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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/457

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441
THE HERRING.

May, or the early part of July, in the latter part of November or the early part of January. But a spring spawning certainly occurs in the latter part of January, in February, in March, and in April; and an autumn spawning in the latter part of July, in August, September, October, and even as late as November. Taking all parts of the British coast together, February and March are the great months for the spring spawning, and August and September for the autumn spawning. It is not at all likely that the same fish spawn twice in the year; on the contrary, the spring and the autumn shoals are probably perfectly distinct; and if the herring, according to the hypothesis advanced above, come to maturity in a year, the shoals of each spawning-season would be the fry of the twelvemonth before. However, no direct evidence can be adduced in favor of this supposition, and it would be extremely difficult to obtain such evidence."[1]

I believe that these conclusions, confirmatory of those of previous careful observers,[2] are fully supported by all the evidence which has been collected, and the fact that this species of fish has two spawning seasons, one in the hottest and one in the coldest months of the year, is very curious.

Another singular circumstance connected with the spawning of the herring is the great variety of the conditions, apart from temperature, to which the fish adapts itself in performing this function. On our own coast, herrings spawn in water of from ten to twenty fathoms, and even at greater depths, and in a sea of full oceanic saltness. Nevertheless, herrings spawn just as freely not only in the narrows of the Baltic, such as the Great Belt, in which the water is not half as salt as it is in the North Sea and in the Atlantic, but even in such long inlets as the Schlei in Schleswig, the water of which is quite drinkable and is inhabited by fresh-water fish. Here the herrings deposit their eggs in two or three feet of water; and they are found, along with the eggs of fresh-water fish, sticking in abundance to such fresh-water plants as Potamogeton.

Nature seems thus to offer us a hint as to the way in which a fish like the shad, which is so closely allied to the herring, has acquired the habit of ascending rivers to deposit its eggs in purely fresh water.

If a full female herring is gently squeezed over a vessel of seawater, the eggs will rapidly pour out and sink to the bottom, to which they immediately adhere with so much tenacity that, in half an hour, the vessel may be inverted without their dropping out. When spawning takes place naturally, the eggs fall to the bottom and attach themselves in a similar fashion, but at this time the assembled fish dart wildly about, and the water becomes cloudy with the shed fluid of the

  1. "Report of the Royal Commission on the Operation of the Acts relating to Trawling for Herrings on the Coast of Scotland, 1863," p. 28.
  2. Brandt and Ratzeburgh, for example, in 1833, strongly asserted that the herring has two spawning-seasons.