G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

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Saint Lawrence, is the lannce or sand-eel.

"The relation of the launce or sand-eel (Ammodytes americanus) to the Mackerel is very much
greater than appears at the first blush, and resembles the relation of the herring to the cod in
general, and in particular the relation of the so-called Norwegian 'Sull cod,' or lauuce cod, to this
wide-spread and important bait-fish. The approach of the launce to the coast in spring is most
probably the cause why the so-called spring cod fishing suddenly ceases on rnauy banks and shoals,
commencing again at different localities two and three weeks later.

"The cod leaves the banks and shoals to meet and to follow the launce as they approach the

"This "large net of coarse twine" is the mackerel pocket described in the chapter on THE PURSE-SKINE

* Report on the Second Deep-sea Dredging Expedition of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, 1872.


coast. In tin- sumo manner they meet and follow the caplin, guided no doubt by the peculiar odor
i |f\ rli i| "-I I by each species at the approach of the spawning season.

"But it is the habit of the sand-eel of burying itself in the sand between the tides, or in sub
merged sand beaches, that leads the Mackerel so close inshore.

"There can be little doubt that a similar indraught and outdraught of Mackerel and other
fish occur in our waters when the launce leave the deep sea to approach the land, or when they
return to the deep sea again. Unlike many of the shrimps and larval forms on which the Mack-
erel feed, which arc drifted to and fro by winds and currents, the launce is independent of the
wind; but it is only in certain favorable localities frequented by this fish that the burying process
between tide-marks, from which it derives its name, can be easily effected; hence, these resorts are
not only valuable as bait grounds, but generally noted mackerel grounds, such as Seven Islands,
and some parts of Bay of Ghaleur, and part of the gulf coast of New Brunswick.

"This bait-fish approaches the sandy beaches fringing the shores of the gulf in the early sum-
mer months to spawn; and here the Mackerel are found pursuing them while engaged in deposit-
ing their comparatively large reddish-colored ova on the sands between high and low water.
Hence, during flood tide, and in the launce season, Mackerel are commonly taken close inshore on
tin-so coasts, in pursuit of the launce; and the best catches are said to be made during the period
of high tide, for the following reason: In dull, cloudy weather the launce buries itself in the sands
left bare by the ebbing tides; but in bright, hot weather it rarely seeks the shelter of the sand,
except near low-water mark, probably because the heat of the sun would be oppressive. The
breadth of sandy ground in which the launce buries itself for the brief period between high and
low water marks is thus dependent upon the clearness of the sky.

"A continuance of cloudy weather is conducive to this kind of close inshore fishery; whereas
a bright sky, and a day with a drying wind, leads the launce to select the narrow bauds of sandy
beach near the margin of ebb-tide, which always remain moist. In cloudy weather with a moist
wind, the area in which the launce bury themselves and emerge during the incoming tide is thus
very much greater than in bright, hot weather; and it is not unfrequently found by experience
that the Mackerel catch in such localities is much greater in clondy weather than in bright weather,
because the bait ground is then far more extensive close inshore.

"As the summer advances and the launce retire to deep water the Mackerel feed upon the
free-swimming and floating embryonic forms of crustaceans ; among the latter the zoea of differ-
ent forms of crabs are the most common. Adult shrimps of many species form also a large portion
of their food, and the infinite numbers of these forms of life which exist in the sea, from the coast
line to a thousand miles from land, may be inferred from the fact that, together with fish, they
form the great staple of food of seals in northern seas.

" Dr. Robert Brown states that, during the sealing season in Spitzbergen seas, he has taken
out of the stomachs of seals various species of Oammarus (O. Sabini; G. loricatus; Q.pinguis; Q.
dentatm; O. mutatus, etc.), collectively known to whalers under the name 'mountebank shrimps,'
deriving the designation from their peculiar agility in water. 1

"These small crustaceans are found in countless numbers on the great outlying banks off the
North American coast, and in the Labrador seas they are also in great profusion.

*' It is of special importance to notice that very many if not all of these free-swimming crea-
tures in the sea, from invisible microscopic forms to the largest shrimp, sink to different zones of
water or rise to the surface with the variations in temperature and changes in the direction and
force of the wind. In fine weather, when the food is at the surface, the Mackerel, the herring, and

1 Dr. R. BROWN : On the Seals of Greenland.


other surface feeders swim open-mouthed against the wind. Dr. Brown states that the right
whale and most of the whale species feed in a similar manner. The right whale feeding swims
leisurely at the rate of about four miles an hour. Mackerel, when feeding, come often by millions,
like a swiftly moving ripple on the water, with eager, staring eyes and mouths distended to entrap
the floating prey. Many of the free-swimming pteropoda are active only during the night-time,
sinking during the day to a certain zone of depth.

"The effect of currents and tides, assisted by winds, is to drive these free-swimming forms
towards the different shores and into land-locked or sheltered bays. On the shores of the open
sea a continued laud breeze drives them far out to sea, and the fish following them will be lost to
view. Off the coast of the United States the Mackerel ground is not uufrequently found near the
summer limit of the Gulf Stream where wide-spreading eddies prevail, caused by the meeting of
the great Labrador current flowing in an opposite direction, or the surging up of the arctic under-
flow. In these vast eddies the temperature is greatly reduced by the mixing of almost ice-cold
water from beneath with a warm overlying stratum.

"It is here, too, that the free-swimming mackerel food will congregate, sometimes at the sur-
face, at other times at different depths, dependent upon the temperature of the mixed waters. In
the vicinity of the south edge of the Grand Bank of Newfoundland the line of contact between the
Arctic and the Gulf Streams is sometimes very marked by the local currents which 'boil and form
strong eddies.' The line of contact of the two great cold and warm currents is continually chang-
ing for hundreds of miles with the varying seasons, and under the influence of winds; hence, also,
the changes in geographical position and in the depth or zone of the open-sea mackerel grounds. 1

"Inshore the floating and free-swimming food is drifted to and fro by winds and tides, and
great accumulations are sometimes thrown up upon the beaches in windrows after storms. This
floating and swimming food gathers in eddies, either near the coast line or at the junction of
opposing tidal waves or currents. Hence, along sheltered and embayed coasts, confronting the
open sea in the vicinity of banks where great tidal currents and eddies are formed, or in the gulf
and estuary of the Saint Lawrence, where two opposite and wholly different tides dragging along the
coast line approach to meet, there will be the mackerel ground of the fishermen, but not necessarily
at the surface.* 1

The winged pteropods very properly form an important part of the mackerel food, as they
sink and rise with changes of the temperature of the zone or sheet of water in which they are

REPRODUCTION. Although little is actually known concerning the spawning habits of the
Mackerel compared with those of fish which, like the shad and the salmon, have been artificially
propagated, it is perhaps safe to say that the subject is understood in a general way. The testi-
mony of reliable observers among the fishermen of our coast and the coast of the British Provinces
indicates that the spawning takes place in rather deep water all along the shore from the eastern

'There are no mackerel-fishing grounds within 300 miles or more of the Grand Bank, and certainly none nearer
than 400 miles of its southern edge. It is possible that mackerel have occasionally been seen, or stray specimens
captured, nearer the Grand Bank than this, bnt no mackerel fishermen would think of trying for these fish east of
the west coast of Newfoundland. There arc but two instauces on record where mackerel fishermen have gone so far
east as that. Whatever influence may bo exerted upon other forms of ocean life by the meeting of the Gulf Stream
amhtho Arctic Current, it can be quite safely asserted that the Mackerel are never found in Hummer near the junction
of these currents, excepting, perhaps, on the southern edge of George's Bank and off the south shoal of Nantucket.
These localities are the nearest mackerel-fishing grounds to the Gulf Stream of any on the United States coast. And
even here Mackerel are rarely or never taken nearer than fifty or sixty miles from the northern edge of the stream.


t ml of Long Island to Kastport, Maim-, along the coast of Nova Scotia, and in the Gulf of Saint
Lawivmv. Tin- spawning season occurs in May in Southern New England, in May and June in
Massachusetts Mas and in June in the (lull' of Saint Lawrence, and on tbo Bradley Bunks and
about the Magdalene* early in the month, and, according to Ilind, on the northeast coast of New-
foundland toward the end of the month. 1

Capt. Benjamin Ashby, of Noauk, Connecticut, states that in the spring of 1877 Mackerel
spawned in great numbers in Vineyard Sound and Buzzard's Bay. Many Mackerel were taken in
tin- pounds, and the eggs were so ripe that when the fish were thrown from the net to the boat the
eggs escaped to such an extent that in cleaning out the boat afterwards he found at least half a
bushel at the bottom. This was as early as the 2d of May, ! ml continued through the month.

Capt. B. H. Hurlbert, of Gloucester, found the spawn running out of Mackerel taken oft' Kettle
Inland, south of Cape Ann, in May and June.

Capt. Henry Webb, who owns a weir on Milk Island, under the shadow of the Thatcher's
Island lights, obtains many Mackerel every year in his nets. He informs me that when they first
make their appearance, about the first of June, the spawn is running out of them, and many of
them are half through the process of spawning. The eggs will spurt from a female fish in a stream
si\ feet long, and there is a large percentage of females in the catch, probably two-thirds of the
whole. The spawn begins to dry up after the first of August, and young fish begin to appear
about the 4th of August. He thinks that it takes Mackerel four or five weeks to spawn; after
that they begin to grow fat, and when they are fat there is no sign of spawn to be seen, the male
and female not being distinguishable.

The growth is rapid, and in about seven weeks the young fish are about four or five inches

Mackerel spawn abundantly in Graver's Beach at a depth of one and a half to two fathoms.
The eggs are very minute, and the old Mackerel feed upon them greedily.

Captain Fisher, of Portland, Maine, told me, in 1874, that when the Mackerel come in they
are almost empty and have a muddy taste. They first engage in spawning, but toward the last of
June they have finished and begin to grow fat.

'Daring the entire month of June Mackerel are taken in the Bay of Saint Lawrence with roes fully developed.
Having been engaged in the Mackerel fishery in the Gulf for twenty-two consecutive seasons, ten of which I went to
the Bay early in June, I have therefore had abundant opportunity to learn the spawning season of the Mackerel in
that region. It is my opinion that Mackerel spawn in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence some time between the 1st and the
15th of July. Have caught them in abundance and full of roe as late as the 4th and 5th of July, and it is exceedingly
rare to find spent Mackerel previous to the 20th of June. In the period when hook-aud-line fishing was most prosper-
ous, the fishermen usually planned to leave the Gulf about the first week in July if they hod succeeded in getting nearly
a faro of Mackerel previous to that time, since while the fish were spawning, or between the 1st and the 15th of the
month, but little conld be done, as the Mackerel would not readily take the hook. The fishermen, therefore, knowing
that they conld catch few fish during this period, between "hay and grass," as they termed it, usually improved the
opportunity thus afforded of making their passage home and refitting for another trip with comparatively little loss
of timo. Apparently one of the most favorite breeding grounds for Mackerel in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is the
area along the shores of Now Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (on the north side of the latter) lying inside of a
line drawn from North Cape to Point Miscou. Bank Bradley is also a breeding ground for Mackerel of considerable
importance. The fish seemed to assemble 'on the grounds mentioned above during Jnne, in *a depth varying from
three to forty fathoms. The greater part, however, were found in a depth varying from ten to twenty fathoms. The
spawning season being over, they usually stay on the same grounds, though later in the summer and during autumn
the Mackerel were abundant around the Magdalenes and the bend of Prince Edward Island ; when the fall migration
takes place they move farther south. It is probable that largo numbers of Mackerel may deposit their spawn around
Magdalene Island, though it is worthy of note that but few or no fish have been taken in that locality on hook and
lino during the month of June. Considerable quantities are, however, caught by the gill-net fishermen early in June,
though iln- cutch was small compared with that formerly obtained by hook-ond-line fishing in the western part of the


Captain Hurlbert caught a dozen fish off Cainden July 1, 1870, which were half spawned and
had spawn running out of them.

According to Mr. Wilkins, of Two Isles, Grand Manan, the Mackerel spawn there on the
rocks and sand in water from one foot to ten feet or more in depth. This is in the first half of
June. The spawn is in bunches and does not float on the water.

During the spawning season Mackerel are taken in seines, as they will not bite and are then
very poor. They come again in September and October, and are then taken with the hook.

Mr. Hall, of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, says that Mackerel spawn only once in
seven years in large numbers, this period representing the interval between the successive large
catches. The Mackerel strike in there about the 10th of June. They spawn about the 2d or 3d
of July on the Bradley Bank to the north of Prince Edward Island. At that time they have been
taken with spawn running out of them. They cease to bite for several weeks while spawning.
One of the principal spawning grounds on our coast appears to be on the Nantucket Shoals, where
for a period of three or four weeks after their first appearance the Mackerel hug the bottom and
rarely take the hook. At this time there is a lull in the prosecution of the mackerel fishery,
although before its beginning great quantities are taken in the purse-seines far south along the
coast. After the close of the spawning season the old fish are said to be very poor, but take the
hook greedily along the entire coast, as also before the beginning of the spawning season. Although
the fish first brought to market are sold at a high price on account of their previous scarcity, it is
not until after the close of the spawning season and the subsequent fattening up of the fish that
they attain their highest excellence as an article of food. Fall Mackerel are well understood to be
by far the best fish. Storer, in his "History of the Fishes of Massachusetts," remarks: "From the
10th of May to the 15th of June they appear at the entrance to Massachusetts Bay, having been a
few days previous at Nantucket and the Vineyard Sound. Nine-tenths of those first seen are
males, and they are all large but poor, weighing from one pound to one pound and a half. At
their first appearance they will not take the hook, and are therefore captured in seines."

The contrast between the statements of Storer and Captain Webb should be carefully noted.
The former states that the early fish taken near the end of Cape Cod are mostly males. This
would naturally be the case, as the females at this time are either engaged in spawning or are
perhaps so weak that they would not be likely to come to the surface. At Milk Island, however,
which seems to be in the middle of the spawning region, the majority of the fish are females.

We are indebted to Capt. N. E. Atwood for the most complete series of observations upon the
spawning of the Mackerel which has ever been made, and what he has seen he shall be allowed to
tell in his own words :

"I have many seasons been engaged in fishing for Mackerel in our bay with gill-nets. I
watched the Mackerel more particularly in regard to their time for spawning. In 1856, owing to
the fact that a measure had passed the Massachusetts legislature authorizing the appointment of
three commissioners to make investigations with regard to the artificial propagation of the fish,
and that I expected to be named one of the commissioners, I went to the upper part of Massachu-
setts Bay, where it is about twenty miles broad, and I found these spawning Mackerel there near
the bottom. This year the Mackerel came in about the middle of May; few at first. On the 20th
I went out for the first time with my drifting-nets all night in the bay; I caught 2,250 Mackerel;
on the following night I caught 3,520. When I first began to catch them I observed that the spawn
had come to its full size, though it was not free to run from them, not being yet fully matured.
On or about the 1st of June we found that some of them were depositing spawn, and as I took them
from the nets the spawn ran freely. On the 5th of June I took the mature eggs as they came from


the fish and put them in alcohol, marking the date, aa I considered this time the middle of the
spawning season. (By the 10th of Jane the fish had all deposited their spawn, and they then
prom-drd to the grounds whore they expected to meet with better food in order to fatten and
recruit. The spawning takes place at a depth of from five to fifteen fathoms.) Thirty days after
I went out in the bay and found any quantity of schools of little Mackerel which were, I should
think, about two inches long, though their length might have been a little less. I took a number
of specimens and put them in alcohol, marking the date. Twenty-five days later I procured
another lot of them which had grown to double that size. I don't mean to imply that they were
twice as long, but twice as heavy. I put them also in alcohol, marking the date. The first time I
subsequently went to Boston I called on Professor Agassiz and gave him the specimens. He said
that he had never before been able to ascertain these facts so clearly and so well, and that he was
very much pleased with them. I watched the growth of these young Mackerel all along, and I
saw them grow considerably from month to month, so much so that the same fall, in the latter
part of October, I caught some of them with a very small mesh net and found they had grown to
a length of six and a half or seven inches. I kept a small quantity of them, split, salted, and
packed them, in accordance with the Massachusetts inspection law, as No. 4's, and since Mackerel
were then scarce and very high in price, I sold them for as much as $6 a barrel."

"Much yet remains to be learned in regard to the spawning season of the American Mackerel,"
writes Professor Baird, "and little more is known of this except in regard to the European
variety. It is, however, well established by the researches of Sars that this fish, like the cod, and
many of the flat fish, etc., spawns in the open sea, some times at a great distance from the land, at
others closer inshore. Sars found them on the outer banks of the coast of Norway; and Mr.
Matthias Dunn, of Mevagissey, England, communicates to ' Land and Water ' his observations
of Mackerel found, with ripe spawn, six miles from the coast. 1

" The fish taken in the weirs and pounds on Vineyard Sound and about Cape Cod in the early
spring are filled with ripe spawn ; and that the operation of spawning takes place on the Ameri-
can coast is shown by the immense schools of small fish that are taken throughout the summer, of
various sizes, from a few inches up, and from Buzzard's Bay to Portland and Penobscot Bay. No
species of young fish is, at times, more abundant throughout the summer season than the Mackerel.

'The egg of the Mackerel is exceedingly minute, not larger than that of the alewife or gaspe-
reau. It appears to be free from an adhesive envelope, such as pertains to the egg of the herring,
and in consequence of which it agglutinates together, and adheres to gravel, the rocks, or the sea-
weed at the bottom. As with the egg of the cod, that of the Mackerel is provided with an oil
globule, which makes it float nearly at the level of the surface."

I am indebted to Mr. Frederick W. True for an enumeration of the eggs in two Mackerel takeu
at Wood's Holl, Massachusetts, in May, 1873; one of these contained 363,107, the other 393,887.

SIR: I have been agaiu fortunate in taking a Mackerel alive in the act of spawning, on the night of May 10, abont
six miles from land. A better specimen could not possibly be bad, and the roe ran freely without assistance. I got
a bucket of sea- water, and allowed the fish to spawn in it ; for some time I had a difficulty in finding what became of
it, as the globules would not reflect the light of the candle like the pilchard spawn ; but by running the water into a
clean bottle, and holding it to the light, I found them floating on the surface, but not so buoyant as the pilchard roe.
In this state they continued for about half an hour, and then gradually sank to the bottom; but, unlike the pilchard
spawn, they retained their vitality there for more than twelve hours. With the daylight the globules could scarcely
be discerned by looking directly down into the water ; but on holding it towards the light in a bottle they could be seen,
with that healthy, bright silvery hue so peculiar to living ones, each marked with a dark spot in the center. Believ-
ing the pilclutrd spawn would have reached you, I did not send you any of these. As I sent that spawn by post, I
suppose the bottle must have been broken in the post-bag. MATTHIAS DUNN (Mevagissey, Cornwall, May 15, 1871),
Land and Water, May 20, 1871, p. 353.


The only previous record of the number of eggs yielded by Mackerel is that made by Thomas
Harmer, in 1764, and published in the "Philosophical Transactions" of London, vol. 57, p. 285.
He found in one large Mackerel, weighing one and a quarter pounds, 454,961 eggs; in a second,
of much the same weight, 430,846 ; and in a third, weighing about one pound two ounces, 546,681.'

RATE OF GROWTH AND SIZE. The rate of growth of the Mackerel during the first sum-
mer has been quite carefully studied by Captain Atwood; and the same authority has, perhaps
more satisfactorily than any other, interpreted the facts from which may be deduced the conclu-
sions as to their growth year by year.

Referring to the small fish, six and a half or seven inches in length, which he believed to be
the young of the year, caught by him in October, 1856, he says: "Fish of this size are sometimes
called ' Spikes,' but I do not know their proper name. The next year I think they are the ' Blinks,'
being one year old; the following year they are the 'Tinkers,' two years old, and the year after
they return to us as the second-size, three years old. It is probable that the fish reaches its full
maturity in four years." He continues: "The first Mackerel that come in are very large and
spawners, but these do not bite at the hook; and you don't catch them with the seine, because
they don't show themselves. You would not know of their presence if you did not set nets for

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 52 of 146)