Gottlieb Boccius.

Fish in rivers and streams; a treatise on the management of fish in fresh waters, by artificial spawning, breeding and rearing: showing also the cause of the depletion of all rivers and streams online

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Online LibraryGottlieb BocciusFish in rivers and streams; a treatise on the management of fish in fresh waters, by artificial spawning, breeding and rearing: showing also the cause of the depletion of all rivers and streams → online text (page 1 of 3)
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IN 1841 a short Treatise on Fish-ponds issued from
the press, giving an account of many years' obser-
vations of the present writer : * it was intended to show
the advantages which water-owners might easily de-
rive from judicious treatment in improving the hreed
and breeding of fresh-water fish, and the large amount
of good they might do to the community at large by
the great quantity of wholesome food they might biing
into the markets of both town and country.

There is no animal in the world like the fish in its
power of multiplying its own species ; but fresh waters
require care and protection : they must be managed
as well as protected, and they must be protected and
managed on sound principles, or all rivers and streams

* ' A Treatise on the Management of Fresh-water Fish, with a view
to making them a source of Profit to Landed Proprietors.' 8vo. Van


running through populous countries will, in no long-
time, be wholly depopulated of their finny tribes ; and
how and why I will endeavour to show, not theoreti-
cally, but practically, after long experience in the

In again taking up my pen to give such informa-
tion as I can on artificial spawning, breeding and
rearing of fish, I trust that the number of years in
which I have practised this art with perfect success
will warrant me in attempting to show how rivers and
streams may be restored to their former productive-
ness, upon simple, cheap, and unfailing principles, so
that there never need be a scanty supply of fresh-
water fish as an article of food.


CLOSE observation, year after year, has enabled me to as-
certain the peculiar characters and habits of fish, and to
become acquainted with the causes of their paucity in all
rivers and streams ; and the first and principal point to
which I shall draw the attention of my readers is, the pro-
tection necessary to be afforded to them for a given period,
which will, in return, well repay the fostering hand for this
small expenditure of time and care.

One part of my system is to breed none but the superior
classes and qualities of fish, the finest costing no more
trouble to protect and feed than the inferior kinds. This
is a subject of so much importance to the country at large,
that I can only hope that the information and the hints I
have to offer will produce proselytes, so that every river,
stream and pond may be brought into a productive state of
supply of this wholesome, nutritious, and cheap article of
food. The main cause why all fresh -water streams become
sterile in the end, if not carefully tended, is simple enough :




i namely ^all the smaller streams form the sewers of the ad-
jacent country, and fall into the larger rivers, and the latter
again act as the sewers of the towns and of the kingdom, and
are carriers of their congregated impurities finally to the sea.
The increasing population of human beings charges the
rivers every day with more and more foul matters, the re-
fuse of towns and the agrarian districts passing into them ;
and hence the destruction of the spawn, egg, or ova of fish,
but not of the fish when once brought into life. One cause
of this I shall explain chemically. Water is composed of
one volume of oxygen gas and two volumes of hydrogen
gas. No life can be sustained without oxygen, let it be
animal or vegetable : consequently, when water becomes
thickened by other matters, a new compound is introduced,
which produces a new chemical action; and this is the cause
why all rivers and streams eventually become barren : for
the following is the result of such a condition of waters,
which it is an abuse of language any longer to call fresh.
The egg of a fish, in production, differs from that of other
animals, as the absorption of the spermatic fluids does not
take place till it has passed from the parent, and is then
left on its bed, hill, or weed, according to the description
of the fish, until the period of incubation has arrived ; but
in the meantime, should the water become foul and change
its character, then the alluvial deposit in the water settles
down upon the pedicle or neck of the egg, hermetically


seals the same, and prevents the oxygen gas (the component
part of water) from being absorbed and passing to the em-
bryo, from which cause suffocation takes place, and the
egg is, in the common phrase, addled. This may seem
strange ; but the student of the laws of Nature well knows
that oxygen gas is as absolutely necessary to life as it is
the slow destroyer of all things. The destruction of
the eggs of the trout from the cause just assigned I have
proved to many friends, having shown them thousands in a
putrefied state on their own natural hills or breeding-
grounds; whilst, upon the principles I have to detail of my
methods of producing fish, not a single egg is lost.

As I have not had the advantage of living for any length
of time in the neighbourhood of a salmonry, I can only give
my own views of the breeding and protection of that noble
fish ; but I believe I shall not be far from the truth when I
have shown what I have seen of the nature and bearing of
the Salmonidse. On the subject of trout and other fresh-
water fish I can speak more confidently, as the practice of
many years has given me such convincing results as are
not easily refuted.

To do away with a deal of controversy as to fish being
only fit for food in certain seasons, I will point out to those
who may think it worth while to read these pages, that all
fish differ more or less in their seasons : for instance, when
fish are young, like other animals, they are more apt for


procreation than fish of older constitutions, and conse-
quently begin to spawn earlier in the season than the heavy
or matured fish. This will account, in some measure, for
the belief of many people that there are two spawning sea-
sons for certain kinds of fish, which is not the fact. Grilse
will run up to the head of their native river, preparatory
to spawning, in the month of August and September ; but
salmon do not make their appearance till October or later,
so that the grilse's egg is brought forward almost as early as
the true salmon's spawn is delivered on the hill. The full-
grown salmon egg is brought forth in March or April, ear-
lier or later, according to the altered temperature of the
water at that time of the year. This rule is applicable to
all fish bred in fresh water, and has been a riddle to our
best fishermen. As soon as fish have shot their spawn they
become sickly, and are, as the consequence of their ill
health and weakness, infested with insects, both externally
and internally, and so continue for some time, till they re-
cover their stamina, and shake them off or discharge them.
When again recovered and cleansed, Nature moves in its
usual course, and the fish is again called in season.

I have known young or maiden trout go to hill, or to the
spawning ground, in November, whilst matured fish of four
or five pounds weight would not spawn till the February
following, the former depositing some forty or fifty eggs,
and are thus actually in good season when the latter begin


to make their appearance upon the hill. The river which
I have restored for many miles is the Colne ; but the most
remarkable evidence of the results which I have obtained
may be witnessed at Carshalton, on the Wandle stream,
from which I have seen small trout taken by angling par-
ties early in March, which were decidedly in perfect season,
having recovered their condition, but did not weigh more
than six ounces.

I will now draw the particular attention of my readers
to the state of streams of which they are owners or fishers,
if they wish to insure an abundant stock of healthy fish.
As there are not many landed proprietors in our south
country who possess more than five or six miles of river, I
recommend, in the first place, that the levels of the falls
be taken from the upward to the lower boundary ; so that
a systematic husbandry of the springs, and a judicious dis-
charge of the land waters by a back or tributary stream,
may be obtained from the extreme point of boundary. This
has a twofold benefit : in the first place, in keeping the
thickened or land waters from the pure or spring waters, by
which means their temperature does not become much dis-
turbed ; for if the waters are blended, the fish become sick
and cannot feed : in the second place, in making use of the
artificial back-stream as a sluice, any accumulation of mud
may be swept away with a very little management. I
strongly recommend the removal of all trees and underwood


from the banks of streams, to such a distance that the
leaves cannot fall into its waters, as the decomposition of
arboraceous matter produces humic acid gas, which is
always prejudicial, and in some cases, when in excess, is
destructive to all kinds of fish, as it interrupts their feeding
and suppresses their growth. This will serve to account
for the extraordinary fact, that, in private ponds exposed to
these injurious influences, the fish have not increased in
weight during many years. Wholesome water is "of as
much importance to fish as pure air to man ; and as impure
air affects his health, so does impure water affect the finny
tribe, and render them sickly and small. The depletion of
our rivers is due, not so much to the disturbing traffic of
steam-vessels, shipping, or any other river and river-side
movements, as to the increase of our population, and the
consequent increase of the refuse matters of towns and
cities : for to this is to be ascribed the impure state of
most of our fresh-water streams, as they are called by
courtesy a courtesy too complimentary. Strange to say,
however, the very cause of destruction to the fish while in
embryo produces them abundance of food when once
brought into life. For instance, the very mud or alluvial
deposit in our rivers and streams, which is an enemy to the
embryo, breeds such myriads of worms, larvae and insects,
that when the young fish all dangers overcome find
their way into it at last, they have no labour to procure


food, and increase rapidly in size as a consequence of the
easy life they lead : for it is a well-authenticated fact, that
fish which have to toil hard in hunting for their food are
bony and ill-conditioned, and never fat. Another strange
characteristic of the finny tribe is, that on changing their
locality they assume a colour suited to the waters to which
they have migrated, the result, probably, of the altered
condition of light or electricity they have undergone in
making this change : so that fish bred in a dark or deep
water are dark, and those in a clear, bright, and shallow
stream are light arid brilliant, and hardly discernible

A friend at Dorking asked me why it was that he could
not breed trout, or indeed any fish, in one of his streams,
although when he placed the fresh brood therein they grew
rapidly ; whilst in a second stream they bred, but did not
thrive ? My explanation was, that in the one stream the
corruption to which the water was liable destroyed the egg,
but afforded the brood abundance of food ; whilst in the
other, there being very little food, the fish had to work hard
to obtain it, and were thus kept lean and small.

In proof of the extraordinary growth of fish when con-
fined and regularly fed on food fit for them, I may refer to
the two electric eels (Gymnoius electric us), now exhibiting
at the Polytechnic Institution. These fish were imported
six years back, and placed as objects of curiosity in the


Adelaide Gallery, in the Strand, and since have become
inmates of the above-named Institution. When brought
to this country they weighed about one pound each ; but,
being confined in a very small space, and fresh warm
water daily given to them, agreeable to their natural ele-
ment, and regularly fed, the largest of these specimens of
Gymnpti has grown to the great weight of between forty
and fifty pounds, the smaller one to about forty pounds ;
and the cause assigned for this difference in weight is, that
the one fish was by nature the most powerful of the two,
and always claimed the lion's share of food thrown to them ;
and it is a fact worth noticing, that the largest fish of the
two has the greatest power in giving the electric shock. I
have wandered somewhat from my subject in describing
these extraordinary creatures ; but they have afforded me
the opportunity of showing what may be done by systematic
management in the feeding of fish, which is of more conse-
quence than the inexperienced reader and breeder would

I have seen trout taken from a stream systematically sup-
plied with food, seventeen inches in length, which would
pull down above two and a half pounds ; from an ill-stored
stream one of the same length drew no more than from one
pound and a quarter to one pound and a half : such are the
advantages of wholesome water and food regularly supplied.
Salmon of nine pounds weight will yield from 1000 to 1500


eggs : one of sixteen pounds from 4000 to 5000 eggs ! A
trout of two pounds yields about 1000 eggs : one of twice
the size double the number. The milter increases in the
same proportion. A very beautiful provision is made by
Nature to rid the fish of the film of the ovarium, to which
the egg and the milt have been attached : an inflammatory
action sets in, when the small worm called the Ascarides
minor preys upon the part, and when the film is consumed
they in turn become ejected, and then the fish recovers its
wonted health and condition.

As regards streams for trout and coarse fishing, I must
again remind my readers of the necessity of looking to the
levels of the same, in order to form the necessary deeps,
weirs, hides, submarine floats for artificial ripples, and all
proper protections against the nefarious arts of poachers.
Each ripple will form its own eddy, and as in each eddy
the coarse fish congregate they become an easy prey to
trout as voracious a fish as any that inhabits fresh water.
Some years back I saw a trout of twelve pounds weight,
which had been taken near Teddington by a gentleman,
and, on being embowelled for preservation as a curiosity,
no less than seventeen small dace were found in his maw,
which he had taken for his breakfast ; and he finally was
killed with a bleak as a bait. The dace were all whole,
showing how recently he had been at his destructive


Where gentlemen desire to have a good and useful fish-
ery, it is impolitic to allow the stream to become overstocked
with heavy fish, that is to say, where migration does not
take place, as large fish devour far more in proportion
than the smaller ones, and constantly hunt and harass
them, and hinder them from obtaining food. On this ac-
count, where many exist, the fishery is not upon a fail-
footing, and certainly not in a progressive or prosperous
state. It were better that large fish, after a certain age,
should be taken for food, or else removed for productive
purposes elsewhere.

Many fishermen have doubted two things which I have
advanced, but which I have been able positively to prove :
namely, that certain kinds of fish, and especially the male,
will devour the egg and the young fry as they come forth
from the hill, and will fight hard to keep their prey
to themselves. One of these interesting proofs was ex-
hibited a few months since in the fishery which I have
superintended for six years, and which is now the richest
stream in the south of England. Even one of the fisher-
men belonging to the estate could not be brought to believe
it, till on one occasion he was made an unwilling witness of
the plundering habits of a trout which he captured, and
which proved to be a male fish of about two pounds weight.
In order to prove to demonstration the destructive effects
of the deposits of a river when its waters become impure, I


had a small bend made from the stream, which was well
gravelled, and guarded at either end with perforated zinc
plates, and the top covered over, so that neither water-fowl
nor heron could ravage the hill. It was spawned with
more than 10,000 eggs; but notwithstanding this seeming
prosperity, not more than a dozen fry came forth, the re-
mainder being all addled.

Fish which can obtain their food in an easy and peace-
able way will increase far more rapidly than those which
have to travel far for it. This I have explained to
many gentlemen who have asked me the question
how it was that their trout were in condition not longer
than two or three months in the year. The simple answer
is, that during eight months of the twelve, they are, from
scarcity of food, so starved that they are compelled to
feed upon the smaller sort of their own fraternity, which,
being swift of movement, become difficult to take ; so that
they are more like skeletons, or the heads and tails of
trout, than fish worth taking, and do not get into con-
dition till the fly-season comes round again. Nor are
trout the only fish which practise spawn-robbery : for it
is generally known to fishermen, that all sorts of fish
are given to this piracy, and eagerly devour spawn and
the young fry. At once to prove this, and bring the
charge home to them, I need only mention that the roe
of any fish in the spring season is a deadly bait, too


tempting to be resisted, when offered to trout or any other

At this very time of the year (end of March, 1848) the
delicate smelt is being caught in the Thames, near Ham-
mersmith, where this fish comes annually to spawn on the
clean sands ; but who takes a smelt with an angle in the
Thames in these days, as was formerly the case ? The
smelt spawns between Hammersmith and Chiswick : the
flounder also seeks the same spot for breeding, but, like
the smelt, is becoming scarce, and from the same causes ;
and this decrease is extending to every river in the king-
dom. It is high time, therefore, for the naturalist to resort
to art to restore our fisheries, or they must eventually be-
come extinct.

I will only touch, in passing, on the Thames, a noble
stream, which might again be converted into a perfect sal-
monry, though the conflicting interests make it a subject
of " non-preservation," and its conservancy a fable. There
are many other rivers as well, now running to waste too
literally, which, at very little cost, might be charged full of
stock, and annually supply a sure and certain abundance
of fish. I would not thus boldly venture these assertions
had I not proved the subject by most decided success, by
obtaining a better produce, and restoring a completely
wasted stream ; and again and again shown the true cause
of the depletion of rivers to originate and begin in the


destruction of the egg, and not of the fish when once
brought into being. Steam navigation, as 1 have said be-
fore, very little affects a fishery, as long as it is confined to
the tideway of the river. Salmon never spawn within the
range of the tide, if they have a free passage up to the heads
or clear water : for it is there they desire to deposit their
eggs in the shingle and clean coarse gravel. Most fish
prefer to deposit their eggs in gravel or sand : but some,
such as carp and tench, spawn among the weeds called
Ranunculus aquations, or water crowfoot ; and in this weed
the egg becomes well entangled, and secured from the pre-
datory appetites of other fish.

Salmon take one hundred days, trout fifty days, and
many other fish forty-two days, to come forth from the egg,
provided the water does not change its temperature during
the period of breeding: so that it is not impossible to bring
varieties of better sorts of fish from distant countries to
stock our streams with, and I should say, from what I have
myself experienced, with success. The temperature best
adapted for spawning ranges from 53 to 56, and at this
warmth I have never found any alteration in the time I have
stated, which may be relied upon as correct, and the true
time in every case. Should this even temperature vary very
much, then the egg, as the water loses its warmth, is sensibly
retarded in its incubation. From this change of temperature
T have known the egg of the trout to be delayed from fifty to


seventy days ; and when the fry have at last made their
appearance, they have invariably been poor weaklings, and
puny in precise proportion to the time lost in their retarda-
tion in the egg. After a fish of any description has burst
its bounds into life, the vesicle or investing membrane,
which encompassed it in embryo, still adheres to the um-
bilical region, and contains a small proportion of the fluid
necessary to the sustenance of the then unprotected ani-
mal. This vesicle or sack is exhausted of its fluid in four-
teen days in trout, and in double that time with smolts, and
then drops off; and by this time Nature has taught these
little creatures to hunt for their food, and to avoid danger,
which they do by keeping close to the shallows. Carp and
tench spawn in June, at the time when wheat is in blossom,
which will pretty well indicate the temperature of the water
as well as the air. These fish spawn near the surface, and
this accounts in part for the difficulty of breeding them in
rivers and streams ; though, when bred in ponds, and after-
wards turned into rivers, they thrive fast and well, and are
better as food. And here, while I am on the subject of
carp, I may as well mention that the gold carp, a native of
the Eastern World, cannot breed or spawn under a tempe-
rature of from 70 to 80, but at that they will breed luxu-
riantly : proper care, however, must be taken, or they will
devour every particle of spawn they have deposited. An
instance of this voracity I have from a gentleman who kept


some of these fish in a reservoir in his hothouse, but lost
his brood regularly from this cause, till he placed some
water-plants in the reservoir last year, and thus secured the
stock. Few persons are aware of the cause of the death of
these beautiful little fish when kept in the globular glasses,
even where much care is bestowed upon them. It is sim-
ply this, they become heavy in spawn, and not being able
to rid themselves of the egg, for want of the assistance
which plants afford in the act of parturition, inflammatory
action takes place in the ovarium, mortification ensues, and
death is the consequence.

Returning to the subject of the restoration of rivers, I
should decidedly say, that all weirs should be wholly re-
moved, or else that they should be formed upon such prin-
ciples that every sort of fish may be able to surmount these
obstacles, and ascend the stream for the purpose of spawn-
ing ; and this may easily be accomplished, if, in a navigable
river, the one side be arranged for the lock, and the other
side for the weir, of long inclination, without any further
barrier ; or if again, on another principle, zigzag flights of
steps be made, upon each of which steps the fish would
have time to rest and recover its strength for a further leap,
and, overcoming all obstacles, at last push forward for the

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Online LibraryGottlieb BocciusFish in rivers and streams; a treatise on the management of fish in fresh waters, by artificial spawning, breeding and rearing: showing also the cause of the depletion of all rivers and streams → online text (page 1 of 3)