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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/371

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367
THE PASSING OF THE STURGEON

fishery as compared with ten years before, accounts for the greater yield for the country in 1890.

Statistics of the sturgeon fisheries in the scattered inland waters of the country were collected for the first time in 1895 and added a little over 2,250,000 pounds to the total.[1] The major portion, over two thirds, of this quantity came from a single area—the Minnesota waters of the Lake of the Woods. The same year showed continued large catches in the waters of Washington and Oregon, though a comparison of the totals with the figures for a few years before indicates a growing scarcity of fish and an impending decline.[2] The Carolinas and Georgia, however, were again yielding as much as formerly, having recovered at least temporarily from the low condition of 1890. The activity in these three areas helped to offset the appalling decline which had continued uninterrupted in the lake region and the Delaware district, as indicated by the statistical surveys of 1897. The lakes in 1897 produced scarcely more than one fourth as much as they had in 1890, and New Jersey, which alone had yielded over 3,600,000 pounds in 1890, barely exceeded 1,000,000 pounds seven years later.[3] On account of these tremendous losses in the supply from the waters of early importance, the total yield of the country had fallen only a little more than half a million pounds below the figures for 1880, but over a million and a half pounds below the total for 1890, and at least six million pounds below the catch of 1885.

Two factors had played a leading part in maintaining the industry against such odds as are represented in the depletion of the Great Lakes and Delaware River sturgeon. First of all the rising price of caviar was a powerful incentive to pursue sturgeon fishing with increasing vigor wherever a profitable catch could be made. Caviar which had brought from $9 to $12 per keg of 135 pounds in 1885, was worth $20 five years later, $40 in 1894, and before the end of that decade had risen above $100 per keg.[4] Sturgeon roe was no longer fish bait and feed for hogs, and few sturgeon found their way to the offal heap, at least, until after the precious ova were removed. Flesh too was mounting upwards in price, reaching as high as 1212 cents per pound in 1896, where a decade and a half before sale had often been impossible at even one cent per pound. From 1882 to 1884 female sturgeon would bring as high as $2 each at the wharf, whereas fifteen years later the usual price was $30 to $35 each. In the spring of 1899, for example, 96 sturgeon at Bayside, New Jersey, brought $3,923, an average of a little over $40 apiece.[5] Nowhere else in the whole

  1. U. S. Fish Commission Report, 1895, p. 495.
  2. U. S. Fish Commission Report, 1896, p. 576.
  3. Bureau of Fisheries Report, 1902, p. 460.
  4. U. S. Fish Commission Report, 1899, p. 379.
  5. Pennsylvania Fish Commission Report, 1900, p. 171.