G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

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what state and where they pass that time. These are all pleasant reading, but valuable more or
less as regards the ingenuity and scientific standing of the writers. In this paper and the one I
inclose (1865) I have stated what I think are facts, and which must be accepted in the future
history of American Mackerel, which I hope soon to see written by that commission which has
already done so much in Atlantic waters.


The appearance of the mackerel schools at the approach of summer in ordinary years has been
noticed somewhere in the neighborhood of the following dates: At sea, off Cape Hatteras, March
20 to April 25; off Norfolk, Virginia, March 2 to April 30; off the Capes of Delaware, April 15 to
May 1 ; off Barnegat and Sandy Hook, May 5 to May 25, and at the same date along the whole


southern coast of New England, and us tar east as Southern Nova Scotia, while in the Gulf of Saint
Lawrence they appear late in May, and in abundance early in .lane. 1

There appears to be a marked difference between the movements of Mackerel and the menhaden,
for while the menhaden are much more gradual in their approach to the shore, and much more
dependent upon a small rise of temperature, the Mackerel make their appearance almost simul-
taneously in all the waters from New Jersey to Nova Scotia at about the same time. Stragglers,
of course, appear much earlier than the dates just mentioned; a few Mackerel were observed at
Waquoit, Massachusetts, as early as April 19, 1871.

In the fall the Mackerel disappear as suddenly as they came in the spring, but they have only
in one instance been observed oft' the Carolina coast, except during the spring run. This is very
probably because no fishing vessels ever visit this region later than June.

The instance referred to is the experience of Mr. Peter Sinclair, a well-known fisherman of
Gloucester, who states that he has frequently taken them in great abundance off Cape Hatteras in
December, where they are not known at all in the summer season. He has found them in the
spring as far south as Charleston, and followed them from Cape Henry to the Bay of Fundy and
the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The very vagueness of the statements just made is evidence to show how little is actually
known about the movements of these fish. The subject must be studied long and carefully before
it can be understood, and the interests of the American fishermen demand that it should be thus

"There is," writes Professor Baird, "no very satisfactory evidence of the occurrence of Mack-
erel iu the winter or any other season south of Cape Hatteras, and it is not given by Poey and
other writers as occurring in the West Indies. A few Mackerel are said to be occasionally brought
into the Charleston market, and Mr. Moses Tarr, of Gloucester, thinks that some years ago he saw
in the early part of March, a short distance to the southeast of Key West, a large school of Mack-
erel. He, however, did not capture any, and it is more likely that the fish observed belonged to
some other small species of the mackerel family which occasionally school like the Mackerel itself,
and might easily be mistaken for it. The skip-jack or leather-back may possibly have been the
species referred to.

" I have been quite surprised to find the extent of belief among Massachusetts fishermen that
the Mackerel goes into the mud in the winter time. I have, indeed, been assured by trustworthy
parties that they have known Mackerel caught on eel spears when fishing for eels in the mud of
Provincetown harbor.

"A similar belief is referred to by Dr. Gilpin in his paper on the Mackerel in the Transactions
of the Nova Scotia Scientific Association, and it is difficult to refuse assent to the testimony of
otherwise credible observers. There is nothing apparently iu the economy of the Mackerel to pre-
vent its following the example of the sand lance, the eel, and other fish. We know that the

'The following Irttrr from tin- skipper of the schooner ''Edward E. Webster" is important, in that it gives tli.-
exact positions a well as the dates of some of the earliest captures in 1878, 79, '80, and '81 :

NEW YORK, April 22, 1881.
Captiiin r<i. I.INS:

DKAH Sns: I have just received your letter of March 14, in which you wanted to know whereabouts I caught my
first Markrrrl. Th.- tirst cairh in 1-7H, April 1C., lat. 3t> 10' N., long. 74 45' W. ; in 1879, April 12, Int. 36 35' N.,
Icmn. 7-1 :.(! \V. : in i-.si, April 1, Int. 35 30' N., long. 74 15' W.; in 1881, March 20, lat. 37 10-' N., long. 74 05'
\V. : and thi> trip uv -jut ilinn April 18 in lat. 38 38' N., and long. 74 00' W. This is onr second trip this season.
I have seen Mackerel in lat. 35 -> 15' N. and long. 73 46' W., which is the farthest south I have ever seen any. I
have been oil' (.'ape Lookout many times, but have never seen Mackerel there. . . .

Yours, truly,



melanora, the tench, and many other fresh-water fish have the burrowing habit, some of them
being imbedded very deep in the mud at the bottom of a dried-np pond, to emerge again when the
water is restored.

"The entire disappearance of Mackerel during the winter season is a noteworthy fact, as we can
hardly suppose that if it schooled on the surface in the Gulf Stream during that season it would
not be noticed by the experienced eyes of sea captains, and we can hardly imagine that the fish
would remain in the depths, without an occasional rise.

"It appears to be a well-established fact that Mackerel are not unfrequently found in the
stomachs of cod, and possibly of halibut, taken on the George's Banks in the winter season. Per-
haps the number noted would be still larger if fishermen had the time and inclination to examine
more frequently than they do the stomachs of the fish captured by them.

''Another curious fact in relation to the Mackerel is in respect to the membrane, the vertical
edge of which is observed during the summer season on the corner of the eye. This, it is claimed,
during the winter extends over the whole eye, and imparts the appearance of blindness. This the
Mackerel is said to possess on making its first appearance near the coast in the spring, when it
extends over the greater part of the eye, thus preventing the fish from seeing the bait, and it is a
matter of common remark that Mackerel in the spring cannot be taken with the hook, but must be
captured with the net. The membrane appears to recede with the advancing season, and during
a considerable portion of the time of its abode in the north it is scarcely appreciable."

Mr. Perley, of Saint John, .New Brunswick, in his work upon the fishes of the Provinces,
remarks that Mackerel have been taken on cod-hooks in deep water, near Grand Manan, in the
winter season, and there is evidence to show that a few remain on the coast. It is, however,
believed that these cases are exceptional and confined to stragglers, as such instances frequently
occur with all the migratory fishes.

The Mackerel belongs to what may technically be termed pelagic or wandering fish, as their
movements, something like those of the herring, are apparently more or less capricious, though
probably governed by some definite law, which has not yet been worked out. It moves in large
schools or bands, more or Jess isolated from each other, which sometimes swim near the surface
and give distinct evidence of their presence, and at others sink down into the depths of the ocean
and are entirely withdrawn from observation. The army of fish, however, moves along with a
very broad front, a portion coming so close to the shore as to be taken in the weirs and traps
along the coast of the Middle States, especially in Vineyard Sound and on Cape Cod; while at the
same time other schools are met with from twenty to fifty miles, or even more, out to sea. It is,
however, still a question whether the fish that skirt the coast of the United States enter the Bay
of Saint Lawrence, or whether the latter belong to another series, coming directly from the deep
seas off the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia coast. Until lately the former has been the generally
accepted theory, in view of the alleged fact that the fishermen of the Nova Scotia coast always
take the fish coining from the west in the spring and from the oast in the fall.

Capt. Hanson B. Joyce, of Swan's Island. Maine, one of the most expert and observing mack-
erel-fishermen of New England, thinks that the movements of the spring schools of Mackerel are
very much influenced by the direction and force of the prevailing winds while the fish are perform-
ing their northerly migration. He has generally found, he says, that when there has been a con-
tinuance of strong northerly winds about the last of May and early in June, the season at which tln^
Mackerel are passing the shoals of Nantucket and George's Bank, the schools have taken a
southerly track, passing to the southward of George's Shoals and continuing on in an easterly
direction to the coast of Nova Scotia, and thence to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

MOVEMENTS or Tin: MACK i:i;i:i. SCHOOLS. 289

When southerly wiuds or calms prevail at that season the Mackerel are carried into the
waters of the Gulf of Maine, and in consequence are much plentier off the Now England coast
than in the Saint Lawrence Gulf.

On this theory Captain Joyce bases his actions in cruising for Mackerel, always fishing off
the New England shores when southerly wiuds have predominated in the spring, and going to the
Saint Lawrence if northerly winds have been exceptionally strong and continuous about the last
of May.

The movements of the fish, as already stated, season by season, are quite uncertain, sometimes
being very abundant in one direction and sometimes in another, and occasionally, indeed, they
may disappear almost entirely for several years, subsequently reappearing after a considerable
absence. In some years the fish are very abundant on the coast of the United States, and at others
rare; the same condition applying to the fish of the Bay of Saint Lawrence. It is not certain, of
course, that this indicates an entire absence of the fish from the localities referred to, but they
may, possibly, for some reason, remain in the depth of the sea, or some change in the character of
the animal life in it, which constitutes the food of the fish, may produce the changes referred to.
A notable instance of a somewhat permanent change in the migration of the Mackerel is found in
the entire failure since 1876 of the mackerel fishery in the Bay of Fundy, which, a few years ago,
enabled a merchant of Eastport to employ successfully as many as a dozen vessels, especially in
Digby and Saint Mary's Bays, but which is now abandoned. There are indeed faint suggestions,
in the early history of the country, of their total absence from the whole coast for several years,
as was also the case with the bluefish.

ABUNDANCE. The wonderful abundance of Mackerel in our waters has always been a
subject of remark. Francis Higginson, in his "Journal of his Voyage to New England, 1629,"
speaks of seeing " many schools of Mackerel, infinite multitudes on every side of our ship," off Cape
Ann on the 26th of June; and Richard Mather, in his "journal," 1635, states that the seamen took
abundance of Mackerel off Meuhiggin (Mouhegau). In Governor Winthrop's journal, speaking of
the year 1639, he remarks: "There was such store of exceeding large and fat Mackerel upon our
coast this season as was a great benefit to all our Plantations, since one Boat with three men would
take in a week ten hogsheads, which were sold at Connecticut for 3 12*. Qd. per hogshead."

Their abundance has varied greatly from year to year, and at times their numbers have been
so few that grave apprehensions have been felt lest they should soon depart altogether.

As early as 1670, laws were passed by the colony of Massachusetts forbidding the use of cer-
tain instruments of capture, and similar ordinances have been passed from time to time ever since.
The first resource of our State governments has always been, in seasons of scarcity, to attempt
to restore fish to their former abundance by protective legislation. It seems to us at the present
day absurd that the Massachusetts people should have supposed that the use of shore-seines was
exterminating the Mackerel on the coast of Massachusetts, but it is a fair question whether their
apprehensions were not as well grounded as those of legislators of the present century who have
endeavored to apply a similar remedy for a similar evil. In connection with the chapter on THE
MACKEREL FISHERY will be shown a diagram, which, by means of curves, exhibits the catch of
Mackerel in New England for a period of seventy-five years.

From a study of this it seems quite evident that the periods of their abundance and scarcity
have alternated with each other without reference to overfishing or any other causes which we are
prepared to understand. In the year 383,548^ barrels of Mackerel were caught by the citizens of
Massachusetts. In 1881 the number of barrels suited was 269,495; to this, however, should be
added 125,000 barrels caught and marketed fresh by the Massachusetts fleet, making an aggregate
19 p


of 394,495 barrels. The fluctuations in the catch year by year from 1804 to 1881 are shown most
instructively in a plate accompanying this report.

The stories which are told by experienced fishermen of the immense numbers of Mackerel
sometimes seen are almost incredible. Capt. King Harding, of Swampscott, Mass., described to me
a school which he saw in the South Channel in 1848 : " It was a windrow of fish," said he; " it was
about half a mile wide, and at least twenty miles long, for vessels not in sight of each other saw it
at about the same time. All the vessels out saw this school the same day." He saw a school off
Block Island, 1877, which he estimated to contain one million barrels. He could see only one edge
of it at a time.

Upon the abundance of Mackerel depends the welfare of many thousands of the citizens of
Massachusetts and Maine. The success of the mackerel fishery is much more uncertain than that
of the cod fishery, .for instance, for the supply of cod is quite uniform from year to year. The
prospects of each season are eagerly discussed from week to week in thousands of little circles
along the coast, and are chronicled by the local press. The story of each successful trip is passed
from mouth to month, and is a matter of general congratulation in each fishing community. A
review of the results of the American mackerel fishery, and of the movements of the fish in each
part of the season, would be an important contribution to the literature of the American fisheries.
Materials for such a review are before me, but space will not allow that it should be presented here.

FOOD OF THE MACKEREL. The food of the Mackerel consists, for the most part, of small
species of crustaceans, which abound everywhere in the sea, and which they appear to follow in
their migrations. They also feed upon the spawn of other fishes and upon the spawn of lobsters,
and prey greedily upon young fish of all kinds. 1 In the stomach of a "Tinker" Mackerel, taken
in Fisher's Island Sound, November 7, 1877, Dr. Bean found the remains of six kinds of fishes of
the anchovy, sand-lants, the smelt, the hake, the barracuda, and the silver-sides, besides numerous
shrimps and other crustaceans. Captain Atwood states that when large enough they devour
greedily large numbers of young herring several months old. Specimens taken July 18, 1871,
twenty miles south of Neman's Land, contained numerous specimens of the big-eyed shrimps,
Thymnopoda, larval crabs in the zoea and megalops stages, the young of hermit crabs, the young
lady crabs, Platyoniehus ocellatus, the young of two undetermined Macrura, numerous Copepoda
and numerous specimens of Spiriali* Gouldii, a species of Pteropod. They also feed upon the centers
of floating jelly-fishes (discophores). In Gaspe" the fishermen call jelly-fishes "mackerel bait."

The greed with which Mackerel feed upon the chum, or ground menhaden bait, which is
thrown out to theui by the fishing-vessels, shows that they are not at all dainty in their diet, and
will swallow without hesitation any kind of floating organic matter.

Large Mackerel often eat smaller ones. Captain Collins has frequently found young Mackerel
three or four inches long in the stomachs of those full grown. This is generally noticeable only in
the fall, and the young fish are probably those which have been hatched in the spring.

In the fall of 1874 the writer made a trip upon a gill-net schooner to the grounds off Portland,
Maine, some distance to sea, for the purpose of studying the food of the Mackerel, and found their
stomachs full of a species of Thysanopoda and of a large copepod crustacean. The greater part of
the food of Mackerel consists, however, of minute crustaceans. Owing to the infinite abundance
of these in the sea, Mackerel probably have very little difficulty in finding food at almost any
portion of the ocean visited by them, whether on the edge of the Gulf Stream or near the shore.

'Near the New London light- house is a Hmall brook which empties into th harbor and abounds with a small
species of fish of which the Mackerel appear to be fond. A few days since tli keeper of the light-house, while the
Mackerel were indulging in a meal, caught five hundred at one haul with a scoop-net. Gloucester Telegraph,
December 3, 1870.


In an interview with (';ipi. King Harding, of Swampscott, one of the most experienced maekerfl
mi mir masts, I obtained the following amusing observations: lie described one kind
of ernstacean Maekeivl food wliich looked like spiders, which were red, and crawled over his hand
when he took them up. They look like little spiders; the Mackerel are especially fond of them.
At Hooiie Inland. Maine, in July, 1850, the water all around the island was red for one hundred
\ aids from the shore; these crawled up the rock-weed on the shore until it was red. He took the
sprays of rock-weed in his hands and pulled them slowly to him, and the Mackerel, one and a half
pound lish, would follow in quite to the rocks. He killed three with his oar, and tried to catch
some in a basket by tolling them over it, but they were too quick for him. He asked his old
skipper, Capt. Gorham Babsou, what they were, and was told that they were " Boone Island bed-
bugs." And, said he, " Young man, when you see this kind of bait, no matter if yon don't see
any fish, never leave ; the fish will be there in a few days."

Then there is another kind, called " snappers." These are white, aud dart rapidly about in
the water; they are doubtless small crustaceans. He says that sometimes they swim at the sur-
face, where the Mackerel follow them. A few days before he had been standing on the stern of his
\ essel, and though he could see nothing under the water he knew the snappers were there about
two feet below the surface, for he could see a school of Mackerel swimming along, opening their
mouths and taking in their food, and then letting the water out through their gills.

When the Mackerel are tolled up from twelve or fifteen fathoms below the surface their
stomachs are often full of bait; so it is certain that these little animals swim at all depths.

Another kind of food is red, and is hot to the hands. This is called "Cayenne"; it spoils
the fish.

Tears ago, according to Captain Harding, Mackerel did not school as they do now.

When you see pollock jumping near the shore, it is a pretty good sign that there is plenty of
mackerel food.

The presence of abundance of mackerel food is indicated by the great schools of sea-birds,
particularly by the flocks of phalaropes, or sea-geese, as the fishermen call them, which congregate
together, floating upon the water, and when seen in summer give a sure sign of the presence of
Mackerel also.

The various invertebrate animals preyed upon by Mackerel are known to the fishermen by
such names as " shrimp," " red-seed," and " Cayenne."

"The wide-spread distribution from shore seaward of the Thysanopoda and other minute crus-
tacea, which constitute to so great an extent the food of the Mackerel and herring on our shores,
was proved," writes Professor Baird, "during a trip of the 'Speedwell' from Salem to Halifax in
1877." At numerous points and at regular intervals on the way across, including the middle of
the route, immense numbers of these shrimp were met with and collected by the towing net. They
were found in especial abundance at Le Have Bank. These prove to be specifically identical with
those found in immense quantities in Eastport Harbor at the surface.

" That these same animals occur at least as far east as the Gulf Stream is shown by the list
of the collections made by Professor Smith off the Georges near the edge of the Gulf Stream,
and published in the Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. iii,
July, 1874."

Capt. Stephen Mar, of Gloucester, confirms the statements of Captain Harding regarding
the effects of " red-seed" upon Mackerel ; he states that when Mackerel are feeding on " red-seed"
the fishermen have great trouble in keeping them sufficiently long to dress them properly. Their
bellies soften at once. When the weather is good and dogfish are not troublesome, the common


practice is to allow the fish to lie in the net until they have disposed of the food in their stomachs.
Capt. Henry Willard, of the schooner " Henry Willard," of Portland, Maine, carries a large net of
coarse twine, which is suspended over the side of the vessel from two long booms. Into this he
turns the fish and leaves them until the seed works out. 1

Gaptain Mar states that the " red-seed" is very troublesome to the men engaged in dressing
the fish; it makes their hands very sore, often causing the blood to run. A man can clean twice
as many fish in a given time if he is not annoyed by the "red-seed" in their stomachs.

Captain Mar describes another kind of mackerel food, which he calls " small brit," which, he
says, resembles young herring, which also rots the fish. This is probably, as he supposes it to be,
' white-bait" in the young of the sea herring, Olupea harengus. It is known as " eye-bait" to the
Canadian fishermen.

Captain Merchant tells me that when Mackerel are fotfnd with "red-seed" in their stomachs
fishermen are sure that they are on the right fishing grounds.

I am told by Captain Collins that it is common for many of the American fishermen to con-
sider it a good sign of Mackerel when they see floating seaweed, more especially eel- grass, " chopped
up," i. e., cut into short pieces, which they think is done by these fish. Perhaps there may be a
good reason for this supposition, as the Mackerel, while feeding on the diminutive shells with
which the weeds are covered, may also bite the latter in two. The presence of gannets is also
considered a good sign of Mackerel.

In England the food of the Mackerel is called the " mackerel mint," and this is said to consist
at certain seasons of the year of the sand-lants and five other fish, especially the herring and the
sprat, while they have also been observed to devour, in the summer months, minute crustaceans,
the swimming larva of tape- worms, and the embryos of the small spiral shell Rissoa, which, iuits
adult state, is found in great abundance upon seaweed. It is probably some animal of this kind
which was referred to by Captain Harding in the statement above quoted, concerning the abun-
dance of red-seed about Boone Island. Mr. J. F. Whiteaves has recorded a similar habit for the
Mackerel of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.*

Professor Hind has pointed out certain relations which exist in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence
between the Mackerel and the lant, or sand-eel, which appears to be one of its most important
articles of diet in these waters. I quote here in full his observations upon this subject, and also
his views upon the relations of currents and tides to the presence of mackerel food, and the con-
stant movements of the schools of fish :

"The movements of the Mackerel, like those of the cod, and indeed of most species of fish, are
determined at different seasons of the year by the geographical position of its food; and the first
important kind of food which appears to lure the Mackerel inshore, after spawning in the Gulf of

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 51 of 146)