annals of commercial fisheries is there a parallel to this case of the sturgeon, rising as it did in less than a quarter of a century from a fish despised and ruthlessly destroyed on all sides to the highest rank of commercial value.
The high prices for caviar resulted in continued operations in the old localities even in the face of greatly reduced hauls. This condition is nowhere better illustrated than in the Delaware district, where the average catch per net dropped from 60 fish in 1890 to less than half that number six years later. Yet in 1897 nearly 1,000 fishermen were operating over 150 miles of gill nets in the sturgeon fishery of Delaware Bay and the number of boats employed had actually increased. At the same time operations were extended and expanded in every available new area to supply the growing demand and to profit from the rapidly rising prices. The sturgeon fishery in the Gulf States was begun at this time because of the increasing scarcity of the species in northern waters. The south side of Long Island was the scene of an important fishery begun in 1892, producing more than half a million pounds of products five years later, while the yield from interior waters, though steadily decreasing, was annually forming a larger proportion of the total output of the country. Only by most vigorous means was the total extent of the industry maintained anywhere near its former level, while the fishermen to eke out profits were endeavoring to utilize more of the sturgeon by the manufacture of oil and fertilizer from the carcass.
By 1897 the sturgeon fishery attained the highest point of its commercial value, over half a million dollars, while at the same time it appears to have reached its limit of endurance under the strain of incessant demand placed upon it. In the decade elapsed since then there has been only decline—decline almost universal and astounding in its extent. In many places, the sturgeon is practically extinct and in others, where once important fisheries were prosecuted, the industry is nearly abandoned. New York and Pennsylvania waters have almost ceased to yield sturgeon products despite the half million pounds from Long Island in 1897. The same condition appears in the Carolinas, while the species has entirely disappeared from the waters of Eastern Florida and Oregon. On the Pacific coast, as a whole, where more than 3,000,000 pounds were taken in 1895, less than four per cent, of that quantity was obtained in 1904. The Middle Atlantic area as a whole and the Great Lakes are now yielding less than one tenth the amount caught two decades ago. Lake St. Clair, which alone gave nearly a million pounds in 1880 has not produced more than 10,000
- U. S. Fish Commission Report, 1899, p. 371.
- Ibid., pp. 379-80.
- Bureau of Fisheries Report, 1903, pp. 443, 445.
- Bureau of Fisheries Document 609, p. 29.