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APROJECT whereby, through the adoption of a new and simple method of capture, ten thousand square miles may be added to the available fishing grounds of our North Atlantic coast, is being earnestly advocated by the government Bureau of Fisheries.
Stretching from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras is a vast area of sea bottom which, though fairly swarming with valuable finny species, is not fished at all. Its annual crop, which might feed the whole population of the United States, is allowed to go to waste. Ordinary methods of capture cannot be successfully used for most of these bottom fishes— especially the soles, whose mouths are
too small and weak to take or hold a hook.
One of the most delicious of the fishes served in our expensive restaurants is sole. Fried in crumbs, and called a "filet," it is a morsel for the gods. Yet it is nothing more nor less than a flounder—quite possibly hatched originally at one of the New England stations of the Fisheries Bureau. During the last fiscal year the Bureau hatched and liberated 889,000.000 such flounders, or "flatfish," at Wood's Hole, Gloucester, and Boothbay.
Far superior, however, is the so-called pole flounder, or deep-sea flounder, which occurs in deeper waters. It is in texture and flavor so like the European sole, though of a different finny genus, that even an epicure cannot tell the difference. In 1877 it was first discovered in the deepest part of Massachusetts Bay; and since then it has been caught south of Cape Cod, at depths of one hundred fathoms or more, and by Agassiz off the entrance of Delaware Bay, at four hundred fathoms. The fish is a permanent resident throughout the year in the deep basin of Massachusetts Bay and along the edge of the continental slope for hundreds of miles up and down the coast.
A SMALL BEAM TRAWL. These scoop nets on runners are very effective in securing fishes that live along the ocean's bottom.
In truth, the sea bottom all the way from Massachusetts to the capes of Virginia is almost literally paved with flounders of this valuable species. Although they cannot hold fast to a hook and line, they could be caught in incalculable quantities by the use of the "beam trawl"—a huge pocket-shaped net set in an iron frame on runners like those of a sled. Such a trawl, dragged over the bottom, picks up everything in its path—especially the bottom fishes.
This form of apparatus is old enough and familiar enough in European waters, where, particularly
in the North Sea, it represents the principal method of capture. But in our own country it is a novelty. Since the Fisheries Bureau went into the business of hatching flounders on so enormous a scale, thus building up a new and important fishery in New England, small beam trawls, hauled by sail and motor boats, have been used for catching them, and by this means 11,500 barrels were taken during -the last year off Falmouth alone—all of them of one species, the small "winter flounder," to which efforts in the hne of artificial propagation are exclusively devoted.
Recently, however, four steam vessels at Boston have been equipped with large beam trawls. The first time one of them went out, a catch of 25,000 pounds of fish was made, and the net was carried away. One should understand that such a net is seventy-five feet long, and its mouth fifty feet wide, so that, when dragged over the sea-bottom, it is liable to swallow considerable quantities of live material. The deck of a trawler after a haul presents a wonderful spectacle
—writhing conger eels, fierce wolf
In order to comprehend the exceptional opportunities offeree for beam-trawling in the region here described, one should understand exactly what is meant by the great "continental shelf," which furnishes a feeding ground for so many kinds of fishes now unknown to our markets.
The eastern edge of the North American continent is not marked by the line
of breakers which fall upon our shores. It is far out in the ocean, beneath the waves. Thus, if the ocean were dried up, a person starting eastward from Atlantic City would have to walk straight on for a distance of about sixty miles before reaching the true edge of the continent. During his journey he would find the sea-floor sloping very gradually downward; but, at the end of the sixty miles it would suddenly drop almost precipitously to a depth of two and a half miles—the normal depth, that is to say, of the bottom of the ocean.
It will be seen, then, that the eastern edge of the continent is actually overflowed; and thus is formed a sort of subaqueous "shelf," which widens as it runs northward. Whereas opposite Atlantic City it is only sixty miles wide (its edge being about that far out in the ocean), off Roston it is s o m ething
The Fisheries Bureau Schooner Grampus. Which Rediscovered The Tile Fish In The Year 1892.
like one hundred miles in breadth.
The "shelf," as already explained, is the feeding ground of multitudes of edible fishes which, like the Pole flounder, are unknown to our markets for the reason that no practical method has hitherto been applied for their capture. When vessels equipped with steam apparatus for hoisting trawls, such as the four recently built at Boston, exploit the resources of this vast area, the production of fish food on our North Atlantic coast will be multiplied many fold, and the living of great numbers of people will be materially cheapened thereby.
Most important, perhaps, of all the species concerned is the tile fish—the estimable finny creature which was the victim only a few years ago of so remarkable a catastrophe. Although supposed at the time to have been thereby rendered extinct actually, it has reappeared, and today is probably as plentiful as ever—that is to say, plentiful enough to become as important a source of food supply as the cod, if it were sought by systematic and proper methods.
Piscatorial history states that in 1878 the fishing schooner William V. Hutchings, under command of an experienced skipper named Kirby, was looking for hake in new waters about one hundred miles south of the island of Nantucket, when, on examining the baited lines (extended over some miles by an arrangement of anchors and floats), many fishes of an entirely unfamiliar species were found attached to the hooks. Extraordinarily brilliant in color, with heads like that of a dolphin, and covered with greenish yellow speckles, they weighed from five to fifty pounds apiece, the biggest being about three feet long.
Captain Kirby threw them all overboard. Afterwards, having tried one for
Lowering A Beam Trawl For Halibut.
dinner and having found it very good, he caught a lot more and took them to Gloucester, where he sold them for a small price. Later on, news of the matter having been circulated, the Fisheries Bureau steamer Fish Hawk went to the place and captured a few specimens. Their flesh being declared excellent, it was realized that an important discovery had been made, and the government experts decided to make a thorough investigation, with a view to outlining the area occupied by the new species of fish, to which the name Lopholatilus chamceleonticeps was given—meaning "chameleon-headed Latilus with a crest."
Unfortunately, a good deal of time was lost in getting ready to begin, and, just as the scientific expedition was on the point of starting, trophe arrived. Th early in 1882.
In March a n < April of that year, skippers of sailing vessels arriving at the ports of Bost o n, New York, and Philadelphia, reported that they had passed through many miles of water covered witl dead and d y i n fishes of a species wholly unfamiliar. Those picked up alive did not appear to be injured in any way, but merely paralyzed. Some of the vessels had traversed a belt sixty-five miles wide of water that was profusely sprinkled with the fishes, and one skipper declared that he had passed through 150 miles of them.
Quite a mass of testimony on the subject was got together by the fishery
rts, and, making all allowances for exaggeration, it was estimated that an area of at least 7,500 square miles must have been covered with the fishes, which (from specimens exhibited) were very promptly identified as the tile fish —a name given to the species by Eugene G. Blackford, of Fulton Market, in New York City. He picked out a small fragment of the scientific name bestowed upon the creature, and so christened it for. popular purposes.
Assuming that there was only one fish for every 4,000 the sailors thought they saw, the total number found floating in the manner described could not have been less than one thousand millions—enough to furnish 300 pounds of fish for every