G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

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abundant fish, as many as four thousand being caught at one lift of the pound. The average size is about three
pounds. They come about the first of June and leave early in October.



Midi; ATION8 OF TIIF. HI,! KF1SII. 435

tW-.v arc not taken with the hook alwnt Beaufort until about the 1st of July. They do not bite,
however, in Vineyard Sound until from th- 10th to the 15th of .June, when they nppcar on the
surface, anil are caught in large numbers in the usual manner."

In the lirst week of May. 1S7S, about a thousand liluefisli, weighing four pound* each, were
cauglit oil' Long Island at Canarsie and West IIani])ton. This is about two months earlier than is
usual for them to be taken in any considerable numbers.

'' PKKIODICITY. Great interest attaches to this fish in consequence of the changes in its
abundance, and even its actual occurrence on our coast, within the historic period. The precise
nature and extent of the variation has not been established, nor whether it extended along the
entire const or not. Its earliest mention for our waters is in the work of Josselyn ('New England
Karities Displayed,' KiTli), where, on page 9C, he mentions the 'blew-Hsh, or horse,' as being
common in New England (his residence was on the New Hampshire coast, or near by in Maine,)
and 'esteemed the best of sort of fish next to rock-cod.' He says: 'It is usually as big as the
Salmon, and a better meat by far.' lie also, on page 24, catalogues two kinds of 'Blew fish' or
'Hound fish'; the 'Speckeled Iloumlflsh' and the 'Blew Houudfish, called Ilorseflsh.' There
appears to be no species to which this reference could apply excepting the subject of our present
article, this being the opinion of Mr. J. Hammond Trumbull, who has devoted much research to
determining the modern equivalents of ancient Indian names of animals, and to whom I am
indebted for the hint. Mr. Trumbull also remarks that in a manuscript vocabulary obtained by
President Stiles, in 1762, from a Pequod Indian at Groton, Connecticut, there is mentioned the
' Aquaiindunt or Blue-fish,' clearly the same as what now bears that name, which shows that this
ti-li was found in Fisher's Island Sound in 1762.

"Again, according to Zaccheus Macy, 1 the Bltiefish were very abundant about Nantucket
from the first settlement of the English on the island, in 1659, to 1703, and were taken in immense
numbers from the 1st of June to the middle of September. They all disappeared, however, in
1764, a period of great mortality among the Indians of that island. It has been suggested that
the disease which attacked the Indians may have been in consequence of an epidemic in the fish
upon which they fed, or else that it invaded both fish and Indians simultaneously, resulting in
almost their entire extermination."

"According to Dr. Mitchill, this flsh was entirely unknown about New York prior to 1810;
but they began to be taken in small numbers about the wharves in 1817, and were abundant in
1825. Immense numbers were caught at the Highlands in 1841. The doctor remarks, as has been
done repeatedly by others, that as the Bluefish increased, the squeteague or weak fish diminished
in about the same ratio.

"According to Mr. Smith, of Newport (Rhode Island), his father used to catch Bluefiish some
time about the year 1800, when they were very abundant and of large size, weighing from sixteen
to eighteen pounds.

"Capt. Francis Pease, of Edgartown, also testified that his father spoke of large Bluefish at
the end of the preceding century, some of them weighing forty pounds. This leaves an interval
between 1764 and toward the end of the century in which no mention is made of the Bluefish, and
which may probably indicate its absence, as during that time there were many works published

'Collections Massachusetts Historical Society for 1794, iii, 1810.

From the first coming of the English to Nantnckot (1659) a large fal-flsh, called the bine-fish, thiity of which
would fill a barrel, was caught in great plenty all round the island from the 1st of the sixth monih ( June) till tlie
middle of tin; ninth month (September). But it is remarkable that in the year 1764 . . . they all di.-u|t}M-ared,
and that none have ever been taken since. This has been a great loss to us." Ibid., 1792, p. 159. Zaccheus Macy's
Account of Nantucket."



436 NATURAL HISTORY OP AQUATIC ANIMALS.

relating to the local history and domestic economy of New England, and which would doubtless
have taken note of so conspicuous a fish had it been present.

"Whether they existed uninterruptedly during the century intervening between Josselyn's
time, 1672 (or even 1659, according to Macy), and 1764, 1 am at present unable to say. According
to Captain Pease, they were known about Edgartown at the end of the last century. 1 As already
stated. Dr. Mitchill speaks of their first making their appearance about New York in 1810. They
are noted as having been seen in Vineyard Sound again as early as 1820. It would therefore appear
that they were in such small numbers about New York in 1810 that the young only were noticed
nocking about the wharves, and that in ten years they were observed as far east as Nantucket,
where the specimens seen from 1824 to 1826 were very small, not over four inches. The next year
they measured seven, and the third year ten inches, according to the testimony of one witness,
although this does not represent, in all probability, the rate of growth.

" According to Captain Burgess, of Monument, Massachusetts, they were caught about Nan-
tncket in 1825, and were very abundant in 1830. Dr. Storer states the first Bluefish recorded
as having been noticed in the present century north of Cape Cod was captured on the 25th of
October, 1837. Captain Atwood remarks that in 1838 he saw Bluefish for the first time about
Provincetown. These were very small, the largest weighing only two pounds. In a few years,
however, they became larger and more numerous, and finally increased to such an extent as to
exercise a very marked influence upon the fisheries. According to the captain (Proceedings of
Boston Society of Natural History, 1863, p. 189), they arrive in Massachusetts Bay in a body,
coming at once, so as to almost fill the harbor at Provincetown. In one year they came in on the
22d of June, and although the day before eight thousand mackerel were taken, the day after not
one was seen or captured. He says that they leave about the last of September, with the first cold
northeasterly storm, although stragglers are taken as late as December at Provincetown.

" According to Messrs. Marchant and Peter Sinclair, of Gloucester (October, 1872), Bluefish
made their first appearance in numbers about Cape Ann twenty-five years ago, coming in great
force and driving out all other fish. They are now much scarcer than twenty years ago; about the
same as tautog ; some seasons scarcely noticed.

"Mr. J. C. Parker, an aged gentleman of Falmonth, says the first Bluefish seen at Wood's
Holl in this century was taken in July, 1831 ; but his father informed him that they were abundant
in the preceding century, about 1780 or 1790, at which time they disappeared; and that when the
Bluefish left, the scup first made their appearance. They are also noted as having shown them-
selves at the head of Buzzard's Bay in 1830 and 1831, and, although numerous, were of small size,
measuring about a foot in length.

"To sum up the evidence, therefore, in regard to the periodical appearance of the Bluefish,
vre find notice of its occurrence in 1672, or even 1659, and up to 1764. How long it existed in the
waters prior to that date cannot now be determined. The oral testimony of Mr. Parker refers to
its occurrence at Wood's Holl in 1780 or 1790; and it is mentioned by Mr. Smith as being at
Newport, in 1800, and at Edgartown, Massachusetts, about the same time by Captain Pease.
Mitchill testifies to its occurrence in New York, of very small size, in 1810; and it is recorded as
existing again at Nantucket in 1820, and about Wood's Holl and Buzzard's Bay in 1830 to 1831 ;
and a little later at Hyannis. In 1830 it had become abundant about Nantucket, and in the fall

'President Dwight hears witness to the fact that Bluefish were abundant in the Narragansett Bay region as late
*s 1780. " The Horse Mackerel formerly frequented this coast in immense numbers, and in the season were constantly
to be fonnd in the market. But about the close of the Revoluti onary war they forsook our waters and have not made
their appearance since. They were esteemed a great delicacy, and are the largest of the mackerel species. Note on
Fishes of Newport, Rhode Island. Dwight's Travels, iii, 1822, p. 50.



I'KIMODiriTY OF Till: 1U.CKKISH. 437

ot is;;: H \v;is first noticed in Massachusetts Buy; and then year by year it became more and more
numerous, until now it is very abundant. Several accounts agree in reference to the very hi rye
size (even to forty or fifty pounds) of tho.xe taken in the last century.

" Further research into ancient records may tond to throw more light on the early history of
th" I'.liiHish. ami even materially to change the conclusions already reached. It will be observed
that the references to its occurrence, from 1780 to 1800, are on the testimony of aged persons who
have heard their lathers speak of it, although I find no printed records anywhere in reference to
it between ITtil and 1810. The rate of progression to the north ot Cape God I have at present no
means of indicating, although they probably gradually extended farther and farther north, and
may possibly occur much farther east than we have any mention of at present.

"During the present century the maximum of abundance of these fish off the middle coast of
the United States appears to have been reached from 1850 to I860. The testimony elicited from
various parlies, as well as from printed records, indicates a decrease since that period much greater
in some localities than others. About New York they are said to have been unusually plenty in
the summer of 1871, but farther East the diminution which had been observed in previous years
appeared to continue."

Since the writing of the above, in 1871, there has been no special change in the abundance of
Bluetish. They are quite sufficient in number to supply the demand for them and to make great
inroads upon the other fishes, some of which, like the menhaden and mackerel, would perhaps, if
undisturbed by the Bluettsh, be more valuable than they are at present. They have now been
with us for fifty years. Their numbers are subject to periodical variation, of the cause of which
we are ignorant. It is to be regretted that there are no records of it in the South Atlantic States.
If such existed, we might, perhaps, learn from them that the Bluefish remained in those waters
while absent from the northern coasts. Only one statement is to be found which covers this
period, although Lawson, in his " History of North Carolina," published in 1709, and Catesby, in
his "Natural History of the Caroliuas," published in 1743, refer to its presence. In "Bartram's
Travels," published in 1791, ''Skipjack" is mentioned as one of the most abundant fish at the
mouth of the Saint John's River. When Bluefish again became abundant their presence was first
noticed at the South, and they seem to have made their inroads from that direction. The Bluefish
was unknown to Schoepf, if we may judge from his work on the " Fisheries of New York," published
in 1787. Dr. Mitchill recorded their frequent capture about New York in 1814, though before 1810
they are said to be unknown in that locality. In 1825 they were abundant here, and in 1841
immense numbers were captured in the Vineyard Sound, and about Nautucket they were on the
increase from 1820 to 1S30. It is certain that they had not reapi>eared in 182*2 in Narragansett
Bay, for in "Bertram's Travels" it is stilted that, though formerly abundant, they had not been
seen in that region since the time of the Revolution.

The first one which was noticed north of Cape Cod was captured in October, 1837, while we
have no record of their appearance about Cape Ann before 1847.

FOOD AND VOBACITY. The Bluefish is a carnivorous animal of the most pronounced type,
feeding solely upon other fish. In this connection it cannot be out of place to reprint Professor
Baird's remarks upon this subject, which have been so often quoted during the past ten years:

"There is no parallel in point of destructiveness to the Bluefish among the marine species on
onr coast, whatever may be the case among some of the carnivorous fish of the South American
waters. The Bluefish has been well likened to an animated chopping-machiue, the business of
which is to cut to pieces and otherwise destroy as many fish as possible, in a given space of time.
All writers are unanimous in regard to the destructiveuess of the Bluefish. Going in large schools,



438 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

in pursuit of fish not much inferior to themselves in size, they move along like a pack of hungry
wolves, destroying everything before them. Their trail is marked by fragments of fish and by the
stain of blood in the sea, as, where the fish is too large to be swallowed entire, the hinder portion
will be bitten off and the anterior part allowed to float away or sink. It is even maintained, with
great earnestness that such is the gluttony of the fish, that when the stomach becomes full the
contents are disgorged and then again filled. It is certain that it kills many more fish than it
requires for its own support.

" The youngest fish, equally with the older, perform this function of destruction, and although
they occasionally devour crabs, worms, etc., the bulk of their sustenance throughout the greater
part of the year is derived from other fish. Nothing is more common than to find a small Bluefish
of six or eight inches in length under a school of minnows making continual dashes and captures
among them. The stomachs of the Bluefish of all sizes, with rare exceptions, are found loaded with
the other fish, sometimes to the number of thirty or forty, either entire or in fragments.

"As already referred to, it must also be borne in mind that it is not merely the small fry that
are thus devoured, and which it is expected will fall a prey to other animals, but that the food of
the Bluefish consists very largely of individuals which have already passed a large percentage of
the chances against their attaining maturity, many of them, indeed, having arrived at the period
of spawning. To make the case more clear, let us realize for a moment the number of Bluefish
that exist on our coast in the summer season. As far as I can ascertain by the statistics obtained
at the fishing stations on the New England coast, as also from the records of the New York
markets, kindly furnished by Middleton & Carman, of the Fulton Market, the capture of Bluefish,
from New Jersey to Monomoy, during the season, amounts to not less than one million individuals,
averaging five or six pounds each. Those, however, who have seen the Bluefish in his native
waters, and realized the immense number there existing, will be quite willing to admit that prob-
ably not one fish in a thousand is ever taken by man. If, therefore, we have an actual capture of
one million, we may allow one thousand millions as occurring in the extent of our coasts referred
to, even neglecting the smaller ones, which, perhaps, should also be taken into the account.

"An allowance of ten fish per day to each Bluefish is not excessive, according to the testimony
elicited from the fishermen and substantiated by the stomachs of those examined; this gives ten
thousand millions of fish destroyed per day. And as the period of the stay of the Bluefish on the
New England coast is at least one hundred and twenty days, we have in round numbers twelve
hundred million millions of fish devoured in the course of a season. Again, if each Bluefish,
averaging five pounds, devours or destroys even half its own weight of other fish per day (and 1
am not sure that the estimate of some witnesses of twice this weight is not more nearly correct),
we will have, during the same period, a daily loss of twenty-five hundred million pounds, equal to
three hundred thousand millions for the season.

'This estimate applies to three or four year old fish, of at least three to five pounds in weight.
We must, however, allow for those of smaller size, and a hundred-fold or more in number, all
engaged simultaneously in the butchery referred to.

"We can scarcely conceive of a number so vast; and however much we may diminish, within
reason, the estimate of the number of Bluefish and the average of their captures, there still remains
an appalling aggregate of destruction. While the smallest Bluefish feed upon the diminutive fry,
those of which we have taken account capture fish of large size, many of them, if not capable of
reproduction, l>eing within at least one or two years of that period.

"It is estimated by very good authority that of the spawn deposited by any lish at a given
time not more than thirty per cent, are hatched, and that less than ten per cent, attain an



ii oi- Tin: 1:1.1 i:i'isn. 439

age when they are able to take care of themselves. As their age increases, t lie chances of reaching
maturity become greater and greater. It is among the small residuum of this class that the agency
of the r.lnetish is excreisi -il. and whatever reasonable, reduction may b made in our estimate, we
cannot doubt that they exert a material intlneiiee.

"The rate of growth of tlie jilnelisli is also an evidence of the immense amount of food they
must consume. The young iish which first appear along the shores of Vineyard Sound, about the
middle of August, are about live inches in length. By the beginning of September, however, they
have reached six or seven inches, and on their reappearance in the second year they measure
alxmt twelve or fifteen inches. After this they increase in a still more rapid ratio. A fish which
passes eastward from Vine\ard Sound in the spring. v.-.-iJmi- ii\,- pounds. N represented, accord
ing to the general impression, by the ten to fifteen pound fish of the autumn. If this be the fact,
the tish of three or four pounds which pass along the coast of North Carolina in March return to
it in October weighing ten to fifteen pounds.

"As already explained, the relationship of these fish to the other inhabitants of the sea is
that of an unmitigated butcher; and it is able to contend successfully with any other species not
superior to itself in size. It is not known whether an entire school ever unite in an attack upon
a particular object of prey, as is said to be the case with the ferocious fishes of the South American
rivers ; should they do so, no animal, however large, could withstand their onslaught.

" They api>ear to eat anything that swims of suitable size fish of all kinds, but perhaps more
especially the menhaden, which they seem to follow along the coast, and which they attack with
such terocity as to drive them on the shore, where they are sometimes piled up in windrows to the
depth of a foot or more.

" The amount of food they destroy, even if the whole of it be not actually consumed, is almost
incredible. Mr. Westgate (page 33) estimates it at twice the weight of the fish in a day, and this
is perhaps quite reasonable. Captain Spindle goes so far as to say that it will destroy a thousand
fish in a day. This gentleman is also of the opinion that they do much more harm to the fishes
of the coast than is caused by the pounds. They will generally swallow a fish of a very large size
in proportion to their own, sometimes taking it down bodily ; at others, only the posterior half.
The peculiar armor of certain fish prevents their being taken entire; and it is not uncommon to
find the head of a sculpin or other fish, whose body has evidently been cut oft' by the Bluefish.
In the summer time the young are quite apt to establish themselves singly in a favorite locality,
and, indeed, to accompany the fry of other fishes, usually playing below them, and every now and
then darting upward and capturing an unlucky individual, while the rest dash away in every
direction. In this manner they attend upon the young mullet, atheriuas, etc. They are very fond
of squid, which may very frequently be detected in their stomachs. In August, 1870, about Fire
Island, Mr. S. I. Smith found their stomachs filled with marine worms, a species of Heteronerei*,
which, though usually burrowing in the mud, at that season swims freely toward the surface
in connection with the operation of reproduction. This, like the squid, is a favorite bait for the
Bluetish ; and they appear to care for little else when these are to be had. This fact probably
explains the reason why, at certain seasons, no matter how abundant the fish may be, they cannot
be taken with the drail or squid boat." 1

'The following extract from the ' Gloucester Telegraph " of June 4, Ib70, gives an idea of their influence upon other
fishes:

"ABUNDANCE OF FISH IN NEW JERSEY 1870. Accounts from New Jersey say that the Blneflsh came in at Barne-
gat Inlet last week, sweeping through the bay, over flats as well as through the channel, driving million* of bushels of
bunkers before them and tilling the coves, creeks, ditched, and ponds iu the meadows lull. At Liltle Egg Harbor
Inlet they drove shad on shore so that people gathered them up by wagon-loads. Fish lie in creeks, ponds, etc., along



440 NATURAL HISTOEY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

The Bluefish are believed to have bad a very important influence upon tbe abundance of
other species on some parts of tbe coast. This has been noticed especially on the north side of
Cape Cod. South of Cape, Cod the small fish occur in such enormous abundance that even the
voracity of millions of Bluetish could hardly produce any effect upon them. Captain Atwood has
recorded his belief that the advent of the Bluefish drove away the plaice or large flounder from
those waters, not so much by their direct attacks upou them as by destroying the squid upon
which the latter formerly subsisted. He is also of the opinion that the mackerel once, for a time,
were affected by them. The mackerel have since returned to those waters in their wonted
numbers, but the Bluefish are not now sufficiently plenty north of Cape Cod to interfere with them.
The flight of the mackerel was not an unmitigated evil, however, since, as Captain Atwood pointed
out, the number of lobsters for a time was very considerably increased. The mackerel fed upon
their eggs, and when they were driven away by the Blnefish the lobsters had a better chance to
multiply.

"The Bluefish sometimes make their way up the rivers to a considerable distance, the adults,
however, apparently never entering the perfectly fresh water. They are found in the Potomac as
far north as Aquia Creek, and also far up the Hudson; indeed, the young of the year are taken
as high as Sing Sing on the Hudson and other tidal rivers, where the water is entirely fresh."

REPRODUCTION. "Little is known of their reproduction. Dr. Yarrow does not give any facts
in regard to this subject, at Fort Macon, except that spawn was seen to run out of a small
female caught July 14. Dr. Holbrook is also silent on this head. Mr. Genio C. Scott says the
spawning beds are visited by the parent in June, and consist of quiet nooks or bays. Mr. It. B.
Roosevelt states that very diminutive young occur in immense numbers along the coast at the end
of September or beginning of October ('Game Fish of America,' 186'J, 159). I found the young
fish at Carson's Inlet, Beasley's Point, New Jersey, in July, 1854, two or three inches in length,
and more compressed than the adult ; but farther east, on Vineyard Sound, although diligent
search was conducted, between the middle of June and the first of October, with most efficient
apparatus in the way of fine-meshed nets, I met with nothing excepting fish that made their
appearance all at once along the edge of the bay and harbor.

" According to Captain Edwards, of Wood's Holl, a very accurate observer, they have no
spawn in them when in Vineyard Sound. This statement is corroborated by Captain Hinckley;
and Captain I la lift i, of Hyannis, 'does not know where they spawn.' The only positive evidence
on this subject is that of Captain Pease, who states it as the general impression about Edgar-
town that they spawn about the last of July or the first of August. He has seen them when he
thought they were spawning on the sand, having caught them u short time i efore, full of spawn,



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 75 of 146)