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cerning all the fishes of this group, and it is more than probable that careful study will reveal facts
of which we are at present entirely ignorant.

ABUNDANCE. The Alewife is by far the most abundant of our river fishes, and throughout
the whole Southern region where they are caught, together with the Shad, the number of individuals
is not far from ten to twenty times as great as that of the Shad. For instance, in the Albemarle re-
gion, in 1879, 750,000 Shad were taken and upwards of 20,000,000 Alewives. Again, in 1880, about
600,000 Shad were taken from the Potomac, and 11,000,000 All-wives. By far the greatest num
ber of the Alewives thus taken were "Glut Herring," G. astivalis; but, since the two species are
sold together, without discrimination, no accurate statement of proportional numbers can be made.
In the Northern rivers they are not taken in any great numbers, owing to the fact that the meshes
of the nets used in the capture of the Shad are too large to retain the fish. In the Connecticut
and other rivers a large mesh is required by law, but throughout this entire region the abundance
of valuable sea-fishes is so great that there could be but little gain in capturing the Alewives.
There is on Cape Cod an extensive alewife fishery, described in another chapter. This has for
more than a century been regulated by law, and the fish are allowed during stated periods to
swim without interruption to their spawning beds. The streams in which they are taken are so

'Plymouth retains a fishing privilege in this brook within Wurehnm. The Alewives, arowo told, were more
numerous in 1815 than for some years.


small, and the fish in their ascent so crowded together, that they appear to be extremely abun-
dant, alt hough the aggregate catch for the entire Cape is not perhaps much greater than the
yield of many single seines in the South. Uere, however, there lias been no great decrease in
abundance, while in the South the herring fishery is much less productive than in former years.
Even now, however, the great seines of the Potomac and Albemarle regions could not be operated
without the herring fishery, and hauls are yearly made which seem incredible to those who have
not seen them. In 1879, at Wood's fishery, on the Albemarle, three hundred thousand Alewives
were lauded at a single haul of the seine. Hauls of half a million, and even more, were not
unfrequent prior to the late war. Considerable quantities of these fish are taken yearly in the
weirs on the south coast of New England, and form an important element in the bait supply of
the Massachusetts fishing fleet. In the report of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Fisheries
for 1872 are given the statistics of the catch of the Waquoit weir for seven years, from 1865 to 1871,
inclusive, the yearly average being 105,000. The annual product of two streams emptying into
the head of Buzzard's Bay is given in the same place, 1 one for fifteen, the other for seven years;
the average annual yield of the first was 539,000, that of the second 366,000. In 1864 the yield
wa> si 1 1. (MM). Numerous details of a similar character ma\ he t'ouml l.y those who are interested
in the statistical part of this report.

South of Cape Fear River the Alewife occurs in all the Atlantic streams in considerable
quantities, but as yet their capture is apparently not of such importance to the fishermen as to
cause the formation of a special alewife fishery between that point and the great fisheries of
the Albemarle.

In the works of early writers occur allusions to the Alewives of our Eastern coast, which
appear, in almost every instance, to refer to all the fishes known under that name. In Josselyn's
"Account of Two Voyages to New England," 1675, he remarks:

"The Alewife is like a Herrin, but has a bigger bellie; therefore, called an Alewife; they come
in the end of April into fresh Rivers and Ponds; there hath been taken in two hours' time by two
men without any Weyre at all, saving a few stones to stop the passage of the River, above ten

Captain John Smith, in his " Advertisements for the Inexperienced Planters of New England,"
London, 1631,* remarked :

"The seven and thirty passengers miscarrying twice upon the coast of England, came so ill-
provided, they onley relyed upon the poore company they found, that had lived two yeares by their
naked industry, and what the country naturally afforded; it is true, at first there hath been taken
a thousand Bayses at a draught, and more than twelve hogsheads of Herrings in a night; of other
fish when and what they would, when they had meanes; but wanting most necessaries for fishing
and fowling, it is a wonder how they could subsist, fortifle themselves, resist their enemies, and
plant their plants."

Thomas Morton, in his "New England Canaan," London, 1632, remarks:

"Of Herrings, there is a great store, fat, and faire; & (to my minde) as good as any I have
scene, & these may be preserved, and made a good commodity at the Canaries."

Mr. Higgiuson, in his " New England's Plantation," 1630, refers to the great abundance of
Herring in the waters of New England.

In the "Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth," from 1692 to 1725,
speaking of Town Brook, Plymouth, Massachusetts, it is stated that before the brook was so much
impeded by dams vast quantities of Alewives passed up through it annually to Billington Sea.

'Page 30. 'Page 19.


William Wood, in his " New England's Prospects." London, 1634, remarks:

" The Herrings be much like them that be caught on the English coast. Alewives be a kind
of fish which is much like a Herring, which in the latter end of Aprill come up to the fresh Rivers
to spawne, in such multitudes as is almost incredible, pressing up in such shallow waters as will
scarce permit them to swimme, having likewise such longing desire after the fresh water ponds,
that no beating with poles, or forcive agitations by other devices, will cause them to returne to
the sea, till they have cast their spawne."

The same writer makes mention of the fact that in the spring, when the Alewives pass up the
rivers, abundance of bass may be caught in the rivers.

Wood, writing in 1633, states that a little below the fall in Charles River the inhabitants of
Watertown had built a wear to catch fish, wherein they took great store of Shads and Alewives.
" In twp tides they have gotten 200,000 of these fishes."

Schoepf, in his " Fishes of New York," 1788, refers to the American Herring under the name
C. harengtts, stating that it is similar to that of Europe, but that the body has scales which are
more easily detached. The back is glistening blue, the belly white, widely cariuate, and provided
with saw-like scutes. The fish which he has in mind is undoubtedly one of the river Herrings,
since he states that it appears in May and June ou the coast of New York, later than the Shad
and not in such great numbers.

Pennant, in Ids "Arctic Zoology," states that " Herrings leave the salt water in March and
run up the rivers and shallow streams of Carolina in such numbers that the inhabitants fling them
ashore by shovels full. Passengers trample them under foot fording the rivers. They are not so
large as the ' English,' but exceed them in flavor when pickled."

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION. The geographical distribution of the two species has not
been thoroughly worked out, but as now understood may be stated as follows: The "Blue-back,"
or "Glut" Herring, C. asstivalis, Mitchill, occurs in the Saint John's River, Florida, and in all the
coast waters of the Eastern United States to the Gulf of Maine. On the coast of Maine this
species rarely enters rivers, but is found abundantly at sea. It is probably the "Spring" Herring
referred to by Col. Theodore Lyman as occurring below the dams in the rivers of Massachusetts.
Its area of greatest abundance is in the Albemarle and Chesapeake regions. The name of " Glut"
Herring is derived from the fact that it makes its appearance in great schools, and all at once
becomes so abundant as to glut the markets. The formei appears later than the " Spring" Herring,
or "Gaspereau," and some time after the Shad. Its advent is much less gradual than that of the
"Spring" Herring. Its peculiar movements are due to certain conditions of temperature, which
will be discnssed below.

At present, as the latest investigations show, the river range of this species in the Southern
States does not extend far beyond tide water. In early days, before obstructions were placed in the
James River, they are said to have ascended as far as Lexington ; now they do not reach the vicinity
of Richmond, although there are no obstructions below that city. The "Spring" Herring, or
Gaspereau, C. vernalis, Mitchill, is more northerly in its range. Until discovered by Colonel
McDonald in the Neuse River of North Carolina, in the spring of 1880, it had not been definitely
recorded south of the Chesapeake Bay. Although in that year this species was particularly
abundant in the Albemarle and Chesapeake regions, constituting a considerable portion of the
entire catch, it is ordinarily much less numerous, and the area of its greatest abundance is in the
region from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Cape May. As has already been stated, the Alewives
of the Connecticut River are chiefly of this species, as also is the Herring of the Hudson and of
the streams emptying into Cape Cod. In the Chesapeake region this species is from three to four


weeks earlier than i In- other, reaching the maximum of its abundance and beginning to decline in
numbers before the other comes. The u|i|>n>aeh of the hitter is more gradual, and unlike the
other species, it makes its way into the small Streams and branches; hence the name "Branch"
Herring. In the rivers of Massachusetts the ''Branch" Herring ascends much farther toward
the headwaters than the other species, and in some streams is found to tbe exclusion of the
other facts which will be discussed below when considering tbe influences of temperature.
Perley states tbat the Gaspereau appears in the harbor of Saint John's in April, but the main body
does not enter the river before May 10; that the fish is abundant in the Bay of Fundy, but that
tin species is less plentiful and smaller in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He also states that in the
Bay of ( 'lialeiir it has never been noticed, and that, as in the case of Shad, the Bay of Merrimachi
would appear to be its extreme northern limit. It ascends the river of the same name to its source,
spawning in the Merrimachi Lake. In the Saint John's River, New Brunswick, it ascends to Dar-
ling's Lake (Kennebecasis), Douglas Lake (Nerepis), the Washademoac Lake, the Ocnabog Lake,
the Grand Lake, and the Oromocto River, and in company with the Shad deposits its spawn. Its
abundance in the harbor of Saint John, New Brunswick, may be inferred from the fact that the
catch varies from twelve to sixteen thousand barrels each season, sometimes reaching twenty
thousand. This statement was made in 1852.

A very remarkable phenomenon, recently observed, has been the appearance of this species in
immense numbers in Lake Ontario and lakes of New York. Dr. T. H. Bean has collected a large
number of facts upon this point, which are recorded in an essay at the end of this chapter.

MIGRATIONS AND MOVEMENTS. Like the Shad, the Alewives are anadromous in habit. The
dates of their first appearance in any given river may be very closely determined by an examina-
tion of the tables which show the movements of the Shad. The Gaspereau or "Spring" Herring
usually precedes the Shad by a period of several weeks, while the run of the "Blue-back" or
"Glut" Herring occurs in the middle of the shad season.

In 1879 the first Shad made their appearance in the markets of Washington March 25, preceded
four weeks by the Menhaden, a little more than three weeks by the Branch Herring, and about
four weeks in advance of the "Glut" Herring. Colonel Lyinan, in his report for 1872, already
referred to, gives the dates of the appearance of the Alewives, Menhaden, and bluefish at Waquoit
weir for thirteen years, from 1859 to 1871 inclusive. The Alewives always came first, from
March 24 to April 7; the scup from a month to forty days later; the Menhaden about the same
time with the scup, though usually two or three days later; and the bluefish from ten days to two
weeks after the Menhaden. '

Concerning the time of their departure from the river as little is known as in the case of the
Shad. Their winter habitat has yet to be found. I am convinced, after several years of
study, that in mild winters they remain about the mouths of the rivers, ascending them in the
spring. Late in December, 1870, he captured numerous specimens of both species in gill-nets,
at Yorktown, in company with Menhaden, and it is my opinion that they might be taken in a
similar manner in Pamlico Sound. Thus, also, it is possible that many Shad winter in Long
Island Sound and New York Bay, but we know that in the fall they are found in abundance forty
or fifty miles at sea in the Gulf of Maine. The Branch Herrings ascend the river probably as far
as the Shad, and are beb'eved to penetrate small streams to a much greater distance, entering
many waters in which the Shad never occur. The "Blue-back" or "Glut" Herring, however,
does not go far above tide water, and the area of reproduction seems to be confined to the large
streams or to their tidal tributaries.

1 Beport of Massachusetts Commissioner of Inland Fisheries, January, 1874, p. 64.


FOOD. As in the case of the Shad, very little is kuown concerning the food of the river
Alewives in their salt-water habitats. It is, however, supposed that they, like other similar
species, exist largely upon swimming crustaceans.' When iu the rivers they do not feed to any
considerable extent, although they have been known in many instances to take the fly.

REPRODUCTION. The eggs of the Alewife are adhesive, like those of the sea Herring, though
to a much less degree. The number of eggs varies from sixty thousand to one hundred thousand,
in accordance with the size of the individual. They are deposited upon the bottom in shoal water,
or on whatever object they may come in contact with. The time for spawning, after the fish have
entered the river, depends, as in the case of the Shad, entirely on the temperature of the water.
The spawning of the "Glut" Herring takes place under ordinary conditions at a temperature of
70 to 75 F.; that of the "Branch" Herring, when the water is as low as 55 to 60 F. The
period of development varies directly with the temperature.

The season of incubation with the "Glut" Herring is about the same as with the Shad that
is, about three or four days. With the "Branch" Herring the spawning takes place when the water
is colder, for which reason the period of incubation is doubtless longer. The young Alewife before
winter attains a length of two to three inches, and the period of growth continues, probably, as iu
the Shad, for three or four years.

"There seems to be," remarks Professor Baird, 1 "a difference of opinion as to the age at which
Alewives first return from the sea, some fixing it at two and others at three or more years. Captain
Treat, of Eastport, however, many years ago transported several hundred pairs of breeding fish
to a small sheet of water, known as Keeue's Pond, situated some five or six miles from Robinston,
Maine, and having its outlet into the Calais River just below Red Beach. The level of the lake is
several hundred feet above that of the river, and the outlet is very precipitous, consisting of
several falls entirely impassable to fish from below. No Alewives had ever been known iu this
pond at the time of their introduction by Captain Treat. The young fish were seen i . the pond in
the course of the summer iu myriads, all of them disappearing, however, after a heavy rain in the
autumn, which swelled the waters to produce a sufficient discharge. Due examination was made
for successive years, but not until the expiration of the fourth were they seen, when the outlet was
observed to be almost choked up by a solid mass of Alewives, struggling to make their way back
again to the place of their birth."

During past years the Alewife has frequently been artificially introduced into new waters or
over dams by the transportation of fish of considerable size. This is constantly done on Cape Cod
in the restocking of the herring streams which have been exhausted, and was successfully accom-
plished ly General N. L. Lincoln, in Maine, as long ago as 1750. Colonel Lyman, in his report
for 1870, 2 describes the experiment by Mr. E. S. Haddoway in restocking Eel Liver, Town Brook,
Plymouth, in 1865. The crop sown by him in that year came up in 1869 in the shape of a good
run of fish, chiefly males full grown.

Herring eggs have frequently been artificially impregnated by men engaged in shad culture.
The young fish artificially hatched have in some instances been transported. In 1882 two million
were sent to Texas by the United States Fish Commission and deposited iu the Colorado River.
Artificial hatching would seem less necessary in the case of the Alewife than in that of the Shad,
since with the former, owing to its peculiar spawning habits, the eggs stand a better chance of
hatching out, and very slight protection of the fish during spawning season will be sufficient to
keep up the supply. The present law of the District of Columbia, by which pound-nets are kept

'Report, Uuited States Fish Commission, part ii, 1874, p. Ixi. 'Pago 7.


out of the water after June 1, will doubtless have a very important efl'ect in keeping up the supply
of Alrwivcs in the Potomac.

SIZK. According to the ordinary mode of estimating the weight of River Herring in the
I'otoinae three make a pound, and the maximum weight per individual does not exceed half a

I'SES. The Herrings, or Alewives, taken in the great fisheries of the South, are almost
without exception salted for local eonsiunption, though early in the season they are shipped fresh
from the Albemarle u - ion to Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, and are sold in the
markets at a low price. There is of course a considerable consumption in the fresh state iu the
region of the fisheries, immense quantities being taken by peddlers and carried by wagons inland
from the rivers of the South, as well as from the Hudson, Connecticut, and smaller rivers of
Massachusetts. (Ireat numbers are smoked in North Carolina for local consumption; in fact,
almost all which are used in the vicinity of the fisheries are taken out of the brine (after having
been saturated with the salt, or "struck" or "corned") and hung up for a few days in the smoke-
houses belonging to the purchasers who intend them for their own use.

When intended for shipment into the interior they are treated in several ways: (i) They may
be taken out of the first pickle and packed in dry salt; iu that case they are called "salt Herring."
(it) The roe Alewives may lie selected, the beads and entrails removed and salted down in dry salt
and sent to market as roe Alewives, of which there are several grades. (Hi) They may be packed
as split Alewives. In this operation the heads and entrails are removed by a single cut and twist
of the knife, with surprising rapidity and packed in dry salt, or smoked. The heading and
evisceration are done by a single stroke, and an expert operator will prepare forty to fifty per
minute. This work is done by negro women. In Washington a superior brand of smoked
Alewives is prepared and sold as "Potomac Hoe Herring." These are highly esteemed by judges
of smoked fish, and command a price of three or four cents each iu the city markets. They are
equal to the finest Labrador Herring. Small quantities are prepared after the German fashion

In conclusion, we quote from Professor Baird's second report as Commissioner of Fisheries
the following remarks upon the uses and importance of this fish:

"I am inclined to think, for various reasons, that too little has been done in our waters
towards the restoration to their primitive abundance of the Alewife (Pomolobus mediocris), the
Herring of our Southern and Middle States, not to be confounded with the sea Herring (Clupca

"The Alewife in many respects is superior, in commercial and economical value, to the Her-
ring, being a much larger and sweeter fish, and more like the true Shad in this respect. Of all
American fish none are so easily propagated as the Alewife, and waters from which it has been
driven by the erection of impassable dams can be fully restocked in the course of a few years,
simply by transporting a sufficient number of the mature fish taken at the mouth of the stream to
a point above the dams, or placing them iu ponds or lakes. Here they will spawn and return to
the sea after a short interval, making their way over dams which carry any flow. The young
Alewives, after a season, descend, and return, if not prevented, at the end of their period of imma-
turity, to the place where they were spawned.

" In addition to the value of the Alewife as an article of food, it is of much service in ponds
and rivers as nutriment for trout, salmon, and other valuable fishes. The young derive their sus-
tenance from minute crustaceans and other objects too diminutive for the larger fish, and in their
great abundance are greedily devoured by t lie other species around them. In waters inhabited


by both pickerel and trout these fish find in the young Alewives sufficient food to prevent their
preying upon each other. They are also, for the same reason, serviceable in ponds containing
black bass.

"As a cheap and very abundant food for other fishes, the young Alewives can be placed in
waters that have no connection with the sea by merely transferring from any convenient locality
a sufficient number of the living mature parents, taken at the approach of the spawning season;
they will remain for several months, and, indeed, can often be easily penned up by a suitable dam
and kept throughout the year.

" It is in another still more important connection that we should consider the Alewife. It is
well known that withiu the last thirty or forty years the fisheries of cod, haddock, and hake along
our coast have measurably diminished, and in some places ceased entirely. Enough may be taken
for local consumption, but localities which formerly furnished the material for an extensive com-
merce in dried fish have been entirely abandoned. Various causes have been assigned for this
condition of things, and among others the alleged diminution of the sea Herring. After a careful
consideration of the subject, however, I am strongly inclined to believe that it is due to the dimi-
nution, and in many instances to the extermination, of the Alewives. As already remarked, before
the construction of dams in the tidal rivers the Alewife was found in incredible numbers along our
coast, probably remaining not far from shore, excepting when moving up into the fresh water, and
at any rate spending a considerable interval off the mouths of the rivers either at the time of their
journey upward or on their return. The young, too, after returning from the ocean, usually
swarmed in the same localities, and thus furnished for the larger species a bait such as is not
supplied at present by any other fish, the sea Herring not excepted. We know that the Alewife
is particularly attractive as a bait to other fisl:es, especially for cod and mackerel. Alewives
enter the streams on the south coast of New England before the arrival of the bluefish ; but the
latter devote themselves with great assiduity to the capture of the young as they come out from
their breeding ponds. The outlet of an alewife pond is always a capital place for the bluefish,
and, as they come very near the shore in such localities, they can be caught there with the line by
what is called 'heaving and hauling,' or throwing a squid from the shore and hauling it in with
the utmost rapidity.

"The coincidence, at least, in the erection of the dams, and the enormous diminution in the
number of the Alewives, and the decadence of the inshore cod fishery, is certainly very remarka-
ble. It is probable, also, that the mackerel fisheries have suffered in the same way, as these fish
find in the young Menhaden and Alewives an attractive bait.

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 99 of 146)