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Development and conservation of the fisheries of the United States since 1860,
169. The change in the relative importance of fish products, 170. The whale
fishery, 1860 to 1910, 171. Destruction of whaling vessels during Civil War, and
subsequent decline of the whaling industry, 171. Cod and mackerel fisheries, 1860-
1910, 173. Tonnage of vessels in the cod and mackerel fisheries, 1870–1910, 174.
The herring, shad, squeteague, and menhaden fisheries, 175. The shellfish fisheries,


There has been since 1860 an extensive development of the various fisheries of the United States. The increase in population, the growth of the transportation system, and the introduction of improved methods of preserving and transporting the products of the fisheries have greatly increased the extent and range of the market for food-fish and permitted the exploitation of all the fishing resources of the country, many of which, before 1860, were of little commercial importance. With the development of the inshore fisheries of the Atlantic coast, the lake fisheries, and the Pacific coast fisheries, there has been a decline in the deep-sea fisheries, which were for many years such a vital factor in the commercial life of New England; but notwithstanding the decline of these long-established industries, there has been a steady advance in the fishing industry as a whole, and even in the New England States, which have always held a practical monopoly of deep-sea fishing, the total products of the fisheries are as great now as at any previous time. Though the fishing industry has developed greatly during the past half century, it no longer occupies the important position which it once held in the commercial and economic life of the nation. Compared with the value of the product of manufacturing, agriculture, or mining, the annual value of the products of the fisheries is small. Once listed among the leading exports of America, the products of the fisheries make up at the present time less than 0.5 per cent of the total value of exports; and for nearly a score of years the imports of fish into the United States have exceeded the exports. In New England, where throughout the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth century, commercial prosperity depended largely on the fisheries, to-day dozens of factories have an annual output of greater value than the annual product of all the fishing industries of that section. At one time the whale, cod, and mackerel fleets of the New England States formed as much as a fourth of the tonnage of their merchant marine; to-day they make up less than one-fiftieth.

Like the other natural resources of the United States, the fisheries have been used in a wasteful manner, but fortunately a policy of conservation was adopted before they were exhausted, and if the present method of caring for and replenishing this portion of the natural wealth

of the country is continued, all the important fisheries may in time be restored to their original abundance. One of the most notable features of the history of the fisheries has been the conservation work of the Federal and State governments. Thorough and careful studies of the various fisheries have been made, regulative measures have been adopted to prevent useless destruction, economical methods of utilizing the products have been worked out, and fish-culture on a large scale has been resorted to for the purpose of increasing the supply of many varieties of food-fish.

A comparison of the statements issued from time to time during recent years by the Bureau of Fisheries and the Census Office shows that there has been a continuous and steady growth in the quantity and value of the fishery products. Table 65 shows the increase in the value of the products of all the fisheries of the United States, not including Alaska and other outlying possessions, in the years designated.1

TABLE 65.-Value of products for selected years 1880-1898.

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'Combined statistics for various sections of the country,

compiled in different years between 1900 and 1904.

These values are for the catch of fish as brought to market, either cured or fresh, by those who took them. In many instances the fishery products constituted the basis of manufacturing industries with products of considerable value. The output of the industry designated in the census reports as "canning and preserving fish" increased in value from $10,233,000 in 1890 to $28,401,000 in 1908.2

An interesting feature of the history of the fisheries during the past several decades has been the change in the relative importance of various products. Until 1850 practically the only fisheries of any commercial significance were the whale, cod, and mackerel fisheries. In 1908 the oyster product led all species of fish in value, the quantity marketed having a total value of $15,713,000, amounting to 29 per cent of the value of all fishery products.3 The nearest rival of the oyster was the salmon, but the catch of salmon, valued at $3,347,000, made up only 6 per cent of the total product. These two were the only species having a value greater than $3,000,000. Cod, ranking third in the list, had a value of $2,914,000, and of each of seven other species-shad, lobster, clams, squeteague, halibut, haddock, and German carp-the catch amounted in value to more than $1,000,000.


1U. S. Census Report, Fisheries of the United States, 1908, p. 10.

Ibid., 280.

3Ibid., 24.

Ibid., not including the salmon product of Alaska.

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Whale oil and whalebone, once the leading fishery products of the United States, made up less than I per cent of the total value, codfish but 5 per cent, and mackerel only 2 per cent.

In New England the fishing industry as a whole has continued to develop since 1860, and Massachusetts still holds the distinction of outranking all other States in the value of fishery products. However, with the rise of fishing industries in other sections of the United States, the New England fisheries have lost the lead which they held so long. Moreover, there has been a notable change within New England itself. The deep-sea fisheries, which were once all-important, have lost precedence to the inshore fisheries, and the whale fishery has almost reached the point of extinction.


The history of the whale fishery of the United States since 1860 presents a record of steady and almost uninterrupted decline. Dr. Walter S. Tower, in his History of the American Whale Fishery, page 72, says:

"Practically no other industry in the country can present any parallel to the revolution that the whale fishery has undergone in the space of sixty years. From a business representing an invested capital of tens of millions of dollars, and giving employment to tens of thousands of men, it has fallen to a place where whaling is no longer of any great importance even to the communities from which it was carried on. In fact, whaling is kept alive at all only by the demand for a product which a century ago was regarded as hardly worth saving."

Petroleum products have largely but not entirely displaced whale-oil products for purposes of lubrication, and the price of whale oil is much lower than it was during the prosperous days of whaling, notwithstanding the fact that the production is much smaller. The price of whalebone, however, has greatly increased, and the high value of this article is the only thing that enables the whale fishery to continue at all. Often during recent years only the bone has been saved from the carcasses of captured whales, the remainder being cast adrift, if other whales were in sight.

During the Civil War the whale fishery suffered disastrously from the depredations of southern commerce destroyers, at least 50 whalingvessels being captured and destroyed. The Shenandoah, one of the most famous of the privateers, entered Bering Sea late in the war and took 29 vessels, of which all but 4 were burned and sunk. This wholesale destruction and the risk involved in whaling voyages caused a rapid diminution of the whaling fleet, many vessels being sold to the Government and many being transferred to other branches of the merchant marine. From 166,841 tons in 1860 the tonnage of the registered vessels engaged in the whale fishery fell to 84,233 tons in 1865, a decrease of practically one-half in 5 years.1

1Report of U. S. Commissioner of Navigation, 1910, p. 212.

Just after the close of the war there was a revival of whaling, but it was only temporary. The condition which had caused decadence to set in even before the war commenced, the growing uncertainty of the business, the development of manufacturing, and the competition of petroleum products, operated with increasing force to hasten the decline of the industry. In 1866 the registered tonnage rose to 105,170 tons, but the following year it was less than half that amount. There was an increase to 78,486 tons in 1868, and after that year there was a steady and continuous decline. In 1871, 34 fishing-vessels of the Pacific fleet were destroyed by the closing of the ice-pack in the Arctic Ocean, and a similar disaster destroyed a large number of vessels in 1876. The decline of the whaling industry since 1860 is shown in table 66, which gives the registered tonnage of the entire whaling fleet of the United States at ten-year periods.1

TABLE 66.-Number and tonnage of the whaling fleet, by decades, 1860 to 1910.

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During the prosperous era of whaling there were more than 50 New England ports, as well as several ports in the States south of New England, at which whaling vessels were registered. By 1880, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only States on the Atlantic coast possessing whaling fleets. One by one the whaling ports of these States dropped from the list, and the number of vessels registered at the other ports steadily decreased. From Nantucket, where American whaling received its start, the last whaling vessel went out in 1869.2 At New Bedford, where whaling was carried on before the war on such a magnificent scale, the fleet dwindled from 300 vessels in 1860 to 20 vessels in 1910.3 In the latter year the only other port on the Atlantic coast at which whaling vessels were registered was New London, which had 2 sailing-vessels, of a total tonnage of 482 tons. In 1869 San Francisco became a whaling port, and being near the principal whaling-grounds, it possessed a decided advantage over the Atlantic ports, and a large part of the New England interests was transferred to the Pacific coast. Even in San Francisco, however, whaling reached the climax of prosperity about 1892, and since then has steadily declined. In 1910 there were 14 whaling vessels registered there5 sailing and 9 steam-of a total gross tonnage of 4,720 tons, approximately one-half of the tonnage belonging to the whole country.1

1Report of U. S. Commissioner of Navigation, 1910, p. 212. 2Tower, History of the American Whale Fishery, 69.

Report of U. S. Commissioner of Navigation, 1910, p. 207.

'The value of whale products taken by vessels of the United States was as follows during the years designated: 1880, $2,324,000; 1889, $1,404,000; 1899, $722,000; 1908, $497,000. U. S. Census Report, Fisheries of the United States, 1908, p. 77


The cod and mackerel industries of New England reached the point of maximum development during the early years of the Civil War, the tonnage of vessels engaged in both fisheries in 1862 amounting to 204,197 tons, the highest figure recorded during their history. Though these fisheries have not undergone such a decline as the whaling industry has suffered, they have diminished in importance and for several decades have not held the commanding rank among the fisheries that they once possessed. By 1866 the tonnage of the vessels engaged in the cod and mackerel industries had fallen to 98,231 tons, and though the fisheries remained fairly prosperous for a score of years, they failed to regain their former state of prosperity, the fleet reaching a gross tonnage of more than 100,000 tons in only one year (1873). Since 1885 the deep-sea fishing industry has suffered a marked decline. The rapid increase of the production of cheaper kinds of food-fish, such as oysters, salmon, sardines, herring, and shad-cheap because of the small expense incurred in taking and preparing them for market— caused a lessened demand for the costly deep-sea fish which for so long were standard. Many of the ports of Maine and Massachusetts, which for over a century possessed large numbers of schooners and other fishing-vessels making regular trips to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, have abandoned deep-sea fishing altogether, and their fishermen have turned their energies to the development of the inshore fisheries, finding the business of supplying fresh fish to the visitors who flock to the numerous summer resorts along the New England coast more profitable than the dangerous off-shore voyages to the distant fishing-banks. In Maine, which was the leading State in the cod fishery for a decade before the Civil War, there is now only one port engaged in the bank fishery. In Massachusetts practically all of the deep-sea fishing is carried on by vessels from Gloucester and Boston. The tonnage of the deep-sea fishing fleet has been steadily diminishing for more than a score of years. Since 1890, however, the number and tonnage of small craft employed in taking ground-fish near the shore has gradually increased and the product of the cod fishery has not been greatly diminished since that year and, in fact during recent years has usually shown a substantial annual increase. The statistics presented in table 67 of the cod and mackerel fleet at ten-year intervals since 1870 give a good idea of the state of those fisheries during this period:1

'These statistics are for the cod and mackerel industries of the entire country. Over 90 per cent of the fleet belongs to the New England States. Report of U. S. Commissioner of Navigation, 1910, p. 213.

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