G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

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

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oast, the catch, though extensive at certain points, must be insignificant in comparison with the
immense number of individuals in the water. As has been shown, however, there is good reason
for believing that the numbers have varied from time to time in the past, and it may be that
natural causes, of which we are still ignorant, and over which we may have no control, may cause
a like variation in the future."

In 1879 the writer, in preparing an essay upon this fish, remarked : " Mitchill, when he described
the Scomber maculatus, sixty-five years ago, summed up what he knew of its habits in a single sen-
tence: 'Comes in July,' and the studies of later naturalists have added but little to this terse story."

Since that time the studies of Mr. Earll and Mr. Stearns have added so much to our knowledge
of the life and history of this fish that it may be said that its habits are now about as well under
stood as those of any other species on our coast. Instead of weaving the facts which have lately
been recorded into a compact narrative, the statements of different observers will be given as
nearly as possible in their own words.

Mr. Earll thus discusses its movements along the Southern Atlantic coast:

"Spanish Mackerel are gregarious in their habits. They are sometimes seen in enormous
schools, covering several square miles of ocean surface. A single school seen off Long Island a
few years ago was estimated to contain several million individuals. The density of these schools,
however, is very different from that of the schools of menhaden on which they feed. The latter
are usually found in compact masses, often many feet in thickness ; while the former are consider-
ably scattered, a large percentage of them being at or near the surface of the water.

"The fish make annual excursions to the coast of the United States in summer; starting from
their home in the warmer waters of the South, or, perhaps, from the deeper waters along the inner
edge of the Gulf Stream, in the early spring, and proceeding northward, or landward, as the seasou
advances. After remaining for a few weeks, or months at most, they again move southward, or
seaward, and at the approach of cold weather entirely disappear. They seem to prefer water
ranging from 70 to 80 Fahrenheit, and seldom enter that which is colder than 65.

"Off Charleston, South Carolina, the fish are first seen about the last of March, and late in
April they enter the sounds of the North Carolina coast. By the 20th of May the vanguard
reaches the Chesapeake, and others follow in rapid succession, so that by the middle of June the
capture of Mackerel constitutes the principal occupation of the fishermen. Off Sandy Hook the
first individuals are not seen till late iu July, 1 and from that time they continually increase in
numbers till the middle, or even the last, of August. Their time of arrival at Narragausett Bay
is about the same as that for Sandy Hook. In this northern region they remain till the middle of

'The Canadian fishery report for 1880 contains the following notice of thu capture of a Spanish Macke:el at
Prince Edward's Island, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which (if there is uo mistake in the identification) extends
by several hundred miles the range of the species. The re;iort Hays: "An <iudoul>t-r<l specineu ot the Spanish
Mackerel, male, Cybium maculatum of ihe United States, was caught by hook at New London, Queen's County, on
the 7th of September It is rare to find this tish iu so high a latitude." Supplement No. 2 to the Eleventh Annual
Kisportof the Minister of Marine and Fisheries for the year IHdO, p. iW9.

With all deference to the author of this report, I am unwilling without further evidence to accept this identifica-
i as accurate. Q. B. U.



SPANISH MACKEREL IN THE SOUTH. 311

September, after which the number gradually diminishes, and by the first of October the last
individuals have, disappeared. A little later they leave the Chesapeake, and few are seen on the
Carolina coast after the 1st of November.

"Their summer movements are doubtless affected to a considerable extent by the movements
of the nn-iihadeii and oilier small tishes on which they feed, as they are usually most plenty in the
localities where these fish are found. When feeding they remain constantly among these fish,
exhibiting great activity in the capture of their prey, rushing through the water with great speed,
and often leaping into the air in long and graceful curves. This peculiar leap is characteristic of
the specii-s, and by it the fishermen arc enabled to distinguish the Mackerel from their allies, the
bluefish, that, after jumping from the water, fall back upon its surface with a splash, instead of
cutting it, as is the case with the Mackerel.

"During the spawning season the Mackerel enter the warmer and shoaler water of the bays,
the individuals at this time being more generally disturbed and the schools often considerably
scattered. On entering the Chesapeake, they remain about 'The Capes' for some time, but as
the season advances, according to Mr. Sterling, of Crisfield, Maryland, they start for the upper
waters, and distribute themselves over the large spawning grounds of the region. Some weeks
later they reassemble, and proceed dov/n and out of the bay on the way to their winter quarters.

" In moving along the coast the Mackerel seem to avoid fresh or even brackish water, and tor
this reason are seldom taken near the month of the larger rivers. This habit is thought to
account for their greater abundance on the eastern than on the western side of the Chesapeake.
Along the last-named shore the saltness of the water is considerably affected by the enormous
quantity of fresh water brought down by the large rivers of the State, while no rivers of impor-
tance occur along the eastern shore, and the water is therefore nearly as salt as the ocean.

" During its stay on our coast, the Spanish Mackerel may properly be styled a surface fish.
It seldom descends to any great depth, but rather remains at or near the surface, and may often
be seen leaping into the air or sporting at the top of the water. On a calm, bright day the sur-
face of the ocean is sometimes broken for miles together by the movements of a large school of
these fish." .

Concerning its migrations in the Gulf Stearns writes: "The Spanish Mackerel is extremely
abundant on the West Florida coast. They are first seen in March or April, four or five miles from
land, moving along swiftly towards the westward, or playing at the surface with no apparent aim or
course of movement. The time of their arrival is not certainly known, but they are quite sure to
appear some time between the first of March and the last of April. One season, 1877, schools were
seen off the coast in February, and the 'run' continued as late that year as usual. It is not an
unusual habit tor these early schools to remain at sea several weeks before approaching the land.
During tlie latter part of April the first schools are seen coming into the Pensacola Bay, and from
this time on through the summer they are continually passing in. I do not think the tide influences
their movements, as far as entering or leaving the harbor is concerned, for I have seen them swim-
ming against and with the tide. They move at the surface of the water, frequently jumping from
it and splashing conspicuously. By this commotion are attracted many sea-birds, which learn that
there is food for them in the shape of fragments of small fishes ujwii which the Mackerel prey.
The individuals that make up the schools vary considerably in size ; as a rule, the first to arrive
are the largest fish, and measure from twenty to twenty-four inches, while those coming later
measure only about fourteen or fifteen inches. Specimens of thirty six and forty inches are some-
times caught by the use of trolling-liues, but these large fish are rarely found in the schools. Their
abundance varies with different years, although not to so great an extent as some other migratory



312 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

species. The first few weeks they spend in the bays. They continue playing at the surface, prey-
ing on such schools of small fish or fry as may be present, but at the commencement of July they
are less frequently seen, and after another space of two or three weeks are not seen at all, uulcss
caught by trolling-lines at sea, or wh^n a solitary individual leaps from the water in some remote
place. There is a great difference in the movements of the fish which are ready to spawii and
those which have finished spawning: the former keep away from the shore, playing at the surface
with no apparent aim, while the latter swim in shoal water near the shore, underneath the sur-
face, shaping their course with all possible directness for the harbor mouth. The school, as it
moves along, resembles a compact mass of reddish-brown sea-weed. Santa Rosa Island seems to
possess attractive features for the Spanish Mackerel, for they are very abundant there. This is a
convenient station from which to watch their movements, on account of its narrowness and length.
In August, September, and October small schools of Mackerel are seen following the shore aloug
to the sea, and on reaching it they are lost to view in deep water. Many, probably, follow the
deep water out of the harbor and are not seen at all, but enough are under observation to signify
when they are 'running' and when the majority are gone."

As has already been remarked, the Spanish Mackerel is but rarely seen on the east coast of
Florida, though abundant in the Gulf of Mexico. I have never seen one in this-region, though the
fishermen assure me that a few have been caught, and that small ones are occasionally taken on
the bar at the mouth of the Saint John's River. Melton & Co., of Jacksonville, received a quantity
from Cedar Keys in 1876, and they were exposed for sale in the city markets, where, however, they
met with no purchasers. In the Indian River region there is a fish called there the Spanish
Mackerel ; it perhaps is the Spanish Mackerel, or one of the allied species.

Holbrook wrote in 1860: "But little is known of the habits of this fish; it seems, however,
more solitary than the fishes of this family generally are, as it seldom happens that more than four
or five are taken at the same time. It appears on the coast of Carolina in April and May, but is
rarely seen during the summer months. It feeds on various species of small fish."

Dr. Yarrow wrote in 1873 of this species, as observed in the vicinity of Fort Macon, North
Carolina: "They are abundant in the latter part of August and September, and are frequently found
with the bluefish. A favorite locality is near the southern point of Shackelford Banks, where it is
taken with nets and by hook; a great many are also taken near Cape Lookout in September in
gill-nets. Is highly esteemed as food, but is not often eaten fresh, being generally salted. Size
from ten to thirty inches."

Mr. A. N. Simpson stated in 1874 that the species was caught in small quantities in the shoals
near Cape Hatteras, though seldom seen in the sounds.

Dr. Wilkins, of Hunger's Wharf, observed in 1880 that the average weight in that vicinity is from
two to three pounds. They arrive about the first of June, and leave about the first of September.
Twenty-five years ago it was a very rare occurrence to catch a Mackerel in the Chesapeake Bay,
but now they are very plenty.

Mr. C. R. Moore, of Johnsontown, Virginia, wrote in 1874: "Spanish Mackerel come in Septem-
ber and October and stay until frost. They are most numerous about the mouth of the York River,
where a large number are caught in seines and salted. They bring about $40 a barrel."

Professor Bairil, who was one of the first to speak of the abundance of this species and to
testify to its excellent qualities, wrote in 1854: "But two specimens were taken during my stay at
Beasley's Point, and the species is scarcely known to the fishermen. It was more abundant at
Greenport, Long Island; in the Peconic Bay, towards Riverhead, four hundred were caught at one
haul of the seine. The flesh is excellent, having much the flavor of true Mackerel, only a little



USES OF THE SPANISH MACKEREL. :5i:5

richer and softer. The fish briug a high price in the New York market, where it has beeu but
recently sold at from fifty cents to oue dollar a pound, the prices varying with the season. It has
been more abundant off our coast than ever before, and in the lower part of the Potomac numbers
have beeu taken and salted down. They may frequently be found in this state in the Washington
market, and readily recognized by the round yellow spots on the sides, and also by the size, which
is so much larger than that of the common Mackerel."

DeKay, in 1842, mentioned that he had seen this species, taken in the seine, in the New York
market, in August and September, nearly two feet long, but that they were not common.

llEPUODUTiON. The breeding habits of this fish were never understood until the spring of
1880, when, to everybody's astonishment, it was found by Mr. Earll that oue of the principal
spawning grounds was in the Chesapeake Bay.

1 quote in full the remarks of Mr. Earll upon their reproductive habits:

"Prior to 1880, nothing was definitely known regarding the spawning habits of the Spanish
Mackerel. Neither the time nor place of spawning had been discovered. Mr. Scott had surmised
that they spawned in the waters of our Atlantic States in the spring, as small ones which he sup-
]K)sed to be the young of the previous year were occasionally seen in June. 1 Professor Goode, in
his 'Game Fishes,' had ventured the assertion that they probably spawned in midwinter, in the
Gulf of Mexico and about the West Indies. These were, as far as we know, the only writers that
had referred to the spawning habits of the Mackerel. During an extended tour of the Atlantic
coast, in company with Col. Marshall McDonald, the writer had an excellent opportunity for exam-
ining the species in different localities, and succeeded in proving that the theory advanced by Mr.
Scott was the more nearly correct, and that the Spanish Mackerel spawn along many portions of
the Atlantic coast in midsummer. The investigation of the Southern fisheries began in Florida
in January, 1880, and when the fisheries in that region had been sufficiently studied, we proceeded
northward, visiting every important fishing station along the coast of Georgia and the Caroliuas,
reaching the Chesapeake early in May. After spending some time at Norfolk, and at the fishing
shore of Capt W. E. Taylor, at Willoughby, we accepted the invitation of Mr. O. E. Maltby to
visit his fishing station at New Point, forty miles up the bay. Here we spent a number of days
in examining the spawning condition of the different species taken in the pound-nets of the locality,
and soon discovered that many of the male Mackerel were nearly ripe, while the eggs in the ovaries
of some of the females were well developed. A little later we succeeded in finding thoroughly
ripe males and one or two females from which ripe eggs could be taken. Appreciating the impor
tance of this discovery, we continued our investigation, and soon satisfied ourselves that the
spawning time was near at hand, as the eggs and milt in all of the specimens examined were well
advanced. Later, the writer visited the Eastern Shore of Virginia including the counties of
Accomack and Northampton, and found ripe eggs and milt in a large number of individuals.
Further investigation proved that the spawning season, as in many migratory species, varied with
the locality, being earliest on the Southern coast, and latest about Long Island. The temperature
of the water seems to have a decided effect upon the spawning time of the Mickerel, and the
ovaries and spermaries do not develop very rapidly until it has risen to upwards of 70 Fahrenheit.
The time of spawning for the Carolinas begins in April, while the season at Long Island commences
by the 20th of August, and continues till the latter part of September. On the arrival of the
species in the Chesapeake, in May, a few of the males are nearly ripe, and the ovaries of the females

'The following is the language of Mr. Scott on this point: "Both the Spanish Mackerel and Cero are spring-
spawning fishes, and no doubt spawn in our bays, for there are occasionally small ones taken by the anglers in June,
before the largu ones visit our shores, and I argue, therefore, that the small half-pounders are of last year's hatch."-
Angliu;; in American Waters.



314 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

are very much enlarged. By the 1st of June occasional ripe fish are seen. The spawning season
proper begins about two weeks later, and continues during the greater part of the summer. The
fisliermen report many of the Mackerel to be full-roed when they reach the Sandy Hook region,
and claim that t>y the last of August the eggs begin to separate and run from the female. From
this date to the close of the season numerous individuals are taken from which eggs or milt will
run freely.

"The limits of the spawning grounds have not yet been definitely ascertained, though enough
has been learned to show that the Mackerel spawn at numerous points between Narragansett
Bay and South Carolina, and it seems probable that when a thorough investigation is made the
southern limits will be found to extend as far as Mississippi, and perhaps to Texas. It is certain
that they spawn in some of the sounds of the Carolinas, in Chesapeake Bay, off Sandy Hook, and
along the southern shores of Long Island; the Chesapeake and Sandy Hook regions being visited
by immense numbers of Mackerel for this purpose.

"As has been said, the spawning season for our coast continues throughout the entire summer,
and, in any particular locality, it lasts from six to upwards of ten weeks. The time of spawning
for individuals of the same school varies considerably, the ovaries of some of the fish being fully
mature while those of others are still quite green. Again, a single individual is a number of weeks
in depositing its eggs, as shown by the fact that when the first are excluded a large percentage are
still small and immature. All of the eggs in the ovaries of a shad, salmon, or whitefish develop
uniformly, and the whole number are deposited at about the same time, so that the spawning
season for the individual lasts only a few days at most. Up to the winter of 1878-'79 it had been
supposed that all fishes were alike in this particular; but our study of the cod at that time proved
that the individuals of that species were several months in depositing their eggs, and the same is
found to be true, within smaller limits, of the Spanish Mackerel.

"The number of eggs varies with the size of the parent fish, that for a one-pound Mackerel
being estimated at 300,000, while that for a six-pound fish can scarcely be less than 1,500,000. To
ascertain definitely the number for the average fish, an immature female, weighing one pound and
thirteen ounces, and measuring eighteen and a half inches, was selected, and the number of eggs
was carefully computed. The ovaries, when placed on accurately adjusted balances, were found
to weigh 34.275 grams. These were then opened, and 100 milligrams, selected from different por-
tions of l he roe-bags, so that all sizes might be represented, were weighed out. When counted
this mass was found to contain 1,5 .6 eggs. From these data it was found that the ovaries of the
fish should contain 526,464 eggs. This number would be too great, as no allowance was made for
the weight of the ovary walls; allowing for these, the number would be not far from 525,000. It
is thus seen that the species is more prolific than the salmon, shad, or whitefish, though it is
much less so than many of the gadoids, a seventy-five-pound codfish yielding fully 9,000,000.

"The eggs of the Spanish Mackerel are smaller than those of any other species with which we
are familiar. During the early part of the season they can scarcely be distinguished by the unaided
eye, and although they gradually increase in size, when fully ripe they have a diameter varying '
somewhat with the size of the parent and the condition of the eggs when pressed from the ovaries
of only one twenty-second to one twenty -eighth of an inch. Most of those secured by us were of
the last named size, and, taking these as a basis, it will be seen that a cubic inch would contain
21,952 eggs, and that 1,267,728 could be placed in a quart cup.

"After impregnation the eggs have a specific gravity between that of fresh and salt water, as
shown by the fact that they sink in one and float in the other. When thrown from the parent
they rise to the surface and are driven hither and thither by the winds ind tides during the earlier
period of development. Many are lost from lack of fertilization, others are destroyed by the
animals of the water, and considerable quantities are doubtless driven upon the shore during



i:i:PKODUCTION OF THE SPANISH MACKEREL. 315

stormy weather, where they soon perish. When first hatched the little Mackerel is very small and
transparent, its length .-.carcely excecdin;j one tenth of an inch, while its diameter, eveu with the
comparatively large yelk-sac, is so small as to allow it to pass through wire-cloth having thirty two
wires to the inch. For several hours after hatching it remains comparatively quiet ut the
surface in an almost helpless condition, a small oil globule attached to the yelk-sac keeping it
from sinking and causing it to lie belly uppermost. Later the umbilical sac with its oil globule is
gradually absorbed, and the little fish begins to manifest greater activity, and by vigorous and spas-
modic efforts penetrates to the depth of an inch or so below the surface. In n few hours it finds
little or no difficulty in swimming at various depths, and even lies at the bottom of the vessel in
which it is confined, darting off with surprising rapidity when disturbed.

" Little is known of the rate of growth. We know of but two instances where small Mackerel
have been caught or even seen along our shores. The first is that mentioned by Mr. Scott, in
the passage already quoted, of half-pound fish having been taken off the Long Island coast
in June. A second instance was made known to us by Mr. Robert Bosnian 1 , superintendent of
a fishing station at New Point, Virginia, who, in a letter dated Norfolk, Virginia, September 25,
1880, says: 'I have recently noticed large numbers of young Spanish Mackerel, varying from four
to six inches in length.' Assuming that the fish referred to were the young of the Spanish
Mackerel, there still remains a difficulty in determining the rate of growth. Some species grow
very rapidly, reaching the last-named dimensions in a few months, while others develop more
slowly and would not attain a weight of half a pound for several years. From our limited knowl-
edge of the growth of other species we would suppose that the fish mentioned by Mr. Bosmau as
being four to six inches long in September were the fry of the previous year, and were therefore
about fourteen months old, while the half pounders mentioned by Mr. Scott were probably nearly
two years old."

The observations of Mr. Stearns, recorded also in 1880, are exceedingly interesting as confirming
and supplementing those of Mr. Earll:

"When the Spanish Mackerel first appear, late in March and early in April, they contain
spawn in the half-developed state. By July this has become quite full, and it is believed by the
most intelligent fishermen that when they disappear from sight at that time they do so for the
purpose of spawning, and that the spawning-grounds are in the quiet bayous and lagoons, the
places where the old fish are last seen. These views of the fishermen are partly conjectural, and
at first I did not agree with them, but the more I observed the movements of the fish the more
plausible seemed the fishermen's views. The following facts have led me to adopt them: (1)
The Spanish Mackerel arrive in the spring with spawn and milt and go away without them. (2)
They disappear into out-of-the-way places with nearly ripe spawn, and in a short time reappear
in or about the same places without it. The operation of spawning leaves them somewhat emaci-
ated. They do not, of course, spawn all at one time, and it is not unfrequent that fish with spawn
and those which have deposited it are caught by a fishing-crew on the same day."

The Spanish Mackerel sometimes attains the weight of eight or nine pounds, though it rarely



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 55 of 146)