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themselves become very much emaciated and exhausted by the effort of swimming under this
impediment. The common sword-fish is frequently accompanied by one of the Sucking-fishes, which
has been called the "Sword-fish Sucker," Remoropais brachyptera. It has not been known to attach
itself to any other fish. The "Bill-fish," Tetraptnrus, has another species of sucker peculiar to
itself, the Cuban "Pega de lax Agujas'? Rhombochirus osteochir.

Mr. Stearns states that in the Gulf of Mexico, when on the snapper banks fishing, he has seen
these fish leave sharks that were in the vicinity and remain about the vessel as long as it staid
there for the purpose of securing the bait that had been thrown overboard. He noticed some that
were four or five feet in length. These "Sucking-fish " are never eaten, and are interesting chiefly
as enemies of other more important species.

The Remora was one of the first fishes observed by the early discoverers of North America. In
Ogilby's "America" is the following description of the manner in which the Indians used those
fishes HR aids in the capture of other larger species. The incident seems to have occurred about
the West Indian islands :

"Columbus from hence (from Cuba) proceeding on further Westward, discover'd a fruitful
Coast, verging the Mouth of a River, whose Water runs Boyliug into the Sea. Somewhat further
he saw very strange Fishes, especially of the Guaican, not unlike an Eel, but with an extraordinary



THE GUIACAN DESCRIBED BY COLUMBUS. 447

great Head, over which hangs a Skin like a Bag. This Fish is the Natives Fisher; for having a
I.ini' or liiiiiilsoui Conl thstm-d about him, so soon as a Turtel, or any other of his Prey, comes
above Water, tlicy give him Line; whereupon the Guaican, like an Arrow out of a Bowe, shoots
to\v;ml the other Fish, ami then gathering the Mouth of the Bag on his Ik-ad like a Purse-net
holds them so fast, that he lets not loose till hal'd up out of the Water." 1

'Narrative of Voyage of Columbus, in Ogilby't "America," 1671, p. 49 (with very onrioua picture of Indian
fishing).



448 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.



P. BARRACOUTA, MULLET, PIKE, AND MUMMICHOGS.

151. THE BARRACOUTA FAMILY SPHYR^ENID^.

This family is represented on oar Atlantic coast by several species, none of which appear to
l>e at all abundant north of Florida, except one species, which has recently appeared in consid-
erable numbers on the coast of Southern Massachusetts, and which is recorded by Jordan as
abundant in its young state in Beaufort Harbor, North Carolina. This species, called by DeKay
8phyrwna borealis, is closely related to, if not identical with, S. spot of the Mediterranean. No
specimens of greater length than ten or twelve inches have ever been taken, and individuals of
this size are very unusual, though smaller ones, ranging from two to six inches, are occasionally
found in large schools about the western end of Martha's Vineyard and about Wood's Holl,
Massachusetts. It seems incredible that the young should occur so abundantly in these waters
and the full-grown individuals should be absent. This is, possibly, because we do not yet know
how to capture them. The common Barracouta, or "Barracuda," of the West Indies, Sphyrcena
picuda, occasionally finds its way into our northern waters, and one or two specimens of them and
other West Indian species have been taken at Wood's Holl.

8. picuda is the common Barracouta of Key West and the southern coast. It is caught with
hook and line, and appears occasionally in the markets. Mr. Stearns states that it is only of
average merit as a food-fish. He records the capture of several very small specimens belonging to
this genus in Pensacola and Choctawhatchee Bays in June, 1880. In the West Indies this, or
some closely related species, grows to the enormous length of eight feet and the weight of forty
pounds, and is as much dreaded as the large sharks.

Although to some extent used as food, this is one of the forbidden fishes of the Cuban markets,
there having been instances of severe sickness caused by eating its flesh. Since, however, a large
part of the best food-fishes of the West Indian waters are tabooed by Cuban law, this is hardly to
be regarded as a fair criterion. In the Bermudas both Sphyrcena picuda, called " Sennet," and 8.
spet, which is called the "Barracuda," are highly esteemed for food and meet with ready sale.

On the California coast occurs another species, Sphyrcena argcntea, which is everywhere known
as the 'Barracuda,' or 'Barracuta'; this species reaches a length of about three feet and a
weight of twelve pounds.

Professor Jordan remarks concerning it as follows: "It is abundant in summer from San Fran-
cisco southward, great numbers having been taken every where from Santa Cruz southward. It is
found mainly at a distance of three miles or more from the shore. In open water it will sometimes
take a still hook, but near the shore it must be trolled for. It arrives in late spring or summer,
at different times in different places, the main 'runs,' about the Santa Barbara Islands, being in
July; farther north, somewhat later. It spawns at San Pedro about the 1st of August. In Sep-
tember it usually disappears, but the young often remain in the south and are taken with the seine
in the winter. It is not known whether it retreats to the south or to deep water. It feeds upon
anchovies and other fishes. As a food-fish it is one of the best and most important on the coast.
It is highly esteemed when dried and salted, and, like the white-fish and yellow-tail, then sells at
a price higher than that received for the Alaska codfish."




Tin: si: A SKI; IT: NTS. 449

162. THE DEAL-FISH FAMILY TRACHYPTERID2B.

The members of this family are found in the deep parts of the sea in various parts of the
world, though none have yet been found on our Atlantic coast. They are eel-shaped fishes of
great length and brilliant colors, and have even been described under the name of " Sea-serpent."
It is probable that most of the stories regarding the "sea-serpent" have had reference to some
nii-mber of this family, and to this family most of the descriptions of large marine animals of a
serpent-like nature are very applicable. Several individuals of the species known as the "Oar-
nHh," Regalecus Banksii, have been cast up on the British coast, the largest in Yorkshire, in 1845,
twenty-four feet in length. In 1860, an individual, eighteen feet in length, ran ashore at the
Bermudas, but none have been found in the more western portions of the Atlantic, although
descriptions which have been given by various observers would indicate that they occasionally
appear near our shores. On the Pacific coast there is a species which is sometimes cast ashore by
the storms, Trachypterm altivelis; it is considered by the Makah Indians to be the King of the
salmons, and they will permit no one to eat the flesh upon any condition, for fear the salmon will
never return. It is curious that a similar tradition exists on the coast of Norway regarding a
related species which is called the " Sillkung," or " King of the herring." " The same notion," says
Jordan, " is commemorated in the generic name Regalecug." '

153. THE MULLETS MUGIL ALBULA AND MUGIL BRASILIENSIS.

NAMES. There are,upon our coast two species of Mullet, the differences between which are
sometimes, though not always, recognized by fishermen. The most usual species is the Striped
Mullet, MH ;i it aUnila; the other is the so-called " White Mullet," Mugil brcuiliensw. The former is
the larger, and has eight instead of nine rays in the anal fin, and forty-two instead of thirty -eight
scales between the gill openings and the base of the caudal fin. There has been so much confusion
among writers regarding the species of this family upon our coast that it has until very recently
been impossible to define precisely their geographical range. The Striped Mullet occurs in the
West Indies, the Gulf, and from Southern California to Chili, the other species from Southern
Massachusetts to the West Indies, and from Lower California to Pem. A single specimen of M.
brasiliensi*, was taken at Provincetown, in November, 1851. North of Xew Jersey the capture of
a large individual is very unusual. In July great numbers of them, about an inch in length, have
been observed on the Connecticut coast, especially in the vicinity of Noank; the fishermen there
call them by the name of "Blnefish Mnmmichog." On various parts of the coast they have
special names, which, however, do not appear to refer to special peculiarities. About Cape
Hatteras the names "Jumping Mullet" and "Sand Mullet" occur; in Northampton County,
Virginia, "Fat-back," and in Southeastern Florida "Silver Mullet" and "Big-eyed Mullet."
The name " Fat-back" is also in use, but whether this name is used for Mullets in general, or simply
for those in particularly good condition, I have been unable to learn. In the Gulf of Mexico the
Striped Mullet is known simply as the "Mullet"; the other species as the "Silver Mullet"

GENEBAL, HABITS. There are seventy or more species of Mullets, one or more of which are
found on every stretch of coast line in the world in the temperate and tropical zones. They live
in the sea, and in the brackish waters near the months of rivers. They, like the menhaden,
though indeed to a still greater degree, subsist on the organic substances which are mingled with
the in 1 11 1 and sand on the bottom.

In order to prevent the larger bodies from passing into the stomach, or substances from

1 Kejchalrc~K.mK of Herring.
29 F






450 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

passing through the gill openings, they have the organs of the pharynx modified into a filtering
apparatus. They take in a quantity of sand and inud, and after having worked it for some time
between the pharyngeal bones, they eject the roughest and most indigestible portion of it. Each
branchial arch is provided on each side, in its whole length, with a series of closely set gill-rakers,
which are laterally bent downward, each series closely fitting into the series of the adjoining arch ;
they constitute together a sieve, admirably adapted to permit a transit for the water, retaining, at
the same time, every other substance in the cavity of the pharynx. The intestinal tract is no less
peculiar, and the stomach, like that of the menhaden, resembles the gizzard of a bird. The
intestines make a great number of circumvolutions, and are seven feet long in a specimen thirteen
inches in length." 1

ABUNDANCE. Although Mullets are abundant almost everywhere, it is probable that no
stretches of sea-coast in the world are so bountifully supplied with them as those of our own South-
ern Atlantic and Gulf States, with their broad margin of partially or entirely land-locked brackish
water and the numerous estuaries and broad river mouths. The Mullet is probably the most gener-
ally popular and the most abundant fish of our whole southern seaboard. Like the menhaden, it
utilizes food inaccessible to other fishes, groping in the bottom mud, which it swallows in large
quantities. Like the menhaden, it is not only caught extensively by man, but is the main article
of food for all the larger fishes, and is the best bait fish of the regions in which it occurs. In the
discussion of the habits of the Mullet, when it is not otherwise stated, the Striped Mullet, which is
in our waters by far the most important species, is kept chiefly in mind.

Since the time of Capt. John Smith every observer has remarked upon the great abundance of
Mullets. Numerous correspondents of the Fish Commission, from Wilmington south, agree that
the Mullet is far more abundant than any other species, except Mr. Simpson, who thinks that at
Cape Hatteras they are less numerous than the tailors or bluefish, and about as numerous as the
fat-backs or menhaden.

In 1875 circulars were sent out by the United States Fish Commission asking information
concerning the habits of the Mullet. The replies, although suggestive, were not sufficiently
numerous to afford the data necessary for a complete biography of this species. In fact its habits
are so peculiar that in order to understand them it will be necessary for some naturalist to
devote a considerable period of time to study them throughout the whole extent of their range.
At present, therefore, I propose to present first the results of my own observations upon this fish,
as it occurs in Eastern Florida, supplementing them by the observations of three or four other
observers upon the Atlantic coast, and the excellent study of the Gulf Mullet from the pen of Mr.
Stearns.

MULLET IN EASTERN FLORIDA. They abound in the Saint John's River, sometimes running
up to the lakes, and along the coast in all the inland bays, or " salt-water rivers". It is probably
incorrect to call them anadromous. They appear to ascend the rivers to feed, and the relative
saltncss of the water is a matter of small importance. Small Mullet are abundant all the year
round, and so are scattered individuals of a larger size. Cast-nets at Mayport take them through-
out the year. I have taken quantities of small fish, from one to five inches long, in the Saint John's
River at Arlington. They begin to assemble in schools in midsummer. This is probably prepara-
tory to spawning, for at this time the ova are beginning to mature. In midsummer they swim at
the surface, pursued by enemies in the water and the air, and are an easy prey to the fisherman.
They prefer to swim against the wind, and, I am told, school best with a northeast wind. They
also prefer to run against the tide. The spawning season appears to continue from the middle of

'This description of the anatomy of the Mullet is derived from GUnther'a "Study of Fishes."



MI i.i.i T IN FASTI-UN FLORIDA. 451

November to tlie middle of .January, ami the weight of evidence tends to show that they spawn in
lu-ackish or salt water. Some of tbe fishermen say that they go on the mud-fiats and oyster-beds
at th<' iimiitli of the river to deposit their eggs. What becomes of them after this no one seems to
know, but it is probable that they spread themselves throughout all the adjacent rivers, bays,
and sounds, in such a manner as not to be perceptible to the fishermen, who make no effort at this
lime to secure the spent, lean fish. Many of them probably find their way to the lakes, and others
remain wherever they find good feeding ground, gathering flesh and recruiting strength for the
great strain of the next spawning season. There is no evidence of any northern or southern coast-
wise migration, the habits of the species apparently being very local.

The fisherman recognizes three distinct periods of schooling or separate runs of Mullet. To
what extent these are founded on tradition, or upon the necessity of change in the size of the mesh
tit their nets, it is impossible to say. The "June Mullet" average about five to the pound; the
'' Fat Mullet," which are taken from August 20 to October 1, weigh about two pounds; these have,
i In- fishermen say, a "roe of fat" on each side as thick as a man's thumb. The "Roe Mullet"
weigh about two and a half pounds, and are caught in November and until Christmas. Between
the seasons of "Fat Mullet" and "Roe Mullet" there is an intermission of two or three weeks in the
fishing, llow to interpret these curious statements is surely a difficult problem, and one which
can be solved only by careful study of the fishes themselves at these seasons. The fishermen insist
that these schools come successively down the river and proceed directly out to sea. They will not
believe that the "Fat Mullet" and the "Roe Mullet" are the same schools under different circum-
stances. I would hazard the suggestion that the " Fat Mullet" of September are the breeding fish
of November, with roes in an immature state, the ova not having become fully differentiated.

The largest fish appear rarely to exceed six pounds. This is exceptional, however. Mr. W.
II. Tate, of Melton & Co., Jacksonville, tells me that he never saw one exceeding seven pounds,
though he had heard of one weighing fourteen. He showed me on the floor of the fish-market a
line indicating the length of a very large one; this measured twenty-nine inches. At Mayport
none had been seen exceeding six pounds in weight. At the mouth of the Saint John's cast-nets
of ten feet in diameter are used, but most Mullet are taken iu gill-nets, which are swept around
the school, the fish being easily visible at the surface.' These nets are from seventy to ninety
fathoms long and forty meshes deep. The size of the mesh varies with the season. Very few are
used from December to July, but where they are used the mesh two and one-half to two and
three-quarters inches is preferred; from August 1 to October 1, for "Fat Mullet," the mesh is three
and one-half to three and three-quarters inches, and in late October, November, and December, for
"Roe Mullet," four inches at least so said my informant, an intelligent negro fisherman. At
Mayport there are two sweep-seines, seventy-five fathoms long and thirty feet deep, belonging to
Kemp, Mead & Smith, used iu the mullet fishery.

There is a large trade in fresh Mullet iced, of the extent of which I could gain but little idea:
they are shipped chiefly to Central Florida and Georgia. Some have been sent in ice to Atlanta.
About twenty thousand are shipped from Yellow Bluffs, by way of Jacksonville.

It is the general opinion of the fishermen that the Mullet have greatly diminished in abundance
of late years, and that they are not one-third as plenty as they were ten years ago. This falling off
is attributed to the presence of steamers, to the chances of the seasons, and, most of all, to the use
of small-meshed seines, which catch the young fish in great numbers, and to the constant fishing by
numerous nete, which destroys a large proportion of the mother-fish from year to year. Mr. Isaac

1 "Roe Mullet" are often taken in a drift gill-net. When the net is being get it is customary to drum with the
oars on the gunwale of the boat to make the fish "gill" better.



452 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

Balsam, of New Berlin, told me that ten or twelve years ago a man with a cast-net could easily
take four or five hundred Mullet in a day, while now it is difficult to get any; this is due in part
to their shyness. Mullet were comparatively scarce in the Saint John's in 1877, though plenty in
1876. The fishermen with whom I have talked favor the passage of laws prohibiting the use of
gill-nets with a smaller mesh than three inches, and thus to allow the escape of the young fish,
and of a close time during which fishing shall cease for instance, from Saturday night to Monday
morning. And then they say, with a regretful shake of the head, that the Mullet always ruu best
on Sunday. There are probably one hundred or more mullet nets on the Saint John's, yielding
an average of perhaps five thousand Mullet each annually. The fisheries are chiefly carried
on by negroes in small boats, dng-outs, and skiffs, although every resident fishes for Mullet in
summer when there is nothing else to do, and when the Mullet is the best food and the easiest
obtained. There is no salting business of commercial importance in East Florida, though consid-
erable quantities are put up for domestic consumption. Salt Mullet sell at the rate of eight or ten
dollars a barrel, or five or six fish for twenty-five cents. I had an opportunity of tasting some
salted by a negro at Mill Cove, and can bear testimony to their excellence. Their flavor is more
like that of a salted salmon than of a mackerel, and they are hard, toothsome, and not at all
"muddy" in taste, this last being the usual charge made against the Mullet. Usually only the
"Fat Mullet" are salted, the "Roe Mullet" coming later in the season, when they can easily be
shipped.

To prepare a Mullet for salting, the head is first cut off, then a cut is made on each side of the
back-bone, down the back, and the bone is removed; the fish may then be spread out flat and
packed in a barrel. In packing, the flesh side is carefully placed up, the skin down. The fish are
spread out flat upon the skin side and are laid in tiers across the bottom of the barrel, each tier
being covered with salt. Care is taken to have the direction of the bodies in the different tiers at
right angles to each other. When the Mullet are scaled before packing they command a some-
what higher price. Mullet roes, though usually eaten fresh, are sometimes salted and dried in the
son. In this condition they are eaten raw, like dried beef, or are fried. Largo ones sell for ten
cents a pair. Fishermen often boil the heads to extract the oil, which they use to lubricate their
guns.

"In the Lower Saint John's," according to Capt. David Kemps, an experienced Connecticut
fisherman who has lived and fished for twelve years at Yellow Bluffs, " the Mullet are resident
throughout the year, though most abundant in September and October. The fishing season begins
in July and August and continues until December. They are three times more abundant than any
other species, though not half as abundant as they were ten years ago. The decrease in numbers is
due in part to the fisheries, but chiefly to the great number of steamers. The largest Mullet weigh
eleven pounds and are twenty -three inches long; this, however, is above the average size, which
measures thirteen inches and weighs two and a half pounds. They attain their growth in four
years, each year adding half a pound to their weight. They school best in easterly weather, the
schools being largest toward the end of the season. They swim at the surface, and usually against
the wind. The "Fat Mullet" come down the river in August and September, and rapidly increase
in size, becoming "Roe Mullet" in October and November. They feed by suction and on blind
mosquitoes. They run out into salt and brackish water to spawn. They are supposed to spawn
in November, on the shallows near the month of the river, in warm and brackish water. When
they are caught in the gill-nets the spawn runs out of them ; it is of the size of No. 3 shot, and
red; it floats at the surface until it is hatched, which takes place in about three days. They spawn
at about four years of age, the fish mixing indiscriminately in the schools. Cat-fish and eels prey



MHLLET IN EASTI,|;N FLORIDA. 453

upon the eggs. They are caught chiefly on the fltxxl-tides with gill-nets and seines. A gill net
seventy-five fathoms long will take ten thousand in a season. They are eaten fresh, commanding
a price of one to five cents a pound, and are salted largely. About seventy-five boats and one
hundred and fifty men are employed in the Lower Saint John's."

IN THE SAINT MARY'S RIVER. " At the mouth of the Saint Mary's, " according to Mr. W. B.
Myers, " the Mullet is resident and more abundant than any other flsh, especially in August, Septem-
ber, October, and November. The general abundance is not apparently changed, though the supply
varies. The average " Finger Mullet" is about four and a half inches long, while the " Sea Mullet"
ranges from eight to eighteen inches, weighing from eight ounces to two pounds. They never leave this
region, but spend the whole time in the salt-water bayous along the coast. They frequently run up
into brackish or almost fresh water, probably for the purpose of feeding. Fishes of all sizes and
ages mingle together in the schools. Their favorite haunts are on the shallow mud-flats and up
little creeks or " rivers." At high water they feed among the black rushes or marsh grass. The
shallows which they frequent are warmer than the off-shore water. After spawning they are
generally found in small schools. They are preyed upon by porpoises, sharks, fish-hawks, cranes,
and fjulls. They feed on bottom mud and floating scum, also on shrimps. They spawn around
their feeding-grounds in August and September, and young Mullets are always found in abundance
in company with the old. Fish-lice are found in their gills. At Saint Mary's they are caught exclu-
-iv.'ly in cast-nets the Spanish and American kinds at all seasons, but chiefly in August and
the fall months. They are usually caught in the last quarter of the ebb and first quarter of the
flood tide. They are caught only in small quantities for home consumption, and are more in
demand than any other flsh, selling for about eight cents per pound. Very few are salted."

IN SOUTHEASTERN FLORIDA. At Saint Augustine, according to Mr. Peter Masters, Mullet
are resident, but most abundant in September and October. They are thought to have dimin-



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 77 of 146)