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them. When they are taken in nets set anywhere along the coast, at Provincetown, etc., a good
many people imagine that they are the remnant of the Mackerel which were there the year before,
and which have been imbedded in the mud; and when they taste these fish they fancy that
they taste mud. When the next school arrives there appear Mackerel of different sizes, which
take the hook. They are carried to Boston market and are sold fresh in their season. They are
not sold by weight, but are culled, and are denominated as follows : Large ones, second-size, " Tink-
ers," and " Blinks." When the large ones are worth twelve cents, the others may sell, second-size,
eight cents; Tinkers, four cents, and Blinks, one and a half cents. These prices may fluctuate
when there occurs a large proportion of one or more of the above-named kinds at the same time.
Any man who is well acquainted with them will make the same culling, as there seems to be a line
of demarkation between the different kinds which stands out prominently.

"Admitting this to be the fact, those that come as Blinks are from the spawn of the year
before, while those which are called '-Tinkers" are from the Blinks of the year previous, being the
two-year-old fish; and those that are called second-size are from the Tinkers of the year before;
when they grow up and mix with the bigger ones, I don't know how they live, or much about
them. This is my opinion about these matters. You will find that fishermen will tell you they
think that Mackerel are six or seven years in getting their growth."

Mackerel, when full grown, are from seventeen to eighteen inches in length; sometimes they
attain a larger size. In August, 1880, a school of Mackerel was taken in the vicinity of Plymouth ;
they weighed from three to three and a half pounds each, and were from nineteen to nineteen and
a half inches long. They were regarded as extraordinarily large, and a barrel of them were sent
to the Fishery Exhibition at Berlin as an illustration of the perfection to which the Mackerel
attains in this country. Although the size just mentioned is unusual at present, in past years
many thousands of barrels have been taken nearly, if not quite, as large. The size varies from
year to year, sometimes very few barrels which can be rated as No. 1's being found in our waters.




Weight of

Number of

Number to
a grain.


June 20 1764




' I 027

454 (Nil



June 211 1704



430, 84(1



June 18 17(J5


1 223i

516 681


si xi-: or TIIK MACKEREL. 299

A No. 1 Mackerel, according to the Massachusetts inspection laws, measures thirteen inches from
the tip of the snout to the crotch or fork of the caudal fin. The average length from year to year
for the whole coast is probably not far from twelve inches in length, and a weight of twelve to six-
teen ounces. The following quotations from writers of two centuries ago are interesting, since they
show that large Mackerel were known to the early colonists of New England :

"The mackerel, of which there is choicefull plenty all summer long; in the spring they are
ordinarily 18 inches long; afterwards there is none taken but what are smaller." 1

"The Makarels are the baite for the Basse, & these have been chased into the shallow waters,
where so many thousands have shott themselves a shore with the surle of the Sea that whole
hogges-heads have been taken np on the Sands; & for length they excell any of other parts: they
have bin measured 18. & 19. inches in length and seaven breadth : & are taken with a drayee, (as
boats use to pass to & froe at Sea on business,) in very greate quantities all along the Ooaste.

"The Fish is good, salted; for store against the winter, as well as fresh, & to be accounted a
good commodity." 1

ENEMIES OF THE MACKEREL. The gannot is one of the most destructive enemies of the
Mackerel. These birds are often seen so heavily weighted with these fish that they are unable
to rise on the approach of the vessel until they have disgorged from two to four good-sized Mackerel.
This is so common an occurrence that there are but few fishermen who have not witnessed it.

Porpoises and whales may also be included in the list of enemies of the Mackerel. It is by no
means an unusual sight on the fishing grounds to see hundreds of the former rushing and leaping
among schools of Mackerel, scattering them in every direction.

The shark known to fishermen as the " mackerel shark " is one of the principal enemies of the
Mackerel. I have often seen them chasing Mackerel, and, when jigging was practiced, it was a
common occurrence for sharks to drive off a school from alongside of a vessel.

Dogfish often hover around the outside of large schools of Mackerel, and doubtless feed on
them. Great difficulty is sometimes experienced in saving fish that have been inclosed in a purse-
seine, owing to the immense numbers of dogfish that gather around and, in their efforts to eat the
Mackerel, which they see through the meshes, bite off the twine, making large holes in the seine
through which the inclosed fish escape.

Among the other principal enemies of the Mackerel are the bluefish, mackerel shark, and the
cod. The appearance of a school of bluefish in waters crowded witli Mackerel is an almost sure
signal for their disappearance.

The young Mackerel are eaten by squids also. Professor Verrill has recorded the following
account of the maneuvers of the squid known to zoologists by the name Ommastrcphes illecebrosus :

" Messrs. S. I. Smith and Oscar Harger observed it at Provincetown, Massachusetts, among the
wharves, in large numbers, July 28, engaged in capturing and devouring the young Mackerel,
which were swimming about in ' schools,' and at that time were about four or five inches long. In
attacking the Mackerel, they would suddenly dart backward among the fish with the velocity of an
arrow and suddenly turn obliquely to the right or left and seize a fish, which was almost instantly
killed by a bite in the back of the neck with the sharp beaks. The bite was always made iii the
same place, cutting out a triangular piece of flesh, and was deep enough to penetrate to the spinal
cord. The attacks were not always successful, and were sometimes repeated a dozen times before
one of these active and wary fishes could be caught. Sometimes after making several unsuccessful
attempts one of the squids would suddenly drop to the bottom, and, resting upon the sand, would

'JO88ELYX, 1675.

New England's Fish, JOHN SMITH, 1622. United Slates Fish Commission Report, Part I, p. 153.


change its color to that of the sand so perfectly as to be almost invisible. In this way it would
wait until the fishes came back, and when they were swimming close to or over the ambuscade, the
squid, by a sudden dart, would be pretty sure to secure a fish. Ordinarily when swimming they
were thickly spotted with red and brown, but when darting among the Mackerel they appeared
translucent and pale. The Mackerel, however, seemed to have learned that the shallow water is
the safest for them and would hug the shore as closely as possible, so that in pursuing them many
of the squids became stranded and perished by hundreds, for when they once touch the shore they
begin to pump water from their siphons with great energy, and this usually forces them farther
and farther up the beach. At such times they often discharge their ink in large quantities. The
attacks on the young Mackerel were observed mostly at or near high water, for at other times the
Mackerel were seldom seen, though the squids were seen swimming about at all hours ; and these
attacks were observed both in the day and evening."

The dogfish is doubtless a dangerous foe to the Mackerel weakened by the act of spawning
and remaining near the bottom. An old fisherman has described to me with great animation how
greedily the dogfish devour the Mackerel which have become gilled in the nets, how they follow
them to the surface and linger about the vessel while the process of cleaning is going on, drinking
the blood of the fish as it flows from the scuppers.


HIND ON THE CAUSES OF IRREGULAR MOVEMENTS. In closing this chapter upon the
natural history of the Mackerel, it seems appropriate to quote from the writings of Professor Hind
some very important paragraphs in which he has attempted to interpret the irregular movements
of the mackerel schools in our waters, and to explain the causes of the alleged annual variation
of their numbers :

"What is the proper interpretation of the movements of the Mackerel from its first appear-
ance in the spring to its disappearance in the fall ? These movements vary with the geographical
position of local schools of this fish. On the coasts of the United States and Nova Scotia, its
annual movements resemble in all particulars those of the same species in European seas where
the schools have a free and unobstructed ocean in which to seek their prey.

"In the spring, at the end of April and May, the Atlantic schools of this fish which have
wintered off the coasts approach the land iu separate bodies, full of spawn and poor, coming direct
from winter homes where they have remained in a torpid condition, partially buried in sand or
mud. After spawning, the different schools feed for a short time on the fry of fish, and as the
temperature rises they.go out to sea in search of free-swimming crustaceans and larval forms of
food according as they are distributed by wind and tide.

"They pursue this food against the current or tide. They often feed during the night, because
at that period great numbers of free-swimming larval forms approach the surface. This is one
reason why mackerel schools are frequently missed by fishermen, and areas supposed to be deserted
may really abound with this fish, which would be discovered by sink-net fishing. The currents
are constantly changing with the seasons under the influence of temperature and prevailing winds,
hence the course of direction and depth of the food is constantly changing also.

"Sometimes it is carried far off from the land, at other times towards it, and the mackerel
schools following the food move first in one direction, then in another, and range from close inshore
to fifty miles and more seawards, and often, doubtless, at a considerable depth below the surface.

"The general direction of these movements, when plotted on paper, would be a series of irregu-


lar circles or elongated ellipses, the range of each school or group of schools being opposite and
often adjacent to that part of the coast where they spawn.

"As the fall approaches, owing to the diminution in the supply of their floating food out at
sea, they come more inland.

"All the free-swimming larval forms of most species of shrimps, crabs, lobsters, sea-urchins,
star-fish, sea-worms, &c., have disappeared in the open sea, after passing through their final trans-
formation. But near the shore there are great numbers of other forms of life, which are developed
later in tin- \r;ir. Coining inshore to feed on these on the Atlantic coast, the Mackerel are found
by American fishermen later and later on their return voyage to the southwest, which gives rise to
tin- impression that they are following the schools, when they are only meeting with fresh schools
approaching the shore from their feeding grounds. Similar movements occur on the Atlantic coast
of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. As winter approaches, beginning at Cape Breton in November,
the different schools retire to their winter homes off the coast in deep water later and later from
north to south.

"In the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where land is, as it were, on all sides, the local schools come
from their winter haunts to the banks and beaches of the Magdalens, of Prince Edward Island, in
the Bay Chaleur, etc., to spawn about the first week in June. They retire after spawning to deep
water, and meet the incoming sand-launce. They follow the sand-lauuce inshore or on to banks,
and for some weeks feed on these fish. When the saud-launce again retires to deep water, the
season of the small crustaceans has arrived, and these by tidal action, already described, and
winds, are concentrated near the coast lines of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the north
and south shore of the estuary and gulf of Saint Lawrence, and the shores of Cape Breton. On
all these coasts the effect of the single and confluent tides, dragging along the coast line and
retarded by it, is to produce eddies, where the free-swimming food concentrates. The course of
direction of the different schools during the summer is thus dependent upon winds and tides, and
their movements would, if correctly plotted, resemble long narrow ellipses adjacent to the coast,
which are doubtless many times repeated.

"At the approach of winter the different schools seek their winter quarters opposite and near
to the places where they spawned in the preceding spring, as is the case of the schools on the
Atlantic coasts. In these particulars their movements resemble those of different species of fish
which feed and move in great schools in directions outlined by circles or ellipses throughout the
period during which they are at the surface. 1

'It is a fact well known to all experienced mackerel fishermen that during the month of May and the early part
of June large bodies of Mackerel pass along the shores of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton from west to east, and while
many schools move through the waters of Chodubucto Bay and the Straits of Canso to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence,
another body passes in around the east end of Cape Breton Island, their destination being the same as those fish
taking the shorter route. No better evidence of this migratory habit can be deduced than the fact that at this season
of the year the fishermen along the Nova Scot ian coast and about the Strait of Canso are busily employed in catching
Mackerel both in gill- nets and in drag-seines. On some occasions when the season has been exceptionally favorable
tin- amount of Mackerel so taken has often been very great. This movement of the Mackerel is so regular and so
well-defined that the fishermen rarely fail to tell within a few days, or perhaps even a few hours, ef the time when
they will appear on certain portions of the coast. The fall migrations aro quite as regular. As the season advances
and the temperature of the water decreases, the Mackerel, instead of simply changing their position into deeper water
near their summer habitat, as has been stated by Professor Hind, move in vast bodies towards the southern part of
the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, frequently striking in a succession of waves, as it were, on the northern shores of Cape
Breton Island, where, deflected from their southern course, they divide into two streams or branches, one pausing
through the Strait of Canso, and the other out round the north cape of the island, and by its eastern and southern
sides, and so on up along the south coast of Nova Scotia. The Mackerel which are found about the Magdalene
Islands during the summer and early autumn apparently move in a nearly direct line towards Hie northeast end of
Cape Breton Island, when they begin their fall migration. I have often li:id occasion to notice, in a practical way,
these movements, the knowledge of which is of vital importance to the li>licrineu and of considerable interest to the


" Sacs has shown that this form of movement is taken by the herring on the Norwegian coast. 1

"The Mackerel are pursued by cod and hake, and these fish gather where offal is thrown
over from vessels on which the Mackerel are cleaned. As a natural consequence the Mackerel
avoid the sea areas where their enemies are congregated, and fishermen attribute the desertion of
the mackerel ground directly to the throwing of oft'al overboard. Cod, and probably hake, follow
up the scent of offal or food of any description carried by currents with remarkable facility, as
may be witnessed during the process of jigging for cod in calm and clear waters. On looking over
the side of a boat, with a man engaged in jigging at the bow or stern, as soon as a fish is wounded
merely by the jigger and blood flows from the wound, the creature may be seen to dart here and
there in pain. The neighboring fish of the cod tribe are attracted by the scent and follow the
blood 'tracks' against the current, hunting their wounded comrade to the death. A fish coining
across the stream of scent immediately follows it up, and it is thus that fish offal or bait thrown
overboard in the open sea, or some distance from shore, gathers the fish on the course of the cur-
rent. In harbors and confined or laud-locked bays, where there is no constant strong current to
carr^ off the results of decomposition, and where the sea-scavengers are not sufficiently numerous
to consume it, the effect cannot fail to be extremely prejudicial to young fry and to fish-spawn. 2

"The effect of temperature on the local movements of the Mackerel may be recognized in the
process employed by fishermen to 'raise' Mackerel by toll bait, and luring them seawards. The
Mackerel follow the bait for some distance from shore, where suddenly they cease to bite and dis-
appear. They probably find long exposure to the warm temperature of the surface waters unsuited
to their habits, and sink to a cooler zone.

" Hence the reason why a ' mackerel breeze,' mixing the heated surface water with the cooler
understratum, is favorable to prolonged mackerel fishing with bait. The mixing produced by
agitation cools the surface and permits the fish to feed for a lengthened period.'"

"The Mackerel, like the herring and the cod, seeks cold water for its spawning grounds
wherever the Labrador current exercises its influence. Between Block Island and No Man's

naturalist. On one occasion, in the fall of 1867, an immense body of Mackerel was found along the north shore of
Cape Breton, and on the last day that the fish were seen the schools came near the surface of the water, and I feel safe
in saying, from actual observation, that they moved at a rate of no less than three or four miles r.er hour in the direc-
tion of the north capo of the island. On another occasion, a body of Mackerel that was found near Amherst Island
(one of the Magdalenes) one day, were met with the following morning about thirty miles distant from the first
locality, in the direction of the north capo of Cape Breton Island, towards which they were moving at the rate of one
or two miles an hour. I have myself seen schools of Mackerel off the Nova Scotian coast, in the fall, moving quite
rapidly in a westerly direction, but all efforts to catch them with a hook failed, since they seemed to pay no regard
whatever to toll bait. All of my own observations, and those of the Nova Scotian fishermen with whom I have been
brought in contact, lead me to believe that Mackerel will not bite the hook to any extent during their fall migrations
along the southern coasts of Nova Scotia. This is all the more remarkable since they seem to take the hook very
eagerly up to the last moment of their stay on their feeding grounds in the gulf. The spring and fall migrations of the
Mackerel on our own coast are carried on with equal regularity and precision. On more than one occasion, in autumn,
I have followed these fish day after day in their progress to the south and west along the shores of Maine and Massa-
chusetts. On one occasion, in the fall of 1862, I caught Mackerel nearly down to the fishing rip on the Nautucket
Hboals. These fish were moving rapidly southward, and the schools could be kept alongside of the vessel only a short
time, and each trial liad to be made two or three miles farther south than the previous one. At another time, in the
fall of 1870, the Mackerel moved in large schools very rapidly from Ipswich Bay across in the direction of Cape Cod.
The schools were at the surface of the water, and it is not an exaggeration to say that their speed was not less than
three or four miles an hour. Each body of fish was separated from the others, perhaps many hundred fathoms, but
all seemed to bo impelled by the same motive, and were moving steadily in the same direction. These fish would bite
eagerly at the hook for a few minutes at a time, but so strong was their instinct of migration that it was impossible
to detain them only a short time in their onward movement. J. W. COLLINS.

1 See chart by Dr. G. O. SARS, in his report for 1874.

'Fisheries of British North America, pp. 20,21.

'Fisheries of British North America.


Land, where the spawning grounds on the United States coast south of Cape Cod are alleged to
i-\isi, a thin wedgo of tin- Labrador current stretches far into Long Island Sound.

"In Massachusetts Bay, whore a mackerel spawning ground also exists, as also in the vicinity
of Stellwagen Hank, tin- temperature when observed by Dr. Packard in September ranged from
41 to 45, and the fauna resembled the cold-water species on each side of Jefi'ney's Ledge. On
('corse's Shoals the marine life is said by Verrill to be the same us that found in the deeper
muddy parts of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and indicates a temperature not above 40, and prob-
ably considerably lower. Bradelle Bank, according to Mr. Whiteaves, presents the phenomenon of
a small stony patch tenanted by an assemblage of marine animals which usually inhabits very
cold water, and are almost entirely surrounded by another series, which are for the most part
prevalent where the bottom is warmer and more affected by surface conditions of temperature.

"Wherever the areas are situated where young Mackerel are found in the summer we find
near at hand a cold-water zone, either existing as a part of the Labrador current at the surface or
brought up from greater depths by banks and shoals. On the coast of Prince Edward Island, and
in the gulf generally, the cold water lies frequently near the shore, because the diurnal tides mix
the strata warmed during the daytime with the cold underlying strata. In the estuary of the
Saint Lawrence Dr. Kelly found the surface temperature 57 F. on the 9th July, but three feet
below the surface it was 44, having in that short vertical space sunk 13; at twenty-four feet it
was 40, or 17 below the surface temperature."


The Chub Mackerel, or, as it is also called, the "Thimble-eye," "Big-eyed Mackerel," or "Bull
Mackerel," closely resembles in general appearance the common Mackerel, from which it is distin-
guished chiefly by the presence of an air-bladder, and also by the occurrence of a row of indistinct
circular spots upon the sides below the lateral line. This is the fish which is called " Spanish
Mackerel " in England, and the name was brought to us by .the early English fishermen of New
England. It has been found at Pensacola and Charleston, as well as in New England. There is
another fish closely related if not identical with 8. colias, which Professor Jordan found to be
abundant in California, which corresponds to the S. pneumatophoru-s of the Mediterranean, 1 and
has been described from the Pacific as S. diego. Professor Jordan considers this to be the 8. grex
of various authors, but writes that he is not yet prepared to accept as final the judgment of
Steiudachuer and Vaillaut that it is the young of S. colias. The lower half of its sides is silvery
and without any gray spots, such as are conspicuous in S. colias. Jordan has specimens of the
unspotted form much larger than his smallest specimens of the true S. colias.

The history of the Chub Mackerel on our coast is a peculiar one. At the beginning of the
present century it was exceedingly abundant all along the coast of New England and New York.
M iii-lii 11. writing in 1814, remarked of it:

"Comes occasionally in prodigious numbers to the coast of New York in autumn. This was
memorably the caSe in 1781 and 1813, when the bays, creeks, and coves were literally alive with
them, and the markets full of them."

DeKay remarks: "In the early part of November, 1828, they were also very abundant, and
many persons were poisoned by eating them."

Capt. Epes W. Merchant, of Gloucester, a veteran fishing skipper, who has been familiar
with the fisheries of Massachusetts Bay for the past seventy years, told me that the Thimble-eye

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 53 of 146)