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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/374

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370
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

fishery, however, has always been chiefly to obtain the roe for caviar. Hence the spawning time was the most favorable period for profitable operation, and the fishermen, with their characteristic disregard for the future, by incessant fishing practically eliminated natural reproduction. When the lake whitefish supply began to fail the fishermen were required by law to return the spawn to the spawning grounds, and when the Atlantic coast shad showed signs of depletion vigorous work at artificial propagation was largely capable of counteracting the effect of too much fishing. But the case of the sturgeon was quite different, in that the profitable prosecution of the fishery depended mainly on the amount of roe secured. In many cases, in fact, no other portion was utilized until comparatively recently, when the price of the flesh advanced. Obviously then a most serious difficulty stood in the way of the adoption of those measures which had benefited fisheries for other species. The high value of the hard ova to the fishermen and their inability to use the soft or ripe ova in caviar have meant the most vigorous efforts to secure the roe before it became soft. The United States Fish Commission, and the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, have repeatedly tried sturgeon hatching individually and in cooperation, but the difficulty experienced in securing ripe spawn and milt at the same time has brought failure.[1] The fact is, in the Delaware district, at least, the species is so nearly extinct, and males so scarce, that even when ripe ova are secured a male may not be taken for several days or too late to be of any use. It is hard to see how this condition can be easily remedied. With artificial propagation more or less impracticable and natural reproduction reduced to an absolute minimum, the fate of the sturgeon is obvious.

It is true, however, that some efforts have been made to prevent the complete extermination of the sturgeon and to protect the existing remnants of the formerly important fishery. The principal efforts have been made through legislative action placing certain restrictions on the operations of the fishermen. These restrictions fall into two groups, first, making it unlawful to take sturgeon under a given size, and second, prohibiting all sturgeon fishing at certain seasons. The states bordering on the Great Lakes furnish the best illustration of the first group of laws. Ohio in 1896 prohibited the capture of sturgeon less than 312 feet long; Pennsylvania passed a similar law in 1901, and New York adopted a minimum length of 3 feet in 1902. Michigan and Wisconsin, on the contrary, based their restrictions on weight, the former, in 1897, setting 15 pounds as the lawful size, and the latter, in 1903, prohibiting the capture of sturgeon under 8 pounds.

These laws do not seem to have produced the desired result or in

  1. Bureau of Fisheries Report, 1902, p. 460. Pennsylvania Fish Commission Report, 1905, p. 64; 1906, p. 23.