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of these organs are intended by their sensitiveness to warn the fish of the approach of its prey
than to act as allurements to attract other fishes.

The Goose Fish spawns in summer, in the sounds and at sea along the coast. The eggs are
very numerous, enclosed in a ribbon-shaped gelatinous mass about a foot in width and thirty or
forty feet long, which floats near the surface. One of these ribbons will weigh perhaps forty pounds,
and is usually partially folded together, and visible a foot or eighteen inches from the top of the
water, its color being brownish purple. The number of eggs in one of them I have estimated at
from forty to fifty thousand. The spawning season on the New England coast is in summer. I
have observed the floating eggs in July and August, and in the same months young fish two or
three inches long, and undeveloped eggs in the parent fish. The young have rarely l>een taken
except at considerable depths. Their growth is rapid. The adult is commonly four feet long,
weighing from thirty-five to forty-five pounds.

The Goose Fish is extensively used for baiting lobster pots. Although not commonly eaten,
its flesh is very palatable. The full-grown fish will yield from ten to fifteen pounds of good meat.
In Italy it is much esteemed as an article of food, and iu parts of Great Britain it is also eaten, the
steaks from the neighborhood of the tail being preferred.



THE FLAT FISIIKS AND FLOUNDERS. 175



1. THE FLAT FISHES AND FLOUNDERS.

55. THE AMERICAN SOLES SOLEID.E.

AMERICAN SOLKS. The much-prized Sole of Europe, Solea tulgarig, does not occur in the
Western Atlantic, although attempts have been made to introduce it, and in 1877 two individuals
were .-it free in Massachusetts Bay by the United States Commission of Fisheries. Its nearest
representative, the American Sole, is found along our coast from Boston and Nahant to the mouth
of the Mississippi River. It occurs in all of the rivers south of the Susquchanna, and is taken in
great numbers in the shad seines. It rarely attains a greater length than six inches, and, though
edible, is never eaten, and it must be regarded as of extremely small importance. There are also
two or three other fishes belonging to this family in our Southern waters which are insignificant
in size and of no importance whatever.

Aphoristia atricaitda is a very small species of Sole, the only genuine representative of the
Euroi>eau Sole on our Pacific coast. It reaches a length of six inches, and is occasionally taken
in San Diego Bay. It has no economic value.

TUEBOT AND SOLE IN AMERICA A Philadelphia writer has lately tried iu the news-
papers to revive the long-obsolete belief that the Turbot and Sole of Europe occur on our coast
Although he has never seen them himself, and fails to bring forward evidence that any one else
has seen them, he insists that they occur in the greatest abundance in New Jersey, particularly
in the vicinity of Atlantic City, "and doubtless all aloug the Atlantic coast from Portsmouth, N.
H., to Wilmington, S. C." (sic). He upbraids the American public for their incredulity, though
this does not surprise him so much when he calls to mind that "our Government Fish Commissioner
has actually contemplated sending a steamer to English waters to procure turbot-seed to plant
along our shores." He would not be surprised if incredulity were to continue longer " under such
official indorsement." He accounts for the ignorance regarding them by the theory that the
English trawl-net is unknown in America, and that our fishermen would not know how to catch
such fish if they were aware of their presence, and have not become aware of their presence
because they have no means of catching them. He intimates that he is preparing to form a
company for the purpose of developing a turbot fishery upon our coast ; an enterprise " in which
but little will be risked, and the results will be a surprise to all." He closed one of his letters to
a New York journal with the following appeal : " I trust that you will not let this question subside,
but persevere in calling attention to it until we do away with the extraordinary anomaly of this
enlightened nation being within reach of treasure that for more than a century they have been
unaware of, and have remained persistently blind to."

All this is very entertaining, and furnishes a neat text for a few remarks on the history of
this belief, as well as an opportunity for demonstrating to the public a fact which has for forty years
or more been known to ichthyologists, that the Turbot and the Sole never have been seen on the
western side of the Atlantic, and never will be, unless they are introduced by artificial means.

From the beginning to the end we encounter the well-known sources of confusion the giving of
old-world names to species which resemble in a general way the old-world species \\liichbearthem,
and the unquestioning acceptance of these names as authoritative, by persons who are not trained
to close discrimination.



176 NATURAL HISTORY OK AQUATIC ANIMALS.

When Boston was occupied by the British duriug the revolutionary war, the officers of the
fleet are said to have beeu bountifully supplied with Turbot, which was caught in the neighbor-
hood of an outer harbor. This fact is recorded by Dr. J. V. 0. Smith, in his "Natural Ilistory of
the Fishes of Massachusetts" (Boston, 1833), ou the authority of William Ladd, esq., of Maine.
He also mentions " a statement of Mr. Parker, the conductor of the marine telegraph," who told
him that "many years before, Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin brought out to this country a trawl-not,
such as is used on the coast of Holland, for taking Sole for the London markets, with which
he succeeded in capturing that delightful fish in Ipswich Bay, which was not before supposed
to exist here." The fish found in this manner were no doubt the common Flat Fishes of
Massachusetts Bay. The common Flounder, Paralichthys dentatus, taken in Proviucetown water,
where it is commonly called "Plaice," was in 1880 sold in Boston under the name "Turbot."
Captain Mackinnou, of the Royal Navy, who visited this country in 1850, conceived the idea
that Turbot ought to be found on the shores of the United States, and took pains to search for
them with a trawl-net. The nets which he used had beeu imported ten years before by Mr.
Nathan Smith, an American gentleman, who had hoped to introduce them, but had never used
them. Captain Mackinnon tried one net at Newport, Rhode Island, and succeeded in taking
a number of different kinds of Flat Fish. He carefully refrains, however, from pronouncing any
one of them to be identical with the Turbot or Sole, though from the vagueness of his language
it is evident that his ichthyological knowledge was very scanty, and that he was not accustomed
to observe the differences between the different species of fishes which somewhat resemble each
other. His experiences are described at length in his book of travels, entitled "Atlantic and
Trans-Atlantic Sketches, Afloat and Ashore" (Harper & Bros., New York, 1852, pp. 166-170).
Capt C. C. Churchill, U. S. A., who saw the results of Captain Mackinnon's experiment, tells
us that the fish taken were the common species of New England flat fishes and flounders.

We fancy that the inspiration of the new advocate of the turbot-in-America question, as well
as the information upon which he bases his conclusions, was drawn from this very same book of
Captain Mackinnon, for he uses many of the same phrases, and he repeats, in almost the same
words, Captain Mackinnon's statement : " The fish markets in America are not at all in keeping
with the size and wealth of the States," a statement which, however true it may have been thirty
years ago, will be amusing to any one who has recently had opportunity to compare the fish
markets of America and Europe. The Philadelphia gentleman sums up his evidence as follows :

"The Turbot, Sole, and Plaice are, however, in abundance in your deep water sand banks.
They were caught there in 1812 by English sailors, and in 1880 Turbot have been obtained off
Atlantic City, if the ' Baltimore American ' is any authority."

The notion that the introduction of the English trawl in America would be novel and would at
once open up a field for a fishery industry of boundless extent, deserves a word. The trawl has
been assiduously used by the summer collecting party of the United States Fish Commission for
ten years past, and also by Professor Agassiz upon various exploring trips. The steamers of the
Fish Commission have used it on every portion of the New England coast, and as far north as
Halifax. Professor Agassiz has used it in the Gulf of Mexico and on the coast of Florida, and
during the present summer, while on the Coast-Survey steamer "Bache," has employed it in
running five lines of research at right angles to the coast from Cape Hatteras, at points nearly
eqnidistitut between Charleston and Cape Cod, one of them directly out from the entrance to
Delaware Bay. These lines were carried from near the shore to a depth of twelve hundred
fathoms or more.



mi: AMI:I;H-\\ sou.s. 177

. In is.~>l Professor Baird made a careful exploration of the coast of New Jersey with a s|ieei;il
let'nencc to the lishcs. and since that time every stretch of eoast line from Krownsville, Texas, to
Kastpoit, Maine, has been thoroughly in\ estimated l>y the officers of the United States Fish Com-
mission. It is true that a new species of tish is occasionally discovered, but the new fishes always
liclong to one or two classes. These are either swift -swimming species, members of the West
India fauna, which come upon our northern shores in summer, or they are inhabitants of waters
more than six hundred feet deep, which have uever previously beeu explored. The Ttirbot and
the Sole are shallow- water species, and, had they occurred in our waters, would have been discov-
ered many years ago.

There are twenty-six species of flat fishes on the east coast of the United Stales. Four of
these belong to the same family with the Sole, but are utterly worthless as articles of food. The
nearest relative of the Sole is often called the American Sole, Achirus lineatu*, and is known on
the coast of New Jersey as the Hog-choker, Cover-clip, or Cover. Of the other flat fishes only
t\\o are positively unfit for food, and these two, strangely enough, are the representatives of the
subfamily Ifliombitue, to which belong the Turbot and Brill of Europe. One of these, Lophopxetta
iiuti'iiliitii, is sometimes called the Spotted Turbot, and in New Jersey is called Window-pane, or
Daylight, because it is so thin that when held to the light the sun can be seen through its
translucent flesh.

The most important Flat Fish is the Halibut, which is identical with that of Europe. This
speeies, and the Pole Flounder, which has recently been brought to light in our waters by
the Fish Commission, are the only two of the number referred to that are found on both sides of
the Atlantic. We have in our waters an abundance of flat fishes, some of which, for instance, the
common Flounder of the New York market, Paralichthys dentatus, are probably fully equal to
the Turbot for food uses. In fact, it may be had in the New York restaurants and hotels under
this name. Another fish, Platysomatichthy* Mppoglositoides, resembling the Turbot in flavor, is
sometimes brought to New York in winter. It is found at great depths on the coast of Newfound-
laud, and is often called the American or the Newfoundland Turbot. The Pole Flounder is
very similar to the Sole in flavor and in the texture of its flesh, but it unfortunately inhabits some-
what inaccessible localities at great depths, and it is hardly to be expected that, with the present
supply of excellent food-fish to be obtained at so much smaller expense, our fishermen will take the
pains to go in search of it. That the popular taste for flat fish is already cultivated is shown by
the fact that, in 1879, 1,796,000 pounds were sold in New York alone.

It is needless to refer to the efforts of the United States Fish Commission to introduce Sole}
they are familiar to all who are interested in the subject. The introduction of the trawl-net has
been for many years under consideration, but this expensive mode of fishing does not seem to be
required at present, since the supply of tine-flavored food-fishes is more than equal to the demand.
With an eye to the interest of the American fishermen, Professor Baird has recently detailed an
attache of the Fish Commission, one of the most experienced fishermen of Massachusetts, to study
the trawl fishery in the German Ocean, and his report will soon l>e published.

Finally, it may not be amiss to state that Mr. E. G. Blackford, of Fulton Market, New York,
has for some time beeu authorized by the Commissioner of Fisheries to pay twenty-five dollars to
any one who should present a true Turbot or a true Sole, caught on this coast. This offer is still
standing. >

1 Forest and Stream, iv, No. 6, September !, 1S80, pp. 103, 104.
12 P



178 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

56. THE PLAICE PARALICHTHYS DENTATUS.

The Plaice, Summer Flounder, or Turbot Flounder, Paralichthys dentatus, is, next to the Hali-
but, the most important flat-fish on the eastern coast. It is a member of a genus not existing in
Europe, though represented on our own Pacific coast, in China and Japan, and in the Indian
Ocean. Its affinities are with the Halibut, which it much resembles in form, and to which it is more
similar in flavor than to the Turbot and Brill, so well known in transatlantic fish markets. Our
common species was first brought to notice in 1766, when Linnaeus received specimens from
South Carolina, sent him by Dr. Garden. It seems at that time to have been of recognized com-
mercial importance, since it was one of the few received by Linnaeus from Garden which had a
common name. In South Carolina at this time it was called Plaice, and this is a name which is
now accepted in the New York market and about Cape Cod, although it has never been recognized
by those who have written books on American fishes. The fishermen of the Saint John's River also
use the name Plaice, but whether for this species has not been determined. In Connecticut, North
Carolina, and in Florida, east and west, as well as on other parts of the coast, the names Flounder
and Common Flounder are current. In New York and New England the name Summer Flounder
is also frequently heard. In Rhode Island the names Brail and Puckermouth are used, the former
doubtless a modification of the English name Brill, while on the bills of fare in Boston and New
York hotels it is often called the Deep-sea Flounder, at least since the Pole Flounder has been
brought to notice by the Fish Commission, and has obtained a reputation as a delicious table fish.
Fishermen sometimes mistake them for young Halibut, and they doubtless at times are sold under
the name of "Chicken Halibut." Turbot Flounder is another name which has been suggested,
but, upon the whole, Plaice seems most desirable for general adoption.

This fish is abundant upon, the eastern coast of the United States from Cape Cod to Cape Flor-
ida, and according to Mr. Stearns' report is also found along the entire Gulf coast. Southward,
its range extends at least as far as Paraguay. To the northward it barely rounds Cape Cod.
Captain Atwood remembers that in the first half of the present century great quantities of Plaice
were found inside the Point at Provincetown. They were so numerous that in one afternoon he
caught two thousand pounds. They are now only occasionally taken, and have not recently been
seen north of Provincetown, though Storer has recorded their occurrence at Wellfleet. Captain
Atwood attiibutes their disappearance, which was nearly simultaneous with the advent of the blue
fish, to the fact that blue fish destroyed their favorite food, the squid, and rendered it impossible
for them to live longer in these waters. The Plaice has been much less abundant in Cape Cod Bay
within the last thirty years, but there is no evidence of considerable diminution in numbers else-
where. On the eastern coast of Connecticut and Long Island, where the Plaice fishery is most
extensively prosecuted, it is the opinion of experienced fishermen that no change in numbers has
been perceptible within the last thirty years. The Connecticut fishermen say that they are
frequently so abundant that they have only to throw out and pull in their lines, catching "all
they choose," while the bottom seems to be carpeted with them.

Like others of its tribe, the Plaice are usually upon the bottom, where their peculiar shape
and color protect them from observation and give them excellent opportunity to capture their prey.
In the north they are usually found at a depth of two to twenty fathoms, and in winter move off
into deeper water. In New Jersey they occur at lesser depths. Professor Baird records that they
are sometimes taken in large numbers by means of nets in the deep slues along the beach. In
winter they do not run out so far into deep water, and "at times," says Professor Baird, "seem to
be quite torpid on the shallow grounds, suffering themselves to be taken up with oyster-tongs



THE PLAICE: HABIIS. 179

without making any attempt to escape.'' Still farther south they are found in the shallowest of
water. The fishermen of Saint John's River seine them in the grass along the shores at a depth
of three or four feet. Mr. Stearns writes, speaking of the eastern pait of the Gulf of Mexico:
"Tlii-.v are found mostly in the bays and bayous where the bottom is muddy or grassy, but it is
not unusual to find them in sluml water along the sand batches of the coast and bays. Very shoal
water seems to be particularly attractive, and they are often found at the water's edge embedded
in the sand, with only their eyes in view. When alarmed or in pursuit of prey their movements
are very swift, and the quickness with which they bury themselves in the sand is quite wonderful.''

Their habit of ascending Southern rivers is remarkable. They are said to occur in Lake
George and the other lakes at the headwaters of the Saint John's and the Ocklawaha Kivers. At
Jacksonville they are commonly taken in company with bream, black bass, and other fresh-water
fish, in winter as well as summer.

Although present in the shoal waters of Florida throughout the year, Mr. Stearns states that
they are most abundant in summer. On the Connecticut coast, however, their habit of migrating
seaward is much more pronounced. The Noank fishermen never find them until May. They say
that they never catch them until after they have fished awhile for sea bass. As early as the first
of October they begin to grow scarce, and none are ordinarily caught after the middle of the
month. I cannot find that they have ever been seen moving in schools, though fish taken in the
same locality at the same time are usually quite uniform in size. They shift their position, prob-
ably in search of food, and where any are found they are plenty. This indicates that they are
gregarious in habit : the abundance of food in special localities sufficiently explains this fact.

The Plaice feed upon small fish, shrimps, crabs and hermit crabs, squid, small species of
shell-bearing mollusks, and certain radiates, such as sand-dollars. They are frequently seen at
the surface, rapidly swimming, and even jumping out of the water, in pursuit of schools of Sand-eels
and sand smelts. They also feed upon dead fish thrown out from the fish-houses. Little is known
of their breeding habits. All the large females observed in July and August, 1874, upon the Con-
necticut coast contained spawn, but this was, evidently, far from maturity. The Fish Commission
has obtained no very small specimens; in fact, none less than eight or nine inches in length,
though the fishermen speak of capturing six-inch individuals. Their average length is from sixteen
to thirty inches, and the weight about two and a half pounds, though it is not unusual to take
individuals weighing seven or eight pounds. At Noank about eighty fish are ordinarily paekrd
in a barrel, weighing from 100 to 175 pounds. The largest ever brought to Noank weighed
twenty-six pounds. Others, of whose capture I have informed, weighed twenty, seventeen and a
half, and fifteen pounds. In Florida and at Provincetown I have seen them three feet in length.
A one-pound fish measures about fifteen inches; a one and a quarter pound fish, sixteen or
seventeen; a two-pound fish, seventeen or eighteen; a three-pound fish, about twenty; a four-
pound fish, about twenty-two; an eight-pound fish, about twenty-seven, and a ten-pound fish.
about thirty inches. These proportions are taken from notes relating to a large number weighed
and measured at Noank, Connecticut. The Winter Flounder or Flat Fish spawns in late
winter and early spring near the shore, and it is possible that the Plaice breeds at about the
same period.

The most extensive fishery for the Plaice is in the waters of Southern New England. Favorite
fishing grounds are on sandy bottoms, at a depth of ten to twenty fathoms, along the Atlantic
side of Block Island. Martha's Vineyard, and Kastern Long Island, where they are most plentiful.
They are obtained in smaller numbers in the harbors and bays along the south shore of New
England, on Shagwam and Middle Ground Reefs, in I i^li.-r's Island Sound and Long Island



180 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

Sound, aud outside of Fisher's Island. They are also taken in considerable numbers in the
pounds of this region, occasionally five or six hundred at a time. The quantity taken in the weirs
of New England in 1876 was estimated as follows:

Pounds.

Weirs on north side of Cape Cod 436

Weireon south side of Cape Cod 36,000

Weirs iu Vineyard Sound 326,620

Weirs in Buzzard's Bay 15,74'.)

Weirson Block Island, estimated 94,500

Weirs in Fisher's Island Sound, estimated 4,000

Weirs on east end of Long Island 14,000

Traps in Rhode Island 17'2,250

663,555
From .other localities 50,000

713,555
Estimated annual catch of Flat Fish 600,000



1,313,555
Value of the above, at four cents a pound, $52,542.

These statistics of the catch in pound-nets include Plaice and Flat Fish, and in the statement
of the total catch no distinction will be made between these two species.

Immense numbers of them are sometimes taken in large seines hauled up on the beach. In
1876 E. Cleveland seined 128,000 pounds at Menemsha Bight, Massachusetts. By far the greater
quantity, however, is taken by small fishing smacks belonging to and hailing from Noank,
Mystic, and New London, which pursue this special business from May until October. These
vessels are usually absent from port four or five days, and spend two days in fishing. The fish
are shipped in ice from Noank and New London principally to New York, and also to inland
cities in the vicinity. A single smac'j, with a crew of a man and two boys, usually will obtain
and ship to New York, on an average, about 12 barrels a week, about 160 barrels a year, or
25,000 to 28,000 pounds. Captain Palmer, of Noank, in 1873, caught on one trip of two days
about 1,000 fish, weighing, perhaps, 2,000 pounds. On this trip he used four lines. A good fisher-
man is able to manage two lines, each carrying two hooks. Menhaden bait is always used by
professional fishermen, though I have caught Plaice to good advantage with lobster bait. A
vessel usually consumes one barrel of menhaden on each trip. The fish strike the hook sharply
as soon as it approaches the bottom, giving little opportunity to the skates, which very seldom
get a chance at a Plaice's hook. In this respect they are very different from the cod. When the
fish have been hauled to the surface, they are quickly transferred, with as little injury as possible,
to the well of the smack, which is amply large enough to hold a product of two or three days'
fishing. They are thus brought alive to the place of shipment and reach the markets in excellent
condition, a fact which partially explains their popularity compared with that of other fish of the
same family.

In 1877 there were seven smacks engaged in this fishery one from Mystic, one from New
London, and five from Noank. It was estimated by the owner of one of these vessels that each
vessel made on an average fifteen trips during the summer, aud that each trip averaged 800 fish,
weighing Ijj pounds each, making a total of 1,400 pounds to a trip, or 21,000 pounds to the season,
thus giving an aggregate of 147,000 pounds as the result of this branch of the fishery.



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 33 of 146)