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POPULAK NAM11S 01' TIIK BURBOT. 237

name, t lion-fore, should be retained. In Norfolk, England, "Cony-fish" is a name given to the
Kuropean Burbot, from its habit of skulking in rat-holes and corners under the banks.

SIZE. We are told by J. B. Forster, in Philosophical Transactions, Ixiii, 1773, p. 149, that
the weight of the Burbot in the Hudson's Bay region is from one to eight pounds. According to
Pennant, who derives his information from Forster, the Burbot of the Hudson's Bay region reaches
a weight of eight, pounds. In Alaska, Mr. Ball says that they grow to a very large size, reaching
a length of five feet, and weighing as innch as sixty pounds. In the Bighorn and Little Bighorn
Kivers. Montana, the species reaches an average weight of less than a pound, and does not exceed
eighteen inches in length. Mr. W. Ainsworth, of Cape Vincent, New York, says that the Burbot
in the waters of Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River average two and a half pounds in
weight, occasionally reaching four pounds. The United States National Museum has received
from Mr. E. G. Blackford, of New York, numerous individuals from the Great Lake region, aver-
aging certainly not less than five pounds in weight. In the United States National Museum
collection the Burbot from the lakes are, as a rule, larger and plumper than those from rivers.
The exceptions are one from Fort Pierre, Nebraska, and two from the Yukon River. These are
longer but more slender than the lake Burbot. It seems highly probable that river Burbot may
generally be recognized by their slender bodies and small size, which characters we may attribute
to the small amount of food obtainable in the rivers, as compared with the supplies found in lakes.
The Burbot of the Connecticut River, which furnished the type of Lota compresa, is short,but really
less compressed than some from England, Southern Europe, .and from our own lakes. Le Sueur's
type of compressed Burbot may have been the starved or emaciated form known to fishermen as
"Racer," and it may have been the ordinary little Burbot of the Connecticut already referred to.

RELATION TO THE EUROPEAN BURBOT. The American Burbot cannot be distinguished from
its European ally by external characters; in both, the color, the position of the fins, the number of
the tin-rays, the structure and arrangement oi the teeth, the situation and size of the eyes, and the
relative proportions being substantially alike. There is less difference between the average Ameri-
can and European types of Burbot than there is between extremes of the former. At one time
I thought that the number of pyloric cosca, or the length of the intestines, might be available in
classification, but the amount of individual variation is so great in this respect that no division
can be based thereon. The pyloric cosca in the Europeau specimens which I have studied ranged in
number from 20 to 77; in America from 36 to 138. There is only one example having the latter
number, and that came from the Yukon River. Another individual from the same stream had 102
co2ca, and in all probability a large series would still further reduce the gap. This variation in the
number of cceca is paralleled in other species, notably in the Cod and the Salmon, Salmo salar.
In the former 1 have counted 140, 160, 256, 271, 289, and 340 in six individuals. In the Salmon
Mr. J. K.,Tuacher records a variation between 44 and 70.'

Even in the Craig flounder, Glyptocephalm cynoglotwu8, which has few coaca, I have counted
9 in one adult and 11 in another. The basis of distinction between the European and American
forms of Burbot is solely the smaller number of vertebrae in the former. It may be that an exam-
ination of a large series of skeletons will show that the difference is constant, and it is also pos-
sible that other good characters will be found which will entitle the Europeau form to separate
specific rank, or such examination may show a European Burbot with as many vertebrae as one
of onr American series; in which event it would seem proper to unite the two under the name of
Lota maculosa.

1 Report of United States Fish Commission, part 2, 1874, p. 371.



238 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

DISTRIBUTION. The United States National Museum has specimens of the Burbot from a
tributary of Hudson's Bay, Mackenzie's River, Yukon River and Kodiak (Alaska), Winnipiseogee
Lake, the Connecticut River and Scantic River, Connecticut; Seneca Falls and Madrid, New York ;
the Great Lakes, Winnebago Lake and Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Missouri; Fort Pierre,
Nebraska; the Bighorn and Little Bighorn Rivers in Montana, and Great Slave Lake. The
species occurs in the Yellowstone River, the Missouri River, in tributaries of the Ohio, in the
Mohawk River, and has once been obtained in the Susquehanna River, according to Professor
Cope in the report of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission, 1881.

ABUNDANCE. The Burbot is most abundant in lakes, to wit: The Great Lakes, lakes of New
York, Winnipiseogee Lake, and lakes of Maine and New Brunswick. In general terms, including
under the name ''Burbot" both the American and European forms, the species maybe said to
inhabit the fresh waters of the northern regions both of Europe and America, being particularly
abundant in the Great Lakes and in all ponds, lakes, and large streams, thence northward to the
Arctic Circle. According to Ball it is exceedingly abundant in the rivers and lakes of Alaska.
The Burbot is not known to enter brackish water at the mouths of rivers. According to Mr. W.
Ainsworth, Burbot are found principally in deep water and on mud, except during the spawning
season, which occurs in March, when they run on rock or hard bottom. This refers to the Lake
Ontario region. Col. A. G. Brackett, U. S. A., states that the fish seem to be quite common in the
Bighorn River, Montana. In the northern rivers, as a rule, the species is very abundant, though
within the limits of the United States, so far as we know, the species is less common in rivers.
Mr. Charles Lauinan writes that it is abundant in Lake Timisconti, and also in the Eagle and Saint
Francis Lakes.

REPRODUCTION. The spawning season of the Burbot is late winter or early spring. It is
probable that the eggs, which are small and numerous, are deposited in deep water. Mr. Ball says
that the eggs of the Burbot are of a creamy-yellow color in Alaskan specimens. The same writer
states that the fish are full of spawn from November to January. He also says that a siugle
Burbot (Losh) contains millions of eggs.

According to Pennant, the Burbot spawns early in February, and "is unhappily most prolific.
Mr. Hutchins counted in a single fish 671,248 ovaria." In the Great Lake region it is considered
probable that the Burbot spawns in deep water. Specimens forwarded from that region by Mr. E.
G. Blackford, in the month of November, 1877, were distended with ripe eggs.

According to Mr. Ball, the males are usually much smaller than the females, averaging only
eighteen or twenty inches in length, while the female attains a length of four or five fret. He
states also that the male has a smaller liver and one pyriform gall-bladder on the left side. Some
specimens, however, present the physiological curiosity of having two, or even three, distinct gall-
bladders opening into the same duct, and uniform in size and shape. Mr. Ball has, however, never
seen a double gall bladder in a female Burbot. The only marked feature in reference to these fish
at the spawning season is the greatly increased abundance. The young of this species are not
described in any American work, so far as I know. Richardson found small Burbots in the
stomach of the Lake Trout, Salvelinus namaycush. He states in "Fauna Boreali Americana,"
p. 180, that "in the mouth of March, in latitude 64, we saw that capacious receptacle [stomach
of Salvelinus namaycush} crammed with the young of the Lota maculosa."

The development of the European variety is partially illustrated by text and figures in a paper
by Carl J. Sundevall on "The Development of Fishes," published in the "Proceedings of the
Swedish Academy," 1862. The text is here in part translated:

" The spawning season of the Burbot commences in January or February. The eggs are laid



REPROnrniON OK TI1F. HI KHOT.



239

\^r



separate ami loose upon tin- river or lake bottom. They are vri v small anil numerous. According
to tin- calculation of lian.n ('. (1. < Yderstrom, a medium-sized female contained 160,000 (by esti-
male. l.V.i,77i) e^s. This result nearly coincides with that of a more recent estimate, viz, that
tin- average female Contains 1 78,000 eggs. (Skaml. Fiskar. vid., p. 41.) Some eggs are clear, some
\ello\v, all nearly colorless, and both kinds are capable of development. In some cases the eggs
commence tn hatch in tlncr \\.-eks; generally, however, an. additional week is required. At the
.ml of tin- first day after tin- 1 '; s have been deposited cleavage of the yolk commences. The eyes
appear in fifteen or sixteen days, and in about two days more small star-like spots may be observed
on tht> surface of the embryo. At that period, also, the beating of the heart can be plainly dis-
cerned. and I have alternately counted fifteen, thirty, and fifty pulsations in successive minutes.
The evolutions of the etnliryo are now more distinctly seen, and it will be noticed that the anterior
end of the embryo is the heavier. In many cases the eggs appear to have been prematurely
hatched, and assume the shape of a ring. These move but seldom, and always in a circle. A great
many die early ; others are developed. The fish with straight tails are very lively, moving with
a tremor of the body, usually toward the surface of the water, whence they passively fall to the
bottom. When fully developed, the operation of swimming is accomplished by a quick movement
of the pectorals."

MODE OF CAPTURE. The Burbot is taken on hooks, chiefly at night. It is also captured
largely in pounds and gill-nets. In Lake Winnipiseogee it is caught with the hook through
holes in the ice. At Fort Ouster, Montana, it takes the hook freely. In the Yukon Kiver it is
captured in h'sh-traps.

FOOD AND FEEDING HABITS. The Burbot is carnivorous and voracious, having a craving and
wonderfully distensible stomach, which makes the fish an efficient dredge in securing bottom fishes.
Through its medium was obtained the rare sculpiu-like fish Trit/lopsia Thomsoni. The Burbot feeds
upon various small fishes and Crustacea, frequenting the bottom, and devouring more particularly
fishes with habits like its own.

Forster gives the following notes in the " Philosophical Transactions," ' which were furnished
him by Mr. Andrew Graham : " [The Marthy is] extremely voracious, eating fish, the pike, and the
tickomeg (Salmo), and other fish, carrion, putrefying deer, and even stones. Mr. Graham took a
stone weighing a pound from the stomach of one. . . . It does not masticate its food."

Pennant says that the Marthy "is so voracious as to feed even on the tyrant pike; will devour
dead deer or any carrion, and even swallow stones to fill its stomach."

The Burbot seems to feed principally at night. Pennant states that it is caught with hooks
after nine o'clock at night. Charles Lanman states that "in the Saint John River, Jfew Bruns-
wick, some hundreds are taken annually by night-lines, dropped through the ice at the beginning
of winter. Many are thus taken near Fredericton, but the best fishing ground is on the sand-
bars, a little above the mouth of the Oromocto Kiver, where this fish resorts previous to spawn-
ing, which operation takes place in February or March. This fish is not unlike the eel in many of
its habits, concealing its food under stones, waiting and watching for its prey. It feeds principally
at night, and is, therefore, generally taken by night-lines."

The specimens obtained by the National Museum from the Great Lakes always contained in
abundance the common species associated with itself in that region, such as Perca americana,&
species of Lcpomif;, &c.

According to Mr. Dall, the Burbot in the rivers of Alaska feed upon whitefish, lampreys, and
other species.

'Vol. Ixiii.



240 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

ECONOMIC VALUE. There is a great difference of opinion as to the edible qualities of the Bur-
bot. In the region of the Great Lakes it is usually pronounced worthless, but some few consider
the liver a delicacy ; it is held in low esteem as a food-fish, and rarely appears in the markets. It
was formerly thrown away, according to Mr. Milner, although it is a very good edible fish, and
some who know its qualities cook the livers of the larger specimens, considering them very choice.
Mr. Ainsworth, of Cape Vincent, New York, regards the Burbot as a great annoyance to gill net
fishermen. He states that they are a soft fish and unmarketable. I have been told that the Bur
bot caught through holes in the ice in Winnipiseogee Lake are highly esteemed. In the fur coun-
tries, according to old writers, the roe is an article of food. The liver is eaten in the Yukon River
region, and the flesh is by some regarded as equal to that of whitefish. At Fort Custer, Mon-
tana, Col. A. G. Brackett says, "The soldiers eat all they can get of them." Indians generally
are fond of them. No doubt the quality of the flesh depends largely upon the habitat, those found
in cold, clear, rapid streams being probably the best.

According to Professor Jordan, there is a popular prejudice against the looks of this fish, and
its flesh is less rich than that of most of the lake fish. From the manuscript of Charles Laninan,
referring to the species in New Brunswick, I quote the following: "The flesh of the fresh-water
Cusk is white, firm, and of good flavor. The liver and roe are considered delicacies; when well
bruised and mixed with a little flour, the roe can be baked into very good biscuits, which are used
in the fur countries as tea-bread."

Forster states that the roe and liver, when fresh, are considered delicacies, but that they turn
rancid in a few days. On the coast of Hudson's Bay the fish is considered dry and insipid.

The Burbot, therefore, does not appear to be a very important fish, commercially speaking,
although when taken in cold streams, where it occurs in abundance, it is freely eaten. In Siberia,
according to Mr. Dall, the skins of the European variety are used as a substitute for glass in
windows.

INFORMATION DESIRED CONCERNING THE BURBOT. Information is greatly desired on all of
the points already mentioned concerning the Burbot, and especially on the following particulars:

1. Its occurrence in rivers and lakes anywliere. Kansas City, Missouri, is the most southern
locality represented in the collections of the United States National Museum.

2. The temperature and depth of the water in which it is captured.

3. Its capture in salt water.

4. Its time and mode of spawning in different waters.
6. The appearance of the young.

6. Its food. Bottom fishes are frequently found in the stomach.

7. Whether it is eaten.

8. How caught.

The Commissioner of Fisheries is desirous of obtaining specimens in alcohol or in the fresh
state from any river or lake, except the Great Lakes and lakes of Western New York.

72. THE SILVER HAKE AND THE MERLUCCIO.
THE SILVER HAKE, OR NEW ENGLAND WHITING. MERLUCIUS BILINEARIS.

DISTRIBUTION. It is the opinion of certain writers, among whom Dr. Gunther is leader,
that the Hake of Europe, Merlucius merlus (or M. vulgaris of recent authors), is identical with
the species of Merlucius occurring in the Western Atlantic. This is, however, a mistake; the
American species may easily be distinguished from that of Europe by the greater number of rays



THE KriiopKAN AM> AMKKICAN MI.IM.I rn s 241

in the first dorsal (10 to 11 in .V. merlun, 12 to 13 in M. biline<tri), and by the larger size of the
scales (tin- number in the lateral line being about 150 in M. merlug, 100 to 110 in M. bilinearis).

'I lie ueneral appearance of the two species is very similar, and it requires careful study to
separate them. It is probable that at no very remote period they diverged from acoramon stock.
The distribution of the two species ui>on the opposite sides of the Atlantic coincides very closely
with that of other Gadoid tislies, which are specifically identical in Europe and America. The Hake
of Kurope is found along the coast from Trondhjem Fjord, latitude 65, south to 36, being very
abundant in the Mediterranean ; also found on the coast of Portugafand in Western France. In
the English Channel, however, and in the waters of Holland and Germany, it is considered very
unusual. On our coast it ranges from New York to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where it is
eoniinon especially in the Bay of Cbaleur but it has rarely been observed as far north as the
Straits of Belle Isle. Dr. Packard was told by fishermen that during a period of forty summers
.spent on the coast of Labrador they had taken but one specimen of this fish. This fish has been
found at great depths as far south as latitude 36 and 37.

The name Silver Hake, by which this fish is known in the Bay of Fundy, is much more
appropriate than that of Whiting, though the latter is more frequently heard in New England; its
similarity to the European Hake is very great; while the name Whiting, which is in Europe
applied to a species (Merlangus vulgarin), somewhat resembling the Pollock, has been appropriated
in this country for a fish on the southern coast and belonging to the drum family.

MIGRATIONS AND MOVEMENTS. The Silver Hake commonly inhabits the middle depths of
oeean, or the outer edge of the continental slope, and comes to the surface to feed. Like the
. Pollock, it is a fish of prey; its teeth are sharp, its mouth large and j>owerful, and its form
lithe, muscular, and adapted to rapid locomotion. It comes to the surface to prey upon the
schools of herring and other small fish, and is frequently caught in the mackerel and blnefisb nets.
Its api>earance in onr waters is irregular, and when seen it is usually in considerable numbers.
Storer, writing in or before 1867, remarked: "When my report was published in 1839 I stated
that the Whiting was taken not, however, in large quantities in our bay in the summer upon
the cod-fishery grounds; since that period this species has increased very perceptibly in our waters;
it is frequently caught in considerable numbers with the hook upon Crab Ledge, a few miles from
ISoston light-house, and has become at Provincetown a serious inconvenience to the fishermen.
< aptaiu Atwood informs me that when the fishermen at the latter place commence the mackerel
fishery with nets, which usually takes place about the 20th of May, the Whiting are scarce and
few are caught. By the 1st of June they become more plenty, and from the middle of June to the
last of the fishery, which closes about the 20th of July, they are exceedingly numerous in parts of
the bay in all depths of water. In such quantities are they taken in nets that frequently eight or ten
hours are required for a man to clear the nets of them. At this season of the year so many of
them are thrown from the boats upon the shore that the board of health is sometimes called upon
to interfere and to compel the fishermen to bury them from the fear of sickness being produced
by their decomposition. By visiting this point, the easterly extremity of Cape Cod, in June, 1847,
I saw quite a number of this species strewed along the shore, where they had been left by the tide
while in pursuit of sand-eels and other small fishes. Since that period, the bluefish having been
more common, this species does not exist in as great abundance."

It is difficult in this case, as in many other similar ones, to decide exactly what dates to

assign to the observations of Dr. Storer his " History of the Fishes of Massachusetts," in its

last edition, having been published at various times from 1803 to 1867 as in some instances he

contented himself with quoting the exact words of his report printed in 1839. It would seem.

16 F



242 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

however, that the statements attributed to Captain Atwood should be dated prior to 1850. The
Cape Cod naturalist, in his address before the senate committee of the Rhode Island legislature
in 1872, stated that in Provincetown Harbor, from a very early period until the "horse-mackerel"
(blueflsh) made its appearance, the fish called Whiting was immensely abundant; but since the
horse-mackerel had appeared this fish was driven out, and at the time of speaking a specimen
was hardly ever seen. Perley, writing in 1850 and 1852, stated that at Grand Manau these fish
were often taken in herring nets, in which they become entangled while pursuing their prey, and
that he observed the fishermen throwing away these fish by thousands while clearing their nets.

HABITS. They average one foot in length. They are of roving habits, following the shoals of
herring, which they devour in great quantities. Until 1880 little was known concerning the
breeding habits of the Silver Hake, but, in exploring the bottom, at a depth of from one hundred
and fifty to three hundred fathoms, off Newport and in the edge of the Gulf Stream, immense
numbers of young fish, from half an inch to three inches in length, were found at the bottom, and
with them were many adults, twelve to eighteen inches in length, apparently in the act of spawn-
ing; some of them with the ova ripe, or nearly ripe, but not yet shed; others evidently spent fish.
This discovery was exceedingly interesting, since it may serve as a clew to the spawning habits of
other species, like the bluefish and menhaden, which have been supposed to spawn at a distance
from the shore, but have never been detected in the act. The spawning period doubtless extends
over a considerable space of time; some of the eggs from which the largest of the young were
hatched off Newport must have been laid as early as July. In September an adult, obtained at Hal-
ifax, Nova Scotia, had the ova well developed and nearly ready for deposition. It is not known
whether the eggs of the Silver Hake float or sink. Couch states that the spawning season of the
European Hake is from January to April, at which time the fish are caught near the bottom, and
lose the great voracity by which they are characterized at other times, so that multitudes are
caught in trawls, and a few with lines. When pilchards approach the shore the Hake follows
them, continuing in incalculable numbers throughout the winter. Mr. Couch continues:

" It rarely happens that pilchards are taken in the seine without many Hakes being inclosed
with them, and thus, when the net remains in the water for several days, they have an opportunity
of glutting themselves to their hearts' desire, which is to such an extent as to render themselves
helpless, and I have seen seventeen pilchards taken from the stomach of a Hake of ordinary size.
Their digestion is quick, so that they speedily get rid of their load, and fishermen observe that
when hooked the fish evacuates the contents of its stomach to facilitate its escape, so that when
hundreds are taken with a line in the midst of prey, not one will have anything in its stomach.
When near the surface, however, this ejection does not take place Bntil they are dragged on
board."

In Holland this fish is known as the Stokvisch, and in Germany as the Meerhecht or Little
Stockfisch; the first name signifies sea-pike, this name being the equivalent of the Latin generic
name.

USES. The Hake of Europe is always considered a coarse fish, and though great quantities
are annually salted and dried it is not held in very higli esteem. Many of the salted fish are sent
to Spain. They are said to be quite common on the northern shore of the Mediterranean, where
considerable traffic is carried on with them ; they are packed with aromatic plants and sent to the
towns remote from the coast.

Storer remarks : "Occasionally this species is brought to market, and when perfectly fresh is
a very sweet fish, boiled, broiled, or fried. It soon becomes soft and is preserved with difficulty.
As it does not appear to be known abroad, and the fishermen consequently have no call for it, it is



USES OF TFIK SILYKK IIAKK. 243

not cured. but is considered worthless. In the months of September and October the Whiting is
ii-i'd somewhat tor bait for the dogfish and answers a good purpose."

It is. ns a rule, hardly worth while to criticise statements in a work so generally unreliable as
J. V. C. Smit li's 1 1 istory of the Fishes of Massachusetts," published in 1843, but since he has been



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 43 of 146)