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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/375

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371
THE PASSING OF THE STURGEON

fact any important result at all, for the fishery has continued to decline steadily since the laws were enacted. The trouble, however, lies not so much in the provisions of the law itself, as it does in the difficulty of adequate enforcement. The Lake areas are in this respect no different from other localities, since laws protecting the young sturgeon of the Delaware have been in operation from 1891, yet the fishery in those waters has declined at an extremely rapid rate, and to a greater extent than in almost any other region.

The other alternative of statutory protection, the close season, has received less common trial because the only time at which a close season has any value is during the spawning period, and at that time the fishery is most profitable. The scarcity of such laws is probably due to the fact that restrictive legislation affecting the fisherman's profits has always been notoriously difficult to pass. Georgia, however, in 1901 prohibited catching of sturgeon in all waters of the state for a period of five years. Minnesota in 1905 adopted a close season from March 1 to May 1 of each year, but at the next session of the legislature the Georgia example was followed in the provision for a close season at all times until June 1, 1910. This sort of law seems to afford the only real remedy for existing conditions. Complete prohibition is, of course, much easier to enforce than partial prohibition, because where sturgeon roe can be legally taken at all the carcass can be disposed of readily and it then becomes a difficult matter to prove that the fish from which the roe was taken was undersized or underweight.

With the difficulties confronting artificial hatching and the adequate enforcement of restrictive measures, the future of the sturgeon fishery depends on the absolute cessation of fishing for a period of years during which the supply can be replenished through natural reproduction. Otherwise the total extinction of the species is as inevitable as was the depletion of the supply. This chain of conditions is not peculiar to the United States, but has prevailed in all the older localities wherever the fishery has been prosecuted. Yet it seems scarcely comprehensible that a fish so widely distributed through the country, so abundant, and so little used less than three decades ago, has so rapidly disappeared that the end is already in sight. The higher the price of caviar, the more vigorous the pursuit of the sturgeon and the more quickly the end will come. Under the present conditions it is only a question of a few years until the day of the sturgeon fishery will have passed.