of twelve pounds. Though not considered eatable in the North, it is very highly
(Miriiicil by tin- negroes of the South, who s:i\ "there is nothing sweeter th;m :i Mud ti-.li." 1 1 is
often taken by sportsmen on a trolling spoon, and is considered "gamy."

The Bowfin is probably more interesting on account of its voracity, and the wholesale destruc-
tion with which it pursues other fishes, than by reason of its own intrinsic worth. The young are
thought to be excellent bait for pickerel and pike. The best description of the habits of this fish
is here quoted from the pen of Charles Hallock :

"They take frogs, minnows, and sometimes the spoon. Their habitat Is deep water, where they
drive everything before them. They are very voracious and savage. Their teeth are so sharp
and their jaws so strong that they have been known to bite a two-pound fish clean in two the very
first snap. They are as tenacious of life as the eel. The young, when about six inches long-
make a famous bait for pickerel and pike. To use it, run the hook into the mouth right up
through the center of the head, through the brain, cast a hundred times, catch several fish, and at
the end ot three to six hours he will kick like a mule. Put one hundred in a rain-barrel and you
can keep them all summer without change of water. For the aquarium the young have no equal,
and on account of the spot in the tail are quite attractive ; but nothing else but snails can live in
the tank. He will kill a lizard or any other living thing the instant it touches the water.

"Dr. Estes says: 'I have sent these young Dogfish hundreds of miles for the aquarium. It is
only necessary to keep them in water, a change scarcely being required. The adults are the great
'Jumpers' of the lake. On certain days they are to be seen in all directions jumping clean out of
the water, and turning complete somersaults before again striking. They spawn in May and June
among the grass and weeds of the sloughs, if they can reach them in time. As soon as the spring
rise comes, usually in May and June, and connects the inland sloughs with the lake (Pepin), they
run up and over into the sloughs, deposit their eggs, and remain near the beds and young just as
long as they can and not be shut in by the receding water. The eggs hatch in eight and ten days,
the parents remaining with the brood two or three weeks, if possible, but will leave them much
sooner if necessary to save themselves. The young will not make any effort to escape to the lake
until the next season, when, if an opening occurs, they come pouring out in countless numbers.
At this time we take them by stretching the minnow seine across the opening and raising it when
full. They are now from three to six inches long, fat and chubby. I come now to mention a

m



660 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

peculiar habit of this fish, no account of which I have ever seen. It is this: While the parent still
remains with the young, if the family become suddenly alarmed, the capacious mouth of the old
fish will open, and in rushes the entire host of little ones; the ugly inaw is at once closed, and off
she rushes to a place of security, when again the little captives are set at liberty. If others are
conversant with the above facts, I shall be very glad, if not, shall feel chagrined for not making
them known long ago.'" '

194. THE PADDLE-FISHES POLYODONTID-iE.

The "Paddle-fish" or "Duck-billed Cat," Polyodon spathula, is one of the most characteristic
fishes of the rivers of the Western and Southern States. It reaches a length of four to six feet,
and a weight of thirty pounds or more. It feeds on minute organisms present in mud. The long
snout or spatula is used to stir up the mud on which, and the animals within it, the fish feeds.
The fish is rarely or never used as food. Jordan states that it abounds in the lower parts of the
Ohio River, where it is often taken in nets.

195. THE STURGEONS ACIPENSERID2E.
THE STUBGEONS OF THE ATLANTIC COAST.

Two species of Sturgeon are supposed to exist on our Atlantic coast. The most abundant of
these, Acipenser oxyrhynchus, is now generally supposed to be identical with the common Sturgeon
of Europe, A. sturio. The other, A. brevirostris, which is distinguished from A. oxyrhynchus by its
shorter and blunter nose, has not yet been found north of Cape Cod, and appears to be compara-
tively less abundant, although both species are found in great numbers in the larger rivers and
estuaries during the summer season, and are frequently seen leaping from the water, especially at
dusk. A leaping Sturgeon is a striking object, the whole length of the fish appearing above the
surface before it falls back with a splash into the water.

The Sturgeon attains a length of five to twelve feet. In Europe, individuals of the common
Sturgeon eighteen feet long have been secured. The spawning season is in spring and early
summer. Their eggs have several times been artificially impregnated by the fish culturists
attached to the Fish Commissions of the United States and of New York. They spawn in the
lower stretches of the rivers, and perhaps also at their mouths, in brackish water.

Sturgeon are classed by fishermen among the fishes which " live by suction." The mouth is
situated upon the under surface of the head, and is not provided with teeth, but is surrounded with
a cup-shaped organ composed of powerful muscular tissue, by means of which it grubs for its food
in the mud. Its stomach resembles that of the menhaden and mullet, though comparatively more
muscular, since, like the gizzard of a fowl, one of its uses is to triturate the food which has been
swallowed, and which consists largely of mollusks and crustaceans. Around the mouth is a group
of large and sensitive tentacles, which aid the fish in its search for food.

No one has yet made a careful study of the habits of the Sturgeon in our waters, and in fact
European zoologists have made little progress in the study of their own species.

Within the past few years the capture of the Sturgeon for smoking and for the manufacture of
caviare from its eggs has attained considerable importance on the Atlantic coast.

The capture and economic uses, and the statistics of the products of the sturgeon fishery, will
be fully discussed by Col. M. McDonald in a subsequent portion of this work.

1 Sport MM.-I M'S Gazetteer, 1877, pp. 324-336.



mi: I.AKI: sri KCKOS. 661

THE LAKE STUEOEON ACIPENSEB BUBICUNDUS.

The most satisfactory investigation of tlio Lake Sturgeon is that published by Milm-r in Part
II of the Report of the United States Fish Commission, pa^vs c; t( , ;.-,. This species inhabits the
(Ireat Lakes and the waters lying to the northward, and the rivers of the Mississippi Valley. It
is especially abundant in the Upper Lakes. It is a smaller species than the Atlantic Sturgeon,
and has a greater number of plates or scutes npon the sides according to Jordan, about thirty-
four instead of twenty-eight.

SPAWNING HABITS. Milner records the following observations upon the general habits and
history of the Lake Sturgeon:

"The spawning season of the Sturgeon in the more southern lakes occurs in the month of
Juno; in Lake Superior it is a little later. Early in June, in the southern end of Lake Michigan,
they begin to congregate near the shores and at the mouths of the rivers, the Kalamazoo River,
emptying at Saugatuck, Michigan, being a favorite spawning ground. They may be seen in the
evening in this river leaping from the surface, throwing their bulky forms entirely out of the
water. At Pier Cove, Michigan, on the llth of June, 1871, schools of Sturgeons were at the edge
of the shore in a few feet of water, and men from the vicinity were in the habit of wading out and
drawing them ashore with gaff-hooks. Eighteen were taken in this way the morning we visited
the locality. They were said to be found in the vicinity every year about this season, remaining
about a fortnight. It is likely they were spawning at the time. Whether the shore of the Lakes,
where the waves would disturb the eggs in every storm, is a natural spawning ground is a ques-
tion. They may have been late arrivals seeking the month of the Kalamazoo River, a few miles to
the north of which they are said to ascend to the first dam, many miles inland.

"Mr. J. G. Portman, of Benton Harbor, successful as a fish-cultnrist, has seen the Sturgeon at
this season lying in numbers on a shallow clay ledge at the edge of a stream, several of them lying
flat on their backs, with their bellies upward, rolling and splashing in shallow water with apparent
enjoyment. Two or three that were taken with spears were opened and the stomachs examined
and found to contain some of the sturgeon spawn. At the mouth of Calumet River, South Chicago,
Illinois, July 1 of the year just referred to, a large lift of Sturgeon were brought ashore, looking
flaccid and emaciated, and bnt one specimen out of over twenty individuals contained spawn. In
the vicinity of Bayfleld, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, they were seen late in the month of July with
the ovaries full of spawn, and the milt of the male fishes large, making it probable that the time of
spawning was later in colder water than in warm.

"SiZE. The Sturgeon of this species attains the largest size of any fish of the Lakes. They
are taken only within comparatively shoal waters and in some of the bays, and among the islands
they are very abundant. The largest specimen it has been my fortune to see did not quite attain
the length of six feet, though there arc traditions in localities on the Lakes of nine foot Sturgeons;
the average of the mature ones taken is less than five feet.

"Their food consists almost entirely of the shell fish of the Lakes, principally gasteropods, the
thinner shelled kinds of the genera Physa, Planorbia, and Valvata being found broken in the
stomachs, while Limncea and Mdantho remain whole. A few eggs of fishes have been found at
different times, but examination of stomachs during the spawning season of some of the most
numerous fishes did not prove them to be very extensive spawn-eaters.

"ENEMIES. In Green Bay the fishermen set their pounds for fall fishing about the 10th of
September. The Sturgeon are in abundance, and the nets often contain a hundred or more. This
is said to continue until about the middle of October, when they diminish in number and the white-



662 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

fish become plentiful. As the latter are the fish sought for, the Sturgeon are considered a nui-
sance and annoyance. A few fishermen are considerate enough to lower the corner of a net and
allow them to escape, but the commoner way is to draw them out of the net with a gaff-hook and
let them go wounded, or to take them ashore and throw them on the refuse heap, asserting that
there will be so many less to trouble them in the future. A very large number are destroyed in
this way, probably equaling or exceeding the number taken in the vicinity of Sandusky.

"The spawn is probably subjected to the depredations of numerous fishes. It is not likely
that the young Sturgeon, except in the earliest stages of their growth, suffer from the attacks of
other fishes, as they are too well defended with the sharp spine of their shields to make a comfort-
able mouthful for any fish of the Lakes, and after the spine disappears have attained a size large
enough to render them safe.

"A parasite that troubles the Sturgeon is the Lamprey Eel, Petromyzon argenteus, Kirt., which
is found very frequently attached to the skin. The circular scars and raw sores sometimes found
upon the Sturgeon and attributed to this cause by the fishermen are correctly accounted for in this
way. It is probable that their natural food is the slime or mucus exuded in abundance from the
pores, but they frequently retain their hold upon a spot until they have eaten through to the flesh,
and deep ulcerous cavities occasionally result from the sore.

"The decrease in numbers is apparent to a certain extent in localities where the pound-net
has been in use for a number of years. At Saudusky, Ohio, the number brought in from the nets
and handled at the curing establishment in a season are said to have nearly reached eighteen
thousand a few years ago, while in 1872 the books showed a record of thirteen thousand eight
hundred and eighty received. This fact has several times been advanced as an argument in favor
of the pound-nets, that the destruction of the Sturgeon, asserted to be an extensive spawn-eater,
more than compensated for the numbers of white-fish taken.

"As an article of food they are not generally popular. But few people in the cities know the
modes of cooking that make their meat a palatable dish. A certain quantity is disposed of fresh
by the peddlers. With the Canadian-French people of the Lake shore they are in demand, and are
prepared in the form of soups (bouillon). With a good, hearty, outdoor appetite this is very pal-
atable food, but too rich in the flavor of the oil of the fish for ordinary use. The flavor of the
Sturgeon meat has very little of the taste of fish, and the bouillon, when carefully prepared by
skimming off the oil, is very much like chicken-soup. A very good pickled meat is made of it by
boiling it and preserving it in vinegar.

"But the best form of preparing Sturgeon is by smoking it. The smoking of Sturgeon meat
has been done at different points of the Lakes on a small scale, but is only carried on to a large
extent by Schacht Brothers, of Sandusky, Ohio. The method employed by this firm is the fol-
lowing: The Sturgeons are skinned and the viscera taken away. The thick parts are then cut into
strips, and after a slight pickling in brine are smoked over a close fire. The thin portions and
offal are boiled down for oil, the spawn is made into caviare, and from the bladders isinglass is
manufactured.

"The smoked Sturgeon is a most palatable meat, and is quite popular, making an excellent
substitute for smoked halibut, and, in the opinion of a great many, having some qualities superior.

"The caviare is made by pressing the ova through sieves, leaving the membranes of the
ovaries remaining in the sieve and the eggs falling through into a tub. This is continued until
the eggs are entirely free from particles of membrane, when they are put into salt pickle and
allowed to remain for some time."



TIM: rum i:i;.\ r. \MII.V. ( ,<;:;

OBSERVATIONS BY LUDWN; KTMLIEN ON THE STURGEON OF THE GREAT LAKES. Mr. Kum-

lien, while i-n^i-i-cl in eolleeting tin- statiMirs of (be Great Lakes tislieiies in 1880, made a number
of very important miles njjoii (lie abundance of the Sturgeon and ui>on tlie sturgeon fishery in
that region, wliieli will lie quoted in a subsequent portion of this work.

THE STURGEONS OP CALIFORNIA.

"The common Sturgeon of the Pacific coast, called distinctively the 'White Sturgeon,'" writes
.Ionian, "is .\< -1/n nxrr tntiixmontaiuix. It rearhes a length of eight or ten feet or more, and is said
to attain a weight of four to five hundred pounds. We have seen none of over one hundred
and fifty pounds' weight. It is found in the Sacramento, Columbia, and Frazer Rivers in abun-
tlanee, aseeiiding them at the time of the salmon run in the spring for the purpose of spawning.
Whether it enters the small streams, how long the run continues, and how far the Sturgeon ascend,
are matters at present unknown. The Sturgeon feeds on Crustacea, carrion, etc. In Frazer River
they gorge themselves on the eulachon.

"The Sturgeon is one of the most important fish in the San Francisco market, being always
abundant and very cheap. Elsewhere the abundance and superiority of the salmon cause it to be
little used. Many are smoked. Caviare is made from the eggs.

"Acipenser medirostris is known as the 'Green Sturgeon.' Its size and distribution are the
same as that of the White Sturgeon. It is, however, much less abundant. It is not used as
food, being reputed poisonous. We are unable to say on what facts this evil reputation is based."

THE SHOVEL-NOSED STURGEON: WHITE STURGEON SCAPHIRHYNCHOPS PLATYRHYNCHUS.

This species is found in abundance in all the larger rivers of the West and South. It spawns
early in May, ascending smaller streams for that purpose. Jordan states that in the Ohio Kiver it
is taken in seines in considerable numbers and is used for food, though it does not seem to be
highly valued. He surmises that its habits arc very similar to those of the Lake Sturgeon.

196. THE CHIMJERA FAMIIT CHIHRIO.
RAT-FISH OF CALIFORNIA CHIMERA COLLIEI.

"This fish," writes Jordan, "is known as the 'Rat-fish' or 'Rat-tail.' It reaches a length of
nearly two feet, and a weight of six to eight pounds. It is very abundant everywhere from Mon-
terey Bay northward along the coast, especially in deep bays. It feeds on fishes and takes the
hook very readily. It spawns in July. The egg cases are two or three inches long, lanceolate,
long and slender, without tentacles.

"The liver of the Chimera is very large and well filled with an oil said to be superior to ordinary
shark oil. The flesh is worthless and the fish is too small to be an object of pursuit. It has,
therefore, no economic value."

THE BLUE CHIMERA CHIMERA AFFINIS.

A species of Chimera is frequently taken by the New England fishermen on the off-shore
lishiiig banks. It was described by Professor Gill under the name C.plumbea, but proves to be a
species previously discovered on the coast of Spain. It has no economic importance.

197. THE GAR-PIKES LEPIDOSTEIDJE.
THE LONG-NOSED GAR-PIKE LEPIDOSTEUS OSSEUS.

This fish is known as "Gar-pike," "Bill-fish," " Sword-fish," etc., the names "Gar" and "Gar-
pike" usually predominating. It is found in the Great Lakes, and throughout the Mississippi



664 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

Valley, as well as in all the streams of the South from Mexico to New Jersey. In all the larger
streams it is abundant, sometimes extremely so, but in the smaller rivers it is scarce. It is a
hardy and voracious fish, being usually considered very destructive to the young of other and
better fishes. It is fair to say that remains of fishes are rarely found in its stomach. It reaches a
length of five to six feet. It is usually considered wholly worthless, being killed and thrown away
whenever taken. The flesh is very tough, and is said to be noxious. I have never known it to be
eaten. It spawns in early summer, running up smaller streams, often in company with the various
Sturgeons. At Ogdensburg, New York, they come upon the shoals for this purpose about May 20.
Another spawning ground is on a beach near Point Salubrious, Chaumont Bay, New York, about
a mile from the post-office.

The Short-nosed Gar-pike (Lepidosteus platystomus) occurs in the same waters, reaches about
the same size, and is similar in habits. It is most common south west ward.

Le Sr. de Champlain, visiting the lake which bears his name in the year 1609, speaks of a
large fish, undoubtedly the Gar-pike, there found :

"Among the rest there is one called by the Indians of the country Ohaousaron, of divers lengths.
The largest, I was informed by the people, are of eight to ten feet. I saw one of five, as thick as
a thigh, with a head as big as two fists, with jaws two feet and a half long, and a double set of
very sharp and dangerous teeth. The form of the body resembles that of the pike, and it is armed
with scales that the thrust of a poniard cannot pierce, and it is of a silver-gray color. The point
of the snout is like that of a hog. This fish makes war on all others in the lakes and rivers, and
possesses, as these people assure me, a wonderful instinct ; which is, that if it wants to catch any
birds it goes among the rushes or reeds bordering the lake in many places, keeping the beak out
of the water without budging, so that when the birds perch on the beak, imagining it the limb of
a tree, it is so subtle that closing the jaws, which it keeps half open, it draws the birds under
water by the feet. The Indians gave me a head of it, which they prize highly, saying that when
they have a headache they let blood with the teeth of this fish at the seat of pain, which immedi-
ately goes away." '

THE ALLIGATOR GAR LEPIDOSTEUS SPATULA.

This species is known almost universally as the "Alligator Gar"; in Spanish, " Manuari." It
abounds in large bodies of water tributary to the Gulf of Mexico, being found in Mexico and Cuba
as well as in the United States. Its northern range extends to the Ohio Kiver, where, however,
it is not common. It reaches an enormous size, being sometimes more than ten feet in length. In
habits it is probably essentially similar to the smaller Gar-pikes. It has no value as food, but is
said to be somewhat dangerous to men and domestic animals. 2

It is found in various tributaries of the Gulf of Mexico, and also in the headwaters of Saint
John's River, Florida. It is distinguished by its broad snout. In Arkansas the country people

1 Doc. Hist, of N. Y., iii, 1850, 6. See also, SAOARD: Grand Voyage dn Pays des Huron, Paris, 1632.

A MAN'S FIGHT WITH A FISH. Mr. Jame F. Simmons, of Redbone district, had a narrow and peculiar escape
the other day. He was fishing on Flint River, and had attempted to swim across to get a bateau from the opposite
ide. About half way over the stream he stopped on a root or tree to rest. After remaining there a short time, he
plunged off for the other shore. Jnst as he made a plunge a tremendous fish, known as the Oar, struck him, catching
hi thigh in its month, and leaving an ugly and painful wound. A regular battle then took place between the man
and the flsh, and lasted for some minutes, until finally Mr. 8. got back on hig resting place, and his enemy departed.
During the fight Mr. 8. threw the fish some feet above the water, but it continued the attack. Mr. S. was thoroughly
frightened and called lustily for help. He has several ugly and painful wounds given him by the fish, yet none
serious. This is the first time we ever heard of a Gar attacking a man, yet they say it frequently does go.Talboltov
(G.) Standard, July, 1879.



THE STING KAYS.

manufacture from it a kind of oil, which is used as a liniment to prevent the attacks of the bnffulo-
gnat. Mr. Stearns writes :

"The Alligator Gar is very abundant everywhere on the Gulf coast, living in both fresh and
salt water. Like the salt-water catfish, it will eat anything. It preys largely upon all fish smaller
than itself, and the young are, I believe, particularly destructive to fishes' eggs and young fry.
Some think that this fish does more damage to the small food-fishes than any other nsh on the
coast does. It is simply useless to place 'set-nets' where the Gar is abundant. Many are caught
in seines with other fishes and are thrown ashore to be destroyed. I have seen Gars that would
measure seven feet in length ; the average ts two feet. With the larger ones the bill is not pro-
portionately as long as with the smaller ones, but is stouter."

198. THE RAYS, TORPEDOES AND SKATES RAIJE.

There are six or seven species of Kays upon the Atlantic coast, none of which are of impor-
tance to man, except so far as they are dangerous or annoying to the fishermen, or are destructive
of useful marine animals.

THE STING RAYS.

The Sting Kay, Trygon centrura, ranges farther to the north than any of the other species, having
been observed on the shoal parts of George's Banks ; it does not, however, pass the limit of Cape
Cod. The Sting Ray attains an enormous size, its disk sometimes measuring five or six feet across,
and its entire length, including the long, flexible tail, ten feet or more. It feeds entirely upon the,
large species of matine invertebrates, such as crabs, squids, clams, and sea-snails. The strong
serrated spine situated upon the top of the tail near its junction with the body can inflict dan-
gerous wounds, and several instances are on record of serious injury to fishermen who have had
their hands or feet transfixed by it. These fish are often taken in considerable numbers in the
pounds and weirs.

There are two or three other species of Sting Ray or Stingaree on the southern Atlantic and
Gulf coasts, the commonest of which, Trygon sabina, is found in the rivers, ascending the Saint
John's to the upper lakes, and also clear along the coast. Concerning its habits in the Gulf of



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 111 of 146)