1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pisciculture

PISCICULTURE (from Lat. piscis, fish). The species of fish which can be kept successfully in captivity throughout their lives from egg to adult is exceedingly limited in number. The various breeds of goldfish are familiar examples but the carp is almost the only food-fish capable of similar domestication. Various other food-fishes, both marine and fresh-water, can be kept in ponds for longer or shorter periods, but refuse to breed, while in other cases the fry obtained from captive breeders will not develop. Consequently there are two main types of pisciculture to be distinguished: (1) the rearing in confinement of young fishes to an edible stage, and (2) the stocking of natural waters with eggs or fry from captured breeders. Fish-rearing.—Of the first type of pisciculture there are few examples of commercial importance. The pond-culture of carp is an important industry in China and Germany, and has been introduced with some success in the United States, but in England it has long fallen out of use, and is not likely to be revived so long as fresh fish can be obtained and distributed so rcadxly as is now the case Other examples are to be found in the cultivation of the lagoons of the Adriatic, and of the salt marshes of various parts of France. Here, as in ancient Greece and Rome, it is the practice to admit young fish from the sea by sluices, into artificial enclosures or “viviers,” and to keep them there until they are large enough to be used. An interesting modification of this method of cultivation has been introduced into Denmark. The entrances to the inner lagoons of the Limfjord are naturally blocked against the immigration of flatfish by dense growths of sea-grass (Zostera), although the outer lagoons are annually invaded by large numbers of small plaice from the North Sea. The fishermen of the district consequently combined to defray the expenses of transplanting large numbers of small plaice from the outer waters to the inner lagoons, where they were found to thrive far better than in their natural habitat. The explanation has been shown by Dr Petersen to be due to the abundance of food, coupled with the lack of overcrowding of the small fish. This transplantation of plaice in Denmark has been annually repeated for several years with the most successful results, and a suitable subvention to the cost is now an annual charge upon the government funds.

As a result of the international North Sea fishery investigations, it has been proposed to extend the same principle for the development of the deep sea fishery in the neighbourhood of the Dogger Bank Experiments with labelled plaice, carried out in 1904 by the Marine Biological Association, showed that small plaice transplanted to the Dogger Bank in spring grew three tunes as rapidly as those on the inshore grounds, and the same result, with insignificant variations, has been obtained by similar experiments in each succeeding year. In this case the deep water round the Dogger Bank acts as a barrier to the emigration of the small plaice from the shores. It has consequently been proposed that the small plaice should be transplanted in millions to the Bank by well vessels every spring. It is claimed, as a further result of the experiments, that from May to October the young fish would be practically free on the shallow part of the Bank from the risk of premature capture by trawlers, and that the increased value of the fish, consequent upon their phenomenal growth-rate, would greatly exceed the cost of transplantation.

The methods of oyster- and mussel-culture are similar in principle to those just described. A breeding stock is maintained to supply the ground, or the “collectors,” with spat, and the latter, when sufficiently grown, is then transplanted to the most favourable feeding-grounds, care being taken to avoid the local over-crowding which is so commonly observed among shell-fish under natural conditions.

Fish-hatching.—The second, and more familiar, type of pisciculture is that known as fish-hatching, with which must be associated the various methods of artificial propagation. The fertilization of the spawn is very easily effected. The eggs are collected either by “stripping” them from the mature adult immediately after capture, or by keeping the adults alive until they are ready to spawn, and then stripping them or by keeping them in reservoirs of sea-water and allowing them to spawn of their own accord In the two former cases a little milt is allowed to fall from a male fish into a vessel containing a small quantity of water-fresh or salt as required and the eggs are pressed from the female fish into the same vessel In fresh-water culture the eggs thus fertilized may be at once distributed to the waters to be stocked, or they may be kept in special receptacles provided with a suitable stream of water until the fry are hatched, and then distributed, or again they may be reared in the hatchery for several months until the fry are active and hardy.

The hatching of eggs, whether of fresh-water or salt-water fishes, presents no serious difficulties, if suitable apparatus is employed, but the rearing of fry to an advanced stage, without serious losses, is less easy, and in the case of sea-fishes with pelagic eggs, the larvae of which are exceedingly small and tender, is still an unsolved problem, although recent work, carried out at the Plymouth laboratory of the Marine Biological Association, is at least promising It has been found possible to grow pure cultures of various diatoms, and by feeding these to delicate larvae kept in sterilized sea-water, great successes have been attained. In fresh-Water culture little advantage, if any, has been found to result from artificial hatching, unless this is followed by a successful period of rearing. Thus the Howietown Fishery Company recommend their customers to stock their streams either with unhatched ova or with three month-old fry. Their experience is “that there is no half-way house between ova sown in redds and three-month-old fry Younger fry may do, but only where ova would do as well, and at half the cost " In marine hatcheries, on the other hand, it is the invariable practice to hatch the eggs, although the fry have to be put into the sea at the most critical period of their lives. If it is a risky matter to plant out the robust young fry of trout under an age of three months, it would seem to be an infinitely more speculative proceeding to plant out the delicate week-old larvae of sea-fishes in an environment which teems with predaceous enemies.

Objects and Utility of Fish-hatcheries.—The earlier advocates of artificial propagation and fish-hatching seem to have been under the impression that the thousands of fry resulting from a single act of artificial propagation meant a corresponding increase in the numbers of edible fish when once they had been deposited in suitable waters; and also that artificial fertilization ensured a greater proportion of fertilized eggs than the natural process. For the second of these propositions there is no evidence, while the first proposition is now everywhere discredited. It is recognized that the great fertility of fishes is nature's provision to meet a high mortality—greater in sea-fishes with minute pelagic eggs than in fresh-water fishes with larger-yolked eggs, partly because of the greater risks of marine pelagic life, and partly because of the greater delicacy of marine larvae at the time of hatching. Artificially propagated eggs and fry after planting must submit to the same mortality as the other eggs and fry around them. Consequently it is useless to plant out eggs or fry unless in numbers sufficiently great to appreciably increase the stock of eggs and fry already existing. It is this, combined always with the suitability of the external conditions, which accounts for the success of the best known experiments of American pisciculturists. The artificially propagated eggs of the shad from the eastern rivers of the United States were planted in those of California and the Mississippi, where the species did not naturally occur. The conditions were suitable, and the species became at once acclimatized. Similarly reservoirs and streams can be stocked with various kinds of fish not previously present. But in the case of indigenous species the breeding stock must be very seriously reduced before the addition of the eggs or fry of a few score or hundreds of fish can appreciably increase the local stock.

In the case of sea-fishes it is becoming increasingly recognized that the millions of cod fry which are annually turned out of the American, Newfoundland and Norwegian hatcheries are but an insignificant fraction of the billions of fry which are naturally produced. A single female cod liberates, according to its size, from one to five million eggs in a single season. Yet the annual output of fry from each of these hatcheries rarely exceeds 200 millions, i.e. the natural product of a few hundred cod at most. In Britain marine hatcheries have been established by the Fishery Board for Scotland in the bay of Nigg, near Aberdeen, by the Lancashire Sea Fisheries Committee at Peel, and by the government of the Isle of Man at Port Erin. These establishments have been principally devoted to the hatching of the eggs of plaice But again the maximum output of fry from any one of these establishments has not exceeded 40 millions in any single year As a single female plaice produces about 200,000 eggs per annum, this output does not exceed the natural produce of a few hundred fish Under these circumstances the probable utility of the oneratinm mnld be admitted only if the fry were sedentary and could be planted in suitable localities where young fish were naturally scarce But the fry drift with the currents as helplessly as the eggs, and the a priori objections to the utility of the operations have in no case been met by evidence of tangible results. The plaice fry hatched in the Scottish establishment have been distributed for many years in the waters of Loch Fyne. Yet in this area, according to the investigations of Mr Williamson (Report of the Scottish Fishery Board for 1898), nearly 500 millions of plaice eggs are naturally produced in one spawning season. Evidence is still lacking as to whether the 20 to 30 million fry annually added from the hatchery have appreciably increased the quantities of young plaice on the surrounding shores. Supposing this could be established, the question would still remain whether the same result could not be obtained at far less expense by dispensing with the hatching operations and distributing the eggs directly after fertilization. In the United States the utility of the cod-hatching operations has been constantly asserted by representatives of the Bureau of Fisheries, but practically the only evidence adduced is the occasional appearance of unusual numbers of cod in the neighbourhood. It has not been established that the fluctuations in the local cod fisheries bear any fixed relation to the extent of the hatching operations, while the earlier reports of the Commissioners of Fisheries contain evidence that similar fluctuations occurred before the hatching of “fish commission cod” had begun.

The situation may be summed up in the words of Mr Fryer, H.M. Superintending Inspector of Fisheries, who critically examined the evidence bearing upon the operations of the Newfoundland Hatchery at Dildo (Reports x.–xii. of the Inspectors of Sea Fisheries, E. & W.): “Where the establishment of a hatchery, even on the smallest scale, is followed by an increased take of fish, there is a tendency to connect the two as cause and effect on insufficient evidence, and without any regard to the many conditions which have always led to fluctuations in the case of any particular kind of fish.”

The most exact investigations bearing upon this problem are those which have been recently undertaken in Norway in connexion with the cod-hatching operations at Arendal under Captain Dannevig Four fjords were selected in the south coast of Norway in proximity to the hatchery, and the usual number of fry (10–30 millions) were planted in the spring in alternate fjords, leaving the intermediate fjords unsupplied. The relative number of young cod in the various fjords was then carefully investigated throughout the succeeding summer and autumn months It was found that there was no relation between the abundance of young fish and the presence or absence of “artificial” fry. In 1904, 33 million fry were planted in Sondelefjord and young fish were exceptionally abundant in the following autumn (three times as abundant as in 1903 when no fry were planted). But their abundance was equally striking in other fjords in which no fry had been planted, while in 1905 all the fjords were deficient in young cod whether they had been planted with fry from the hatchery or not.

For a summary of these investigations see papers on “Artificial Fish-hatching in Norway,” by Captain Dannevig and Mr Dahl, in the Report of the Lancashire Sea Fisheries Laboratory for 1906 (Liverpool, 1907).

It would thus seem clear that the attempts hitherto made to increase the supply of sea-fish by artificial hatching have been unsuccessful. The experience gained has doubtless not been wasted, but the direction to be taken by future work is plain. The energy and money devoted to hatching operations should be diverted to the serious attempt to discover a means of rearing on a large scale the just-hatched fry of the more sedentary species to a sturdy adolescence. When that has been done (it has been achieved by the present writer in the case of the sea fish Cottus with demersal eggs,) it would be possible to deposit the young fish in suitable localities on a large scale, with a reasonable prospect of influencing the local abundance of the species of fish in question.

For further details, see J. T. Cunningham, Natural History of the Marketable Marine Fishes of the British Islands (London, 1896); A Manual of Fish-Culture (Washington, 1897); Roché, La Culture des mers (Paris, 1898); W. Garstang, Experiments on the Transplantation of Marked Plane (First Report of the North Sea Fisheries Investigation Committee, 1905).  (W. Ga.)