G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

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ished, "owing," says Mr. Masters, "to the gill-nets on the Saint John's." They move in and
out of the harbor, over the Saint John's and Smyrna Bars. They run into fresh water three months
in the year. They spawn in deep water in November and December. Thirty or forty men with
small boats are engaged in the fishery, using gill and cast nets. The Mullet is the favorite food-
fish, commanding a price of three or fonr cents per pound. Very few are salted.

About New Smyrna, says Mr. S. C. Clarke, the "Silver or Big-eyed Mullet," though resident,
are most plenty in November, December, and January, and have for years retained their abundance,
which is much greater than that of any other flsh. The average size is three pounds, though they
sometimes weigh four or five ; the female is the larger. They are always to be found in shoal water
with muddy bottoms, spending the winter in the creeks and bays. They run into fresh water to
feed. They swim in schools, assorted in uniform sizes, rippling the surface and thus attracting
predatory birds of all kinds, and followed by predatory fishes. The schools break up after the
.spawning season. They feed upon mnd and floating scum. They spawn in large schools, in strong
currents, in Jannary and February; the eggs, which are yellow and about the size of mustard seed,
floating at the surface in the currents and hatching within ten days. They prefer warm water for*
spawning. The roe often runs from the flsh when caught. They spawn at the age of three
years, and after spawning are thin and unfit for food. Young flsh are seen in great abundance in
shallow water near the shore; they are preyed upon by every flsh and by every predatory bird.
Mullet are taken with nets of all kinds, usually at low water. Some hundreds of barrels are put
np yearly for shipment, commanding the price of six to eight dollars. They are also used for oil
manufacture, and for manure.

Mr. H. S. Williams states that in the Indian River the Mullet season lasts from May until th



454 NATURAL HISTOEY OF AQUATIC ANJMALS.

last of December, and during the whole time they are so numerous that scarcely a day passes in
which some cannot be taken with proper exertion. In September they usually commence schooling,
the schools increasing in size until the last of December, when they go outside to spawn, returning
in January, February, and March, poor and tasteless. In November, 1876, he relates, he took one
hundred and twenty-five from a single school with a cast-net in less than an hour's time, taking
twenty-six large ones at a single throw. During the dark nights in October, November, and
December, the Mullet swarm along the shore, feeding on the minute animals found in the sand and
attached to the rocks, where they can be taken in great numbers, often thirty to fifty in a few
minutes' time. They are preyed upon by all larger fish, from cat-fish to sharks, while porpoises,
ospreys, eagles, and pelicans consume enormous quantities. The Mullet is here thought very fine
either stewed, baked, or as a pan-fish. From the first of November to the end of the season they
take salt as well as mackerel, and every resident family is accustomed to cure a barrel or two for
private use.

STEARNS ON MULLET IN THE GULP OF MEXICO. This chapter will be closed by quoting in
full the observations of Mr. Silas Stearns :

"The Mullet is one of the most abundant and valuable food-fishes of the Gulf coast. It is
present on the coast and in the estuaries of the Gulf throughout the year, and in most places is
pursued by fishermen at all seasons, yet, for so common and important a fish, its habits seem to
be but little known or understood. Intelligent fishermen of long experience at particular points
have learned many details regarding their local movements, which may disagree in many respects
with those at some other point a hundred miles or so away. A few months spent on the southern
part of the Florida coast has led me to believe that there is a less migratory movement of Mullet
in that section than along the northern Gulf coast. It is probable that in each bay or section or
coast Mullet have peculiar habits as to time and manner of arrival, time and place of spawning,
and the general habits of old fish after spawning and young after hatching. It is also likely that
their manner of spawning, feeding, etc., is the same everywhere. My own observations have been
chiefly made in Pensacola and Ghoctawhatchee Bays and Santa Rosa Sound, which take in fifty
miles of coast line. In this section, which I have called the Pensacola region, there is a spring
' run ' of Mullet composed of various sizes of young which are in part, no doubt, of the previous
year's hatching. The first school of this run appears on the coast in April or in the first part of
May, and they continue to come for two or three weeks, when they are all inside and scattered
about the bay shores. These fish are very thin on their arrival, but rapidly fatten and grow on
the feeding grounds. Some of these contain spawn at first, and in some it is developed during
the summer.

"In September and October there is a 'run' of large fish, which comes, as the young one does,
from the eastward, swimming at the surface of the water and making considerable commotion. Some
years there is but one large school in the 'run' and at others many small schools, and it is thought
Jhat the fish are more abundant when they come in the latter form. At Ghoctawhatchee Inlet,
when the spawning grounds are near by, the fish come in with the flood tide and go out again with
the ebb tide; and at the Pensacola Inlet, when the spawning grounds are far away, they come into
the bay and stay until the operation of spawning is over. The spawn in this fall 'run' is fully
developed, and is deposited in October and November. The spawning grounds are in fresh or
brackish water at the heads of bayous, in rivers or heads of bays. The many bayous of Choctaw-
hatchee Bay are almost blocked np with spawning Mullet in October, and they are very abundant
at the head of Pensacola Bay near the mouths of fresh-water rivers at that time. Although I have
been in the bayous when Mullet were supposed to be spawning, 1 have not witnessed the operation,



MII.I.KT IN THE GULF OP MEXICO. 455

nor seen any prison who lias. In sucli places the bottom is grassy, sandy, and muddy, the water
varyim: with the tide from fn-sh to brackish, and of a temperature varying from 70 to 75 Fah-
renheit. It is supposed that the spawn is deposited upon the bottom. If they have been spawn-
ing at th<3 times when I have been present, I would say that the operation was a general one.
That they do spawn at or near these places is quite certain, for they go to them with spawn and
come au.iy without it, and the young fry first appear near the same places. Crabs and alligator-
^ars are abundant in such places, and they doubtless destroy great quantities of the eggs and fry.
Ilet'oic spawning Mullet are very fat, but after the operation are extremely thin and almost worth-
less for food. Their colors also undergo some changes, at sea being bright blue on the back, which
deepens to a liyht brown in the bays and to a dark brown in fresh water. By these character-
istics it is not difficult to determine the locality where a lot of Mullet are caught.

"Some persons of this coast agree that Mullet, or any other sea-fish, will not bear sudden
change from salt to fresh water, and to meet this argument I made an experiment with Mullet in
1S79. I took a dozen or more medium-sized Mullet from the warm shoal water of the bay and
placed them in cool, fresh spring water. They swain around very rapidly for about half an hour,
then sank to the bottom of the spring, where they remained, apparently comfortable, for twelve
hours. Before leaving the spring I returned them to their native waters, seemingly in as good
condition as when first caught. The bay water was at that time 77 Fahrenheit and the spring
water 71 Fahrenheit, a difference of G and a change from pure salt to pure fresh water.

"After spawning, in October and November, the Mullet leave these bays in small schools,
going directly to deep water if the weather is stormy, and following the beach along if there is not
much surf. Those thai have been in the bays all the summer leave also at about this time, many
of them having spawned at the same time with the full 'run.' A few of these, having just reached
maturity, are found with spawn nearly all winter; also, some young stragglers. In February,
March, and April, young Mullet, varying from one to two and a half inches long, are found in
great abundance along the bay shores. Mullet grow to about eight inches in length the first year,
to twelve or thirteen inches the second year, when they are mature. The average size of adults is
twelve inches in length, weight about one and a quarter pounds. The largest I have seen meas-
ured twenty inches long and weighed four and a half pounds. It was caught at Charlotte Harbor,
Florida. Mullet of that size are extremely rare in West Florida. Those of South Florida are
much larger, as a rule, than those found farther north. There they are also far more abundant
than on the coasts of West Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

" In October, Charlotte Harbor, Sarasota and Paliuasola Bays, seem to be the headquarters of
all the Mullet of the Gulf. Tampa Bay, Auclote River, Homosassa River and vicinity, are also
favorite spawning places. During the fall they move in such immense schools that the noise of
their splashing in the water resembles distant thunder; and to persons living near the river or bay,
their noise, kept up day and night, becomes very annoying. These schools are followed by large
numbers of sharks, porpoises, and other destructive fishes, as well as pelicans and like sea-birds,
all of which eat of the Mullet until they can eat no more, and have to make way for fresh arrivals.
In spite of these enemies and those of the eggs and fry, Mullet are as plentiful as formerly,
according to the general opinion of the fishermen of the coast.

"The Mullet is a bottom-feeding fish, prefers still, shoal water with grassy and sandy bottom.
It swims along the bottom, head down, now and then taking a mouthful of earth, which is
partially culled over in the mouth, the microscopic particles of animal matter or vegetable matter
retained, and the refuse expelled. When one fish finds a spot rich in their desired food, its
companions immediately flock around in a manner that reminds one of barn yard fowls feeding
from one dish. The Mullet eats very little compared with other fish of ita size. It preys on no



456 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

other fish, and is preyed upon by nearly all other common fishes larger than itself. It does not
readily take the hook, but can sometimes be caught with a bait of banana, or one manufactured
from cotton and flour. It is the most widely distributed fish of the Gulf of Mexico, being found
on the sea-beach everywhere, in all the bays and sounds, and even far up fresh-water rivers and
in fresh-water lakes that have outlets."

Concerning the other species of Mullet, Mvgil brailiensis, as occurring in the Gulf, Mr. Stearns
writes:

" It is common, and is found in company with the Mugil albula and usually considered with it,
and the old fishermen of Pensacola distinguished it and have given it the above name. I have
found spawn in them in May and June. On the southern coast they are very abundant, and
appear in Key West almost daily in the fall and winter."

MULLET IN CALIFORNIA. "On the California coast occurs Mugil albula," writes Professor
Jordan, " which is commonly known as the 'Mullet.' It reaches a length of about fifteen inches.
It is very abundant about San Diego, and thence south to Mazatlan, and it ranges occasion-
ally northward as far as Monterey. It enters creeks and lagoons, ascending as far as the
brackish water extends, in the winter, and thus is often land-locked in great numbers, which arc
then destroyed by the sea-birds, especially by the pelicans, and a few are taken in seines. It swims
in schools in the bays, and its presence is made known by its frequent leaps from the water. It is
said that the Mullet has long been known at San Diego, but that it first made its appearance at
San Pedro in 1877. It is not well known either at Santa Barbara or Soquel, although now occa-
sionally taken at both places. Those fishermen who have given the matter any attention assert
that the Mullet is gradually extending its range northward. It feeds on mud and minute organ-
isms contained in it. It is considered a good food-fish when taken from the ocean. In the muddy
lagoons it acquires in summer a rank flavor."

154. THE SAND SMELTS OB SILVER SIDES ATHERINIDJE.

The " Sand Smelts" or " Silver Sides" are small carnivorous fishes which occur everywhere
along the coasts of temperate and tropical regions. They are lound in almost countless numbers
in brackish water and at the mouths of rivers, living, for the most part, within a few yards of the
shore, where they prey upon other small fish, upon crustaceans, and upon refuse organic matter,
and are in their turn the prey of other fish, particularly the young of the larger fishes of prey
which create so much havoc farther out at sea; for instance, young bluefish, squeteague, and
mackerel. In general appearance they resemble the smelt, and at various places are called " Sand
Smelts" and "Green Smelts." They may be readily distinguished from the true smelt by the
absence of the adipose second dorsal fin, which occurs in all members of the salmon tribe, and by
the presence of the small spinous dorsal. The most important species on the Atlantic side is the
Green Smelt of the Connecticut coast, Menidia notata, also called in some parts of New England
the "Friar," by the boys about Boston the "Capelin," about New York the "Sand Smelt" and
"Anchovy," and about Watch Hill the " Merit-fish." In Beaufort Harbor, according to Jordan, two
other species of the genus are very abundant in company with a species of Ungraulis, and are
known as " Sardines."

The range of this species extends from Maine at least to North Carolina. They spawn all along
our sandy shores, where at any time in summer tens of thousands of them may be gathered in an
hour with a small seine. In the shallow sandy bays the young fish, about an inch in length, were
found in schools, while in more exposed localities, such as the Napeague Harbor, Watch Hill
Beach, and the north part of Montank Point, the largest schools of adult fishes were found,
though large individuals were also frequently found in the more protected coves. They swim in



HABITS OF THE SILVER SIDES. 457

immense schools, generally those of the same size together; they vary in length from half an
inch to seven inches. They apparently breed throughout the hot season. Individuals two and
a half inches long, taken in the Little ITarbor, Wood's Holl, Massachusetts, July 2, 1875, were full
of ripe spawn and milt which they yielded freely.

Capt. John B. Smith, of New Bedford, furnishes an interesting account of the spawning of
this fish, Menidia notata, as witnessed by him during a visit to the head of Buzzard's Bay, on the
13th of June, 1872. He observed great numbers of the fish in the sedge grass, in the afternoon of
thai day, when the falling tide was about one-fourth down. The fish cainc in a body into shallow
water, within three feet of the shore, then darted among the grass, and rolled over from one side
to the other, struggling with all their strength, some of them jumping entirely out of the water
while in the operation. The eggs were then to be seen fastened in sheets and in masses to the
^ra-s, like frogs' eggs in a mill-pond. These were about the size of No. 9 shot. During the
operation of spawning, which lasted about a minute, the fish were very sluggish, and could readily
he taken with the hand. The number of fish engaged in spawning was so great that the water
was quite whitened with the milt, and the grass was so full of the eggs that they could be taken
up by the handful. Eels and small fishes of various kinds were attracted there in great numbers,
helping themselves to the dainty repast.

In addition to consuming great quantities of food such as has been described, it was found that
they were very destructive to the eggs of other fishes. Although not generally eaten, they are finely
flavored and an excellent article of food, not very greatly inferior to smelt. Uhler and Lugger are
quite mistaken in their opinion that this species is the gudgeon of Maryland and Virginia, which
is in fact a fresh-water fish, Hybo gnathus regius, together with one or two other species which are
apparently often included under the same name.

In Florida this fish is re'placed by two or three others belonging to the same family, which,
though very abundant, are of no special importance except as food for other fishes.

On the California coast this family is of much greater importance, two of the species being in
high favor as food. These are the so-called "California Smelt" and "Little Smelt" Of the former
Jordan writes: "This species, the California Smelt. Atherinopsis calif or niensis, is everywhere
known as the ' Smelt' It reaches a length of about eighteen inches, and the average size as seen
in the markets is not much below this. It ranges from Cape Mendocino to Magdalena Bay,
inhabiting especially rocky bays sheltered from the waves. It occurs in great schools, and is
extremely abundant It is non-migratory. Its food consists chiefly of worms and small crusta-
ceans. It is a fish of fine, firm flesh and good flavor, although a little dry. From its great abund-
ance it is one of the most important food fishes on the coast, being never absent from the markets.
It is often used as bait, especially for the rock- fish."

Of the Little Smelt he writes as follows: "The Little Smelt, Atherinops affiniii, or Petite Smelt,
reaches a length of about a foot. It associates with the 'California Smelt,' being scarcely less
abundant. It is, however, more often found in sheltered, sandy bays and lagoons than the other
species, and is sometimes found in brackish water. As a food fish it is equal to the California
Smelt, but from its smaller size is of less value. Both species are greedily devoured by the larger
predatory fishes."

155. THE STICKLEBACK FAMILY GASTEROSTEID-E.

The Sticklebacks are represented on our Atlantic coast by three species: The fonr-spined
Stickleback, Apcltf* quadrants, which is found in brackish water from Cape Ann southward at
least to New Jersey; the ten-spined Stickleback, Qasterosieus pungitius, associated with the
preceding, and found also in fresh water; the two-spined Stickleback, Gasterosteu* acuteatus,



458 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

occuring as far north as Newfoundland and south to New York. The latter species also occurs on
the coast of California north to San Francisco. The Sticklebacks are great favorites with persons
who own aquaria on account of the skillful manner in which they build their nests. The two-
spined Stickleback attains a length of four or five inches. Schools of them are sometimes found
swimming in the open sounds in midsummer. On the California coast, in addition to the two-
spined Stickleback, there occurs another species, G. microcephalm, along the whole length of the
coast from Southern California to Puget Sound. In Puget Sound, according to Jordan, the two-
spined Stickleback is abundant, and forms an important part of the food of the salmon and trout.
The stomach of Salvelinus malma, particularly, is often full of them. The name " Salmon-killer" is
applied to them about Seattle, but whether the wounds are inflicted by their sharp spines in the
stomach of the salmon is not known. Ducks catch and swallow the Stickleback, and are often
killed by them. Excepting as food for other fishes they have no value, though on the Prussian
coast, near Dantzig, where they abound, they are said to be used for feeding ducks, fattening pigs,
and in the manufacture of oil.

156. THE SILVEE GAR-FISHES BELONIDJE.

The family Belonidce occurs in temperate and tropical waters all over the world, at least fifty
species being known. Its members are easily recognized by their long, lithe bodies and by the
shape of their jaws, which are prolonged into a long, slender beak, provided with numerous sharp,
conical teeth.

"Swimming along the surface of the water, the Gar-pike seize with these long jaws small fish
as a bird would seize them with its beak; but their gullet is narrow, so that they can swallow small
fish only. They swim with an undulating motion of the body. Although they are in general
active, their progress through the water is much slower than that of the mackerel, the shoals of
which appear simultaneously with them on our coast. Young specimens are frequently met with
in the open ocean. When they are young their jaws are not prolonged, and during the growth the
lower jaw is much in advance of the upper, so that these young fishes resemble a Hemiramphus." 1

The name "Gar" is said to be derived from a Saxon word meaning "needle," and in the
Gulf of Mexico they are commonly known as "Needle-fish." On the Atlantic coast, however, the
usual appellative is "Gar-fish." In Great Britain there are several names, such as "Sea-pike,"
"Mackerel-guide," "Green-bone," "Sea-needle," and "Garrick." They are also here called "Gray
Pikes," but this name should be avoided in America, having been appropriated for the species of
Lepidosteug, with bony scales, inhabiting the rivers of the South and West. The name "Sea-snipe"
is said to be also occasionally in use, as well as "Bill-fish," which is also applied by our fishermen
to the slender species of the sword-fish family. On our Atlantic coast are at least four species, the
most common of which is Tylosurus longirostris which is found in Massachusetts Bay and south to
the Gulf of Mexico and the northern parts of Central America, occurring also in the West Indies.
This species attains a length of two feet, and ascends the rivers for great distances, having been
found in the Connecticut as high as Hartford, in the Susquehanna at Columbia, and in the Potomac
above Washington. They are also frequently seen in the harbors along the coast, but are rarely suf-
ficiently abundant to be used for food. DeKay states that this species is highly prized by epicures.

Little attention has been paid to its habits by our naturalists, and wo are again obliged to
rely upon Mr. Steams for our information. Ho writes: "It is common on all points of the Gulf
coast. At present it is found at Pensacola only in the summer (about eight months), but on the
more southern coast all the year. It is a surface-swimming fish that preys largely upon small fish
that move in schools. It seems to be rather dull of observation, and I have often watched small

1 Gttnther'g "Study of Pishes," p. 620.



HABITS OP THE GAR-FISHES. 459

schools of minnows, that perhaps know the failing, elude it for a long time by huddling together
dinvtly above or below, when, if they moved to either side, the Needle-fish would be sure to see
them, and they quite rrrlain to lose some of their number. Its movements are very rapid and its
aims most sure. I have seen a Needle fish of fifteen or twenty inches length seize mullet and other
fish fully one-third of its own size, which often prove more than it can manage. They are some-
times washed ashore dead, with some spiny fish that was a little too large fixed in their throats.
The Needle-fish spawns in the bays in May and June. It is very seldom eaten on this coast, yet
it is an excellent food-fish, which I prefer to many others."

Tylosurus hian* is a species recently discovered on our coast and abundant throughout the West
Indies.

Tylosurm caribbceug is a giant species, of which one or two specimens have been found at Wood's
Holl, and which is common about Cuba. A species resembling that last mentioned, Tylosurtu
Jonesii, is abundant about Bermuda, and is emphatically the game fish of those islands, where it
is known as the " Hound-fish." Individuals attain the length of five or six feet. They are fished
for with salmon rods and artificial flies by the British officers in the garrison.

A related species, Tylosurus vulgarit, abounds on the coast of Northern Europe, and is usually
found in company with the mackerel, ranging north to North Cape, and occurring in considerable
numbers in the Baltic, but apparently not often found south of the English Channel. Great num-
bers are caught on the coast of Holland, where they are used for bait, and in many other parts of



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 78 of 146)