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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/373

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369
THE PASSING OF THE STURGEON

pounds in recent years, while the catch in Lakes Michigan and Erie has fallen to about one sixtieth of its former proportions. In the Delaware River district, the most prolific of all the sturgeon grounds ever developed in this country, the depletion of the supply has gone almost to the point of extinction. The total amount yielded from the nets of the three states bordering the river and bay has dropped from more than 5,000,000 pounds in 1890 to less than 350,000 pounds in recent years.[1] A quarter of a century ago these waters still literally teemed with sturgeon, and it was impossible to dispose of all that could be caught. Then it was not an uncommon thing to see 1,000 or more sturgeon on the wharf at Bayside, New Jersey, with shipments of five or six carloads in a day to New York or Philadelphia. In recent years to see a score of sturgeon on the wharf at one time has been a rarity enough to bring the fishermen from miles around to see them, and if five or six boxes are shipped at the same time the shippers think they are lucky. Less than twenty years ago 4,000 to 5,000 kegs of caviar were shipped annually from the Delaware district and dominated the market under the name of Russian caviar. But the total caviar output had fallen to 726 kegs in 1899,[2] and at Delaware City, an important center, where 422 kegs of caviar were prepared in 1895, only six kegs were obtained in 1901, with even less since then, while the price has been soaring above $1 per pound. It is a condition without parallel in the annals of fishing.

With the single exception of the smaller rivers entering the Gulf of Mexico, where the fishing for sturgeon dates only since 1897,[3] all the grounds show evidence of the same rapid depletion. On every hand, declines of 90 to 95 per cent, in the last decade or two mean only the one thing—that the end of the sturgeon is near unless the most active and rigorous protective measures are speedily adopted.

This amazing depletion of a fish once "marvelously abundant" must be regarded largely as a natural or at least inevitable outcome of the character of the fishery itself. More or less weight must, of course, be given to the amount of wanton destruction of the sturgeon by the river and lake fishermen of successive decades before the sturgeon fishery was established on a commercial scale. Certain injurious and wasteful methods of fishing have also been employed at times, the worst of which was the use of small mesh nets both by sturgeon fishermen and by others, destroying many young sturgeon, the use of the three-pronged grappling hook dragged over the spawning grounds, particularly at the eastern end of Lake Erie, and most of all the unrelenting pursuit of the fish during the spawning season. The object of the

  1. U. S. Fish Commission Report, 1888; 1896, p. 576; 1899, pp. 109, 372; 1901, pp. 511, 580; 1903, p. 345; 1904, p. 648.
  2. Pennsylvania Fish Commission Report, 1900, pp. 170-71.
  3. Bureau of Fisheries Report, 1903, pp. 443, 455.