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two hundred and fifty pounds, and that one weighing over two hundred and fifty pounds is
considered large. There are, however, well-authenticated instances of their attaining greater
dimensions. Captain Atwood, in communication with the Boston Society of Natural History, in
1864, stated that the largest he had ever taken weighed, when dressed, two hundred and thirty-
seven pounds, and would probably have weighed three hundred pounds as taken from the wi;i-.
In July, 1879, however, the same reliable observer saw at Provincetown two individual* taken
near Race Point, one of which weighed three hundred and fifty-nine pounds (three hn ; if!red and
two pounds when dressed), the other, four hundred and one pounds (three hundred iii.ti twenty-
two pounds when dressed).
13 F


There is a tradition in Boston that Mr. Anthony Holbrook, one of the early fish-dealers
of that city, had in his possession a Halibut, taken at New Ledge, sixty miles southeast of Port
land, which weighed over six hundred pounds. This story, which is recorded by Storer iu liis
"Fisheries of Massachusetts," Captain At wood believes to be untrue. Halibut, weighing from
three to four hundred pounds, though unusual in comparison with the ordinary size, are by no
means rare. I have before me a record often or twelve such, captured on the New England const
during the past ten years. Nilsson, a Swedish ichthyologist, has mentioned the capture of a Hali-
but on that coast which weighed seven hundred and twenty pounds. There are stories of Halibut
ten feet in length; a fish weighing three hundred and fifty pounds is between seven and eight feet
long and nearly four feet in width. The largest individuals are not considered nearly so good for
table use as those of less than one hundred pounds' weight. A fat female of eighty pounds is,
by good judges, considered to be in the highest state of perfection. Males are not, however, so
highly esteemed. Small Halibut, known as "Chicken Halibut," ranging from ten to twenty
pounds, are much sought after by epicures, and bring a high price in the New York and Boston
markets. They are comparatively rare, however, and a Halibut weighing ten pounds or less is
rarely seen; the smallest recorded on our coast was about five inches in length and was taken by
Professor Verrill in a dredge-net in the Strait of Canso.

The Halibut of the Pacific are apparently similar in dimensions to those of New England.
Mr. Anderson, inspector of fisheries for British Columbia, states that they there attain a weight of
200 pounds.

The wholesale dealers of Gloucester, in buying fresh Halibut from the fishermen, recognize
two grades ; one, which they call " Grey Halibut," they consider to be of inferior value, and pay
a lower price for. The Grey Halibut are distinguished by dark cloudings or blotches upon the
under side, which in the most remarkable fishes are pure white. Almost all the largest Halibut
are classed among the Greys. Fishermen claim that there is no actual difference between the gray
and the white fish, and it is a fair question whether they are not right.

MIGRATIONS. It is useless to attempt to describe here the migrations of the Halibut from
place to place; although much information has been received upon this subject, the problem re-
quires long and careful study.

The history of the halibut fishery has been a peculiar one. At the beginning of the present
century these fish were exceedingly abundant in Massachusetts Bay. From 1830 to 1850, and
even later, they were extremely abundant on George's Banks; since 1850 they have partially
disappeared from this region, and the fishermen have since been following them to other banks,
and since 1874 out into deeper and deeper water, and the fisheries are now carried on almost
exclusively in the gullies between the off-shore banks and on the outer edges of the banks in water
one hundred to three hundred and fifty fathoms in depth.

Captain Benjamin Ashby, of Noank, Connecticut, who is familiar with the fisheries south of
Cape Cod, informs me that they frequent the deepest water in the spring and fall, and that they
come up in the shoal water, in sixty or seventy fathoms, in May and June, while in July they begin
to go out again into deep water, and by the latter part of the month are on the way into the gully
on northeast part of George's Bank.

Captain Collins briefly expresses his views as follows: " Halibut are found in the deep water
say from one hundred to two hundred and fifty fathoms in depth on the edge of all the banks from
George's to the Grand Bank the year round. Sometimes, however, they are found more numerous in
comparatively shallow water in the winter and early spring. This was the case in the winters and
springs of 1875-'76 and 1876-'77, as well as in the year preceding. But in 1878 there was no great

mi'. MAI. HUT.- MK;I;ATK>NS.

eateh dl' Halibut in l-ss tli:in one hundred fathoms on any of the banks. The great school* dial
won found in the western part of die Crand Hank in February and March, 187(iand 1877, appear to
l>c migrating. The fish dial were found to the south of latitude 44 north were mostly small-sized
white Halibut. They went off die bank into deep water, and nobody knew what became of them.
Those that were eanght to the north of this parallel were mostly large gray fish, and were traced a*
far as Saint Peter's P.ank. These are possibly the same fish they are certainly the same kind of
tish that struck in on the western coast of Newfoundland in the summer months in pursuit of

Gapt. George A. Johnson states that the large Halibut frequent the outer and deeper part
of die banks, while the little "bull fish" lie inside, on shallower ground, and are caughton the inner
end of the trawl lines, but that sometimes the large Halibut come up on the shallow grounds.

On the coast of Newfoundland, Anticosti, and Labrador, Halibut frequently run inshore in
summer after capelin. When in shallow water near the shore they are usually wild and very active.
The fishermen within eight years have extended their fishing much farther out to sea; previous to
that time the greater part of the Halibut were taken on the top of the Grand Bank in thirty to
fifty fathoms of water, but after the beginning of April the fish went elsewhere, and the fishermen
lost sight of them. They soon learned, however, to follow them down the slopes of the banks, but
before 1870 had rarely fished in water deeper than seventy to ninety fathoms. Since that time, as
has already been stated, fishing has been carried into twice or three times that depth. All that can
at present be said in explanation of their movements is that they occur in great schools, and, soon
consuming the available food in any one locality, are obliged to shift their position to some other
place where they can find fresh pastures. It does not seem possible that their migrations can be
caused by conditions of temperature or are in connection with their breeding habits. During the
breeding season the schools sometimes remain for months in one locality, and these places are
generally of limited extent. While spawning but little if any food is found in their stomachs.

FOOD. They are large-mouthed, sharp-toothed, voracious, although adapted for life upon the
bottom, and doubtless feed largely upon crabs and mollusks; they are particularly fond offish of
all kinds ; these they waylay, lying upon the bottom, invisible by reason of their flat bodies, colored
to correspond with the general color of the sand or mud upon which they rest. When in pursuit
of their prey they are active, and often come quite to the surface, especially when in the summer
they follow the capeliu to the shoal water near the land. They feed upon skates, cod, haddock,
menhaden, mackerel, herring, lobsters, flounders, sculpins, grenadiers, turbot, Norway haddock,
bank clams, and anything else that is eatable and can be found in the same waters. Captain Ashby
tells me that common flounders and flat fish are among their most favorite food; they follow them
up on the shoals of George's and Xantucket ; they lie in wait for them on the sand-rips and catch
them as they swim over. He has seen a half bushel of flat fish in the stomach of one; they stow
them away very tightly. He has often seen Halibut chasing flat fish over the surface of the water.
About Cape Sable their favorite food seems to be haddock and cusk. He has seen eight or ten pounds
of haddock and cod taken out of one of them. When they are on the shoals they are sometimes
tilled with flat-fish, haddock, cusk, sculpin, and herring, but when in deep water he has found very
little food in them. They eat crabs and other crustaceans, but shells are rarely found in their
stomachs, except those of clams and mussels.

Captain Hurlbert tells me that when the vessels are dressing codfish on the Grand P.anks, and
the back-bones and head are thrown overl>oard, these are frequently found in the stomachs of
Halibut taken in the same locality.


Mr. William H. Wcmson, of Gloucester, has seen live lobsters six inches long taken from the
stomach of a Halibut. Captain Marsh states that they feed on whiting, mackerel, and herring.
He remarks : " Halibut will drive off any kind of fish and take charge of the ground."

At the meeting of the Boston Society of Natural History, in 1852, Dr. W. O. Ayres stated that
he had seeu a block of wood, a cubic foot in dimensions, taken from the stomach of a Halibut, where
it had apparently lain fora long time. Capt. George A. Johnson found an accordion key in one of
them. Olafson, in 1831, studying them on the coast of Greenland, found not only pieces of iron and
wood in them, but in the stomach of one individual a large piece of floe ice. Captain Collins
has observed that they often kill their prey by blows of the tail, a fact which is quite novel and
interesting. He described to me an instance which occurred on a voyage home from Sable Island
in 1877: "The man at the wheel sang out that he saw a Halibut flapping its tail about a quarter
of a uiile off our starboard quarter. I looked through the spy-glass, and his statement was soon
verified by the second appearance of the tail. We hove out a dory, and two men went in her,
taking with them a pair of gaff-hooks. They soon returned bringing not only the Halibut, which
was a fine one, of about seventy pounds' weight, but a small codfish which it had been trying to
kill by striking it with its tail. The codfish was quite exhausted by the repeated blows, and did
not attempt to escape after his enemy had been captured. The Halibut was so completely engaged
in the pursuit of the codfish that it paid no attention to the dory, and was easily captured."

The Halibut, in its turn, is the prey of seals, of the white whale, and of the various large
sharks, especially the ground shark, or sleeping shark, in the stomachs of which they have some-
times been found; their sides, 1 am told by Captain Collins, are often deeply scarred, probably by
the teeth of the sharks, or in their early lires by mouths of larger individuals of their own kind.

SPAWNING. There is diversity of opinion regarding their spawning. Some fishermen say that
they spawn at Christmas time, in the month of January, when they are on the shoals. Others
declare that it is in summer, at the end of June. Capt. George A. Johnson, of the schooner
"Augusta H. Johnson," of Gloucester, assures me that Halibut "spawn, just like the human race,
at any time of the year." In April, 1878, he was fishing on Quereau Bank, and found large and
small Halibut, the large ones full of spawn. In May he was on the Le Have Bank, where he found
only small male fish full of milt; in June he was on Le Have again, fishing in shallow water,
where he found plenty of "small bull fish, with their pockets full of milt"; in July he was again
on Quereau Bank, where he found a school of small and big male and female fish, all, apparently,
spawning, or ready to spawn, "with milt and pees soil"; in August he was on the outer part of
Sable Island, where he found females full of spawn.

Captain Ashby, speaking of the Halibut on George's Banks, states that roe is always found in
them in May and June. The roes of a large Halibut caught by him in 1848 on the southwest part
of George's, and which weighed 356 pounds, after it had been dressed and its head removed,
weighed 44 pounds. He states that the Halibut in this region have spawn in them as long as
Connecticut vessels continue to catch them, or unlil September. He has seen eggs i:i Halibut
of twenly pounds' weight, and thinks that they begin to breed at that size. The spawn of the
Halibut is a favorite food of the fishermen of Southern New England, though never eaten by those
of Cape Ann.

Captain Hurlbert, of Gloucester, tells me that on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland the
halibut school used to come up in shoal water, in forty or fifty fathoms, in summer, and that the
spawn was ripest about a fortnight later. In August, 1878, he found many with the spawn already
run out At that time several Gloucester fishermen reported that the Halibut on Le Have and
Qnerean Banks were full of spawn. Captain Collins told me that in July and August, and up

i in, ii \ur.i T: si-.vu MM; n. VISITS. 1<>7

to I lie lirst of September, they are fen i ml here u i lli the o\.u ics \ ri \ lar>;e, ami arc often seen with
tin- ova and milt exuding. Tin- ovaries .,1'a Iarj;e lisli art- toohcavx loin- lifted by a man, without
considerable exertion, being often two feet or more in length. At this time very little food is
found in their stomachs. In September, 1878, the Fish Commission obtained from Captain Collins
the roes of a tisli weighing from 100 to 200 pounds, taken by the schooner "Marion" on the 13th,
of i he month on (jnereau Hank. This fish was taken at the depth of -'00 fathoms, and the temper-
ature of the water was roughly recorded at 36 F. These ovaries were put into a basket with
ice and brought to the laboratory of the Fish Commission, where they were found to weigh seven-
teen pounds, two ounces. Part of the eggs were nearly ripe, and separated readily, while others
were immature and closely adherent to each other. A portion of the roe, representing a fair aver-
age of the size of the eggs, was weighed, and was found to contain 2,185 eggs; the weight of this
portion was two drams. The total number of eggs was from this estimated to be 2,182,773. It
is not yet known whether the eggs float or rest upon the bottom, nor is it known how long is the
period of incubation, nor what is the rate of growth of the fish. As has already been mentioned,
young fish are very unusual ; the smallest ever seen by Captain Ashby in Southern New England
was taken on Nantucket Shoals, and weigh jd two and a half pounds after it had been eviscerated.

ABNORMAL INDIVIDUALS. Left-handed Halibut are sometimes taken. Perhaps one out of
five thousand is thus abnormal in its form, having the eyes upon the left rather than upon tho
right hand side of the head.

Halibut with dark spots or patches on the under side of the same dark color as the back are
occasionally taken. These are called by the fishermen "Circus Halibut." They are generally of
medium si/e, and thick, well-fed fish.


The Sand Dab, or Rough Dab, Hippogloitsoitle* platfssoidex, also sometimes known as the Rusty
Flounder, is taken in winter by the line fishermen of New England, and small quantities are doubt-
less brought to market and sold with other flat fishes without discrimination as to species. It
often attains the length of twenty to twenty-four inches, and the weight of two to five pounds,
and is, in all respects, a desirable food-fish, being highly esteemed on the other side of the Atlantic.
In summer, individuals of this species are to be found only in very deep water, thirty fathoms or
more, on the New England coast, and, though never very abundant in any one locality, might be
taken in considerable quantities, in company with tho Pole Flounder, by I lie use of a trawl-net, or
even by specially devised trawl lines.

The Rough Dab has not been observed south of Wood's Hull, Massachusetts, but ranges north
to Greenland, is abundant on the English coast, and is a well-known food-fish of Scandinavia. Its
breeding habits in our waters have not been observed, but in Southern Sweden the spawning time
is in April and May. It is a large-mouthed species, feeding upon fish as well as upon large inverte-
brates, such as crustaceans and annelids, and mention has been made of it more on account of its
possible value in the future than for its present importance.


The Greenland Turbot, Platytomativhtliy* hippoyloMoides, though never occurring in our inshore
waters, is found on the off-shore banks, as far south as George's Hank, and a certain quantity of
them is usually brought to New York every winter. It is emphatically :iu arctic species, being
abundant on the coast of Greenland, often found at Holsteinborg and beyond, and along this
entire coast very eagerly sought by the natives. The Eskimo name is " Kalh-raglik," and tho
fish is also known as "Little Halibut/' In Giinther's great work on "The Fishes of the Hriti.sh


Museum," be has confused this species with the true Halibut, making it appear that only the former
is to be found on the coast of North America. In Northern Greenland the Turbot is found only at
very great depths, and is fished for, in water of three hundred and fifty to three hundred and eighty
fathoms, through holes in the ice, over certain banks in Oinenak Fiord and at the mouth of the
Jacob's-Haveu ice-fiord, which is also packed with great ice-floes. It is said to be found only in
the ice-fiords and between the great ice-fields, and there only in the coldest months of the year.

In South Greenland they are taken on the oceanic banks at a depth of sixty to one hundred
and eighty fathoms, though there considered to be not so abundant as in North Greenland. In
Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, according to Captains G. Johnson and A. Leighton, of Gloucester,
they are very abundant in sixty to three hundred fathoms, and are caught chiefly in winter.
They are also obtained by the Gloucester halibut fleet on the outer edge of the oceanic banks, in
two hundred and fifty to three hundred fathoms of water.

Their habits are not at all well understood, but it would appear from the statements of several
experienced fishermen, whom I have questioned, that they occur on the very edge of the conti-
nental slope in deeper water than the true Halibut, in fact in places where the slope is so nearly
perpendicular that the Halibut can hardly hold their places on the bottom. This species is
more symmetrical than any other of the family on our coast, and, moreover, is colored upon both
sides of the body a fact which indicates that its movements are more like those of the ordinary
symmetrical fishes and that it can rest with the body in a vertical attitude.

It would seem probable that its chosen haunts are along the declivities of the outer slope of
the continental plateau, where abundance of food is known to occur, and where other fishes are
not so well adapted to live. Many hundreds of pounds are caught, every year, on the halibut trawls,
and the fish are frequently iced and brought to market with the Halibut, and frequently eaten by
the fishermen themselves. The greater portion of those brought to New York in winter are, how-
ever, taken on trawl lines at the mouth of Fortune Bay, and brought down by the vessels which go
there to procure cargoes of frozen herring. It is impossible to obtain statistics of the quantities
thus brought in, because the market returns do not discriminate between the different species of
flounders and flat fishes.

The Greenland Turbot is an exceedingly palatable fish, its flesh being firm, white, and less dry
and more delicate in flavor than that of the Halibut. The average weight is from ten to twenty-
five pounds. In Greenland they are perhaps more highly esteemed than any other fish. The
Greenlanders begin fishing as soon as the fiords are frozen over and the white whales, which prey
greedily upon this fish, have left the entrances open. They fish through holes in the ice, and attach
little threads at intervals to their lines, so that they may better see the motion which the nibbling
fish makes. Under favorable circumstances a man may take ten to eighteen of these fishes daily.
The fishery continues from January to the middle of March, sometimes, however, only a week or
two, and usually only about a month. The fish are cut into strips and dried for the consumption
of the Danish colonists. It is said that a very fine oil can be made out of their fat, so that in
hard times the fish serves to warm and light their houses as well as feed their occupants. In South
Greenland they are not so numerous, but are constantly sought for, being taken in company with
the sea perch, or red fish. 1


This fish, Glyptocephalux cynoglossus, often known as the Deep-sea Flounder, was first
observed on this coast in 1877, when numerous specimens were obtained by the United States

' These facts are taken from Rink's " Greenland."

Till: I'(H,K 01! ritAir, Fl.niNDFH.

Fish Commission, in tin- deepest pan of MassachiiM-iis l',a\. Specimens have since been obtained
south of Capo Cod, at a depth ofone hundred fathoms or more, by the Fish Commission, and l>\
Professor Agassi/, oil' the entrance to Delaware Hay, at a depth of three hundred and ninety-live
fathoms. Tin- Pule Flounder appears to be a permanent resident, throughout the whole year, in
the deep basins of Massachusetts May and on the edge of the continental slope, and is fouud
abundant in lied ford Basin, the inner expansion of Halifax Harbor, at a depth of thirty-seven
fathoms. It ranges nearly to Greenland, and is also found on the coast of Northern Europe,
where it is found in the Trondhjem Fjord, in latitude 65, and south to the coast of Ireland. It
thermal range appears to be confined by the limits 34 and 45.

It breeds abundantly in our waters in summer time, numerous individuals, full of spawn, and
young from half an inch upward, having been taken, from July to October, in various localities.

The Pole Flounder has been pronounced, by all who have tasted it, a most delicious food-fish,
resembling more closely than any other species on pur coast the English Hole, having a great
quantity of peculiarly flavored mucilaginous tissue about the base of the tins; it has never been
taken by our fishermen, because, on account of its exceedingly small and weak month, it could
not hold fast to an ordinary hook and line; and, should it ever come into demand, it will !><
necessary for onr fishermen to introduce the English trawl-net.


The Turbot, or Steiubutt, Rhombu* maximns, and the Brill, or Glattbutt, do not occur in our
waters, although many attempts have been made to prove that they do. The nearest repre-
sentative of the Turbot is the Spotted Sand Flounder, Lophopaetta maculata, a species found from
Bucksport, Maine, 1 to Fort Macon, North Carolina, variously known along the coast as Water
Flounder, Window-pane, and Daylight; the latter name refers to the remarkable thinness of the
fish, its flesh being so transparent that, when held to the light, the shadow of an object on the
other side can be seen. Its flavor is good, but the amount of flesh is so small that it is of no
consequence as a food-fish. There are other smaller representatives of the family on the southern
coast, and in deep water from Cape Cod southward, belonging to the genus Citharichthys, which,
although edible, are never eaten.

'According to Mr. O. A. Boardman, of Calais, Maine, an individnal was taken in PasHamaqnoddy Bay in Septemlier,




The Codfish and its allies constitute, from an economical point of view, the most important of
all the families of fishes, containing, as it does, a large number of species, most of them of consider-
able size, distributed throughout all parts of the northern hemisphere, usually found together in
great numbers, readily captured, and easily preserved for future use.

An elaborate discussion of the geographical distribution of the cod family, and its relations to
fisheries and commerce, by Karl Dambeck, was published in " Gaea," in 1877. A translation of this

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 36 of 146)