Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kinds of Fish off Puget Sound and other Pacific Coast regions

Kinds of Fish.—The varieties of fish most valuable in the commerce and industry of the Atlantic are caught also in the waters of our coast. The cod, herring, mackerel, halibut, flounder, sardine, anchovy, and turbot are found in both oceans. The report of the fish commissioners of California, for I880, gives the number of species of fish then known in the waters at 280, 25 of which are fresh, and the remainder salt-water fish. Thirtyfour additional species, including I1 river fish, are found in Oregon and Washington. ' These are all indigenous species. As no thorough search has been made between Tomales Bay and the mouth of the Columbia, it is almost certain that other varieties will be discovered from year to year. Of the 21 flat-fishes on the coast, I9 are found on the shores or bays of California.
Our coast has different fish districts, well defined in geographical limits, and different in many of their occupants. One extends from Point Conception northward to Monterey ; the second, from Monterey to Puget Sound, and the third from that point onward toward the Arctic. The bay of Monterey is the middle ground, where fishes from north and south meet It has about I30 species, and San Francisco harbor has the same number. Santa Barbara has but 95 species, as the rock-cod and flounder do not go so far south. In Puget Sound there are 90 species, all of which belong to the northern varieties. In San Francisco Bay, and its tributary rivers, there are taken annually about 4,000 tons of fish.
The large-eyed flounder (Hippaglossoides fordani) is plentiful in our fishmarkets all the year round. Professor JORDAN estimates the catch of this fish by Chinamen, in the single harbor of Monterey, at 500 pounds per day. Of the chiridae, the painted sea-trout (C/zirus pic us) is common in our northem latitudes, and is found occasionally in the San Francisco market. The c/zz'ru.r guttatus, a species of sea-trout common in the'bays of San Francisco and Monterey, is plentiful in the markets the year round.
The cod-fish proper does not belong to the fauna of California. Dr. BEAN, who recently investigated the fish systems of the Alaskan waters, is of opinion that the cod-fish of Alaska is identical with the Gadus morr/ma, or true cod-fish. The entire quantity of fresh cod brought to San Francisco, packed in ice, does not exceed 300 tons, in the season of 3 months. The green cod, is noted as one of the most rapacious of fishes, coming in this characteristic into close competition with the shark. Lurking among the rocks, it lies in wait for rock-fish, and is often captured on the same hook with the fish at which it bites. It is valuable as a food fish and sometimes attains a weight of 50 or 60 pounds.
Red rock-cod sometimes weigh 25 pounds, and blue rock-fish 50 pounds. These are of extreme size. The barracuda season lasts from the beginning of March to _Iune. In shape and habit this fish strongly resembles the fresh-water pike, being long and slim and exceedingly voracious. It feeds on small fish, such as smelt and herring, and is found in schools among the kelp. It is caught with trawl-lines near Santa Cruz and 1\Ionterey. The barracuda of the Atlantic Ocean is considered unfit for food, while its Pacific relative is esteemed one of the most delicate of table fish. Large quantities are caught in San Diego Harbor. The hook is baited with a white or red rag, at which the fish bites greedily. It is abundant in summer at a distance of 3 or 4 miles from the heads of San Francisco Harbor, and thence southward. In other seasons the young are sometimes taken in seines. The largest size is about 12 pounds.
Of the 27 known species of rock-cod, all except 2 are to be found in the harbor of Monterey. The one most common in the Bay of San Francisco, the wharf rock-fish (Seba.rtic/it/zys auriculatus), the only kind found in shallow bays, sometimes attains a weight of 3 pounds. Those caught by hook and line, from wharf or shore, average about half a pound. The largest of all the species is the large, red rock-fish (Seéastzk/It/zy.r ruber), exceeding in some instances a weight of 12 pounds. Large quantities of the dark greenish rock-fish (Afro:/z're1z.r), taken by Chinamen at the Santa Barbara Islands, are salted, dried, and sent to China. It is the opinion of many fishermen that the Chinamen are rapidly reducing the Californian supply of food fish. Already white fishermen have to go outside the heads for fish which but a few years ago were plentiful in San Francisco Bay. The long flats near the Oakland and Alameda shores are often swept by Asiatic fishermen, who operate with both the seine and stationary net. Inside of Cape Scott, the north-west extremity of Vancouver Island, there is an extensive bank, where rock-cod are taken in immense quantity, and of the largest size. On the shore, near to this bank, a Chinese colony is engaged in the systematic prosecution of the business. In the vicinity of Burrard Inlet, a productive fishing-ground, immense quantities of smelt, an excellent and favorite table fish, are dried, packed, and shipped by Chinese fisherman to their fellow-Mongols in Victoria and in San Francisco. One redeeming feature in the presence of the yellow fishermen in our community is, that they eat up young shark, and esteem as a delicacy the fin of the larger species in a raw or cooked state, or in soup, when it can be spared from drying purposes.
The greater bulk of the fish sent from Tomales and Monterey bays to San Francisco are black bass, black rock-cod, and other species of the sco/;/>mzz'a’w. On account of their dark color they are very slow of sale, and sometimes can not find purchasers, even at a cent a pound. Rock-fish are omnivorous, with a preference for their smaller kindred. They spawn early in the spring. The pompino is found along the entire Pacific Coast. It is a small fish, juicy and fat, and readily brings 25 to 50 cents, selling occasionally as high as $1.50 per pound.
Of the carangida, the horse mackerel (T me/zuras saurus) is taken in large quantity off this coast, and salted for bait. The pilot-fish also belongs to this subdivision of the scombridaa, or old mackerel family. Of the true scombridae, the Spanish mackerel occurs from Monterey southward, and is occasionally found in the San Francisco markets. The largest specimen is I4 inches long. The bonito, or skip-jack, taken in great quantity ofl" Santa Barbara and San Diego, has a coarse, unwholesome meat when eaten fresh, but when salted and dried, it sells for twenty-five cents a pound. Its average weight is about I2 pounds. The albicore bites greedily at a white rag, and affords excellent sport in the bay of Monterey, being caught by trawllines.
Of the sciaenidx, the sea-bass, and the 2 species of so-called kingfish (Geizyonenzus lineatus and Scrip/zus politus), are highly esteemed as table fish. The 2 latter descriptions are seldom more than IO inches in length, of delicate flavor, and of course are different from the king-fish previously mentioned. The white sea-bass is abundant, and instances are not uncommon in our markets of fish weighing 50 or 60 pounds. The sucker bass is found on sandy shores south of Santa Barbara, and the roncador, of about 3 pounds weight, has the same range. Many varieties of the perch family are used only for bait, but the blue-fish, moon-fish, rockbass, johnny Verde, and kelp salmon, all of which belong to this family, rank high as pan-fish. The Jew-fish, or black sea-bass, is palatable, and reaches a weight of 500 pounds. All the species of perch range southward from the Islands of Santa Barbara. Mullet, common in the harbor of San Diego, does not exceed a length of I 5 inches. The flying-fish, frequently seen off the southern part of our coast from Santa Barbara to Central America, reaches a weight of ‘a pound and a half or more, and is excellent for the table. '
Of the apodes, or fishes without ventral fins, the conger eel is plentiful among the rocks near the tide mark of San Diego harbor. Though very pugnacious, it is sometimes taken by hand. Its extreme weight is about 20 pounds. Its skin is said to be poisonous, but the flesh resembles that of the fresh-water eel.
The sting-ray, or stingaree, which is common along the coast, is very destructive to oysters, crustacea, and fish. The Chinese occasionally use it, when dried, as a food fish. It sometimes attains a weight of 75 pounds. The sea vampire, or devil-fish, occurs on our coast, and is not rare in the Mexican waters. The largest known specimens measure 15 to 20 feet in width. The Raia binaculata is common in our local markets, and sells as a food fish chiefly to the French. The largest of the rays is the Raia Coaperi, which sometimes attains a length of 5 or 6 feet.
Salrnon Fam1ly.—In the report of W. G. MORRIS, on the resources of Alaska Territory, it is stated that the yield of salmon is almost beyond belief. Sixty thousand Indians and several thousand Aleuts and Eskimos depend mainly on dried salmon for their winter sustenance. During the running season in the vicinity of Klawock, the marine waters are actually blaek_ with them. They are caught with seines, and are of larger size than the Columbia River salmon. Those taken at Cook's inlet average 60 pounds, and not unfrequently run up to double that weight. Two of the largest fill a barrel. In Alaska, as in British Columbia, the fish can be obtained in vast quantity at the expense of native labor, and, after paying for salt or vinegar, barrels, and freight, return a good profit when shipped to Australian or European markets. The salmon being mainly a river fish, will be mentioned again in the next chapter. The salmon-trout is abundant in Puget Sound, where it is taken by seine-fishing up to a weight of 3 pounds. The surf-smelt, which also belongs to the salmonidze, is very plentiful in the same neighborhood.
The oolikon (the name is also spelled “oolahan,” and “eulachon"), or candlefish, a delicious table fish when taken in its best condition, is not ‘abundant south of latitude 49°. After being smoked and dried, it should be prepared for table by the steaming or broiling process, and is then equal to the finest qualities of salt fish. It is pickled and shipped to San Francisco, where it finds a ready sale. W’hen canned it is sold as Columbia River sardine, or as Spanish mackerel. Its size never exceeds 12 inches, and it is most abundant in the Columbia, Fraser, and Nass rivers. The fish is very juicy and fat, and contains an oil said to be superior to codliver oil for medicinal purposes. Among the Alaskan'natives it is used by the Indians as a substitute for candles, burning with a clear, bright flame when lighted and set up endwise. On the Nass River, where the oolikon is most abundant, 10,000 gallons of oil made from it annually are sold to the Indians for $1 a gallon.
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The Herring Family.-Among the herring family (C'lupez'da>), the sardine is taken in the bays of our coast during the greater part of the year. It is caught from the wharves of San Francisco and San Diego with line and hook, and resembles the fish of that name found in the waters of Europe, where, the young, preserved in oil, are esteemed as a table delicacy; though the canned fish usually sold here, under the name of sardine, is nearly always something else. No attempt has yet been made to utilize for canning purposes on our coast the true sardine, which abounds in the waters of California. The anchovy is almost equally plentiful here; but it is found chiefly in sheltered bays, and is difficult to catch. From 25 to 40 tons of anchovies are caught in the harbor of San Francisco alone, during the season, which lasts from June to August. These are sold to the trade at a cent a pound, and retail at about 3 cents, forming the bulk of what are here preserved in oil and passed off on the public as sardines, many of them under French labels. Some wholesale and retail grocers import directly from France, and sell no other kind, but this is rather the exception than the rule.
San Francisco obtains her supply of herrings mainly from the waters of her own bay. Their poor condition is caused by the fact that they only enter the harbor to spawn, and the later the season the worse they are. In the \vaters of Puget Sound they are caught in much better condition. Their season commences in California in October, and lasts 4 months. Great schools enter San Francisco Bay every winter, resorting sometimes to the mudflats and shallows, and not unfrequently keeping in deep water, beyond the reach of fishermen. As a rule they are caught at night. The shoal water of Richardson's Bay is a favorite herring-ground. At the beginning of the season the price is often as low as 50 cents, but towards the close often rises to $4 or $5 per cental. Their average weight is about a fifth of a pound. On the Alameda shore seals swarm, and make hearty meals by picking the fish out of the nets, the meshes of which are torn in a most exasperating manner during the process. A strip of shoal off Kershaw’s Island, opposite to Saucelito, is sometimes a good fishing-ground for herring. When the nets are cast, men have to be employed keeping off the seals, which often growl in huge disgust at their futile endeavors to get within swallowing reach of the captive fish. The best grounds for herring fishing in the Bay of San Francisco are in its northern and north-eastern portions. The herring move in shoals, and run against the tide. \/Vhen they meet the nets they experience no difficulty in running their heads through the meshes, but owing to the peculiar shape of the fish, they can get no further. Retreat is of course impossible. After a time, the net is slowly drawn in, and one haul is sometimes enough to load a boat. The herring are sold at the city markets for fresh consumption, or at the wharves to persons engaged in salting, drying, and smoking them. Soon after the close of the season, the herring fisher usually starts for the salmon fishing-grounds of the Sacramento, where he remains for 3 or 4 months.
The cost of a herring gill net is over $100, and 40 per cent. of the price is represented by the duty. A good one will last 3 summers with careful usage and timely repairs, and serves also for smelt fishing. Besides the stationary net, the equipment of a boat for the whole season includes a seine, or casting net, 60 fathoms long, with very small meshes, which will catch anything from a halibut 5 feet long to a shrimp or a tomcod; also a seabass or sturgeon net 300 fathoms long, and 20 feet deep, with a mesh 8 inches square. An entire bay fishing outfit costs from $500 to $1,000; the boat alone, if well built and rigged, being worth $350. Forty of these boats may be seen any afternoon at the Vallejo-st.reet wharf. Their rig consists of a short slanting mast, and a slender boom (always longer than the boat itself), from which is bent an immense spread of lateen sail. Occasionally the boats carry a jib somewhat bigger than a table napkin. Each boat is manned by two or three men. On arriving at the fishing-ground, the net is paid out from the stern of the boat. This operation, called “shooting the net,” lasts only a few. minutes. After several hours, the catch is hauled in, and a single haul is sometimes sufficient for one boat-load.
Source: Commerce and Industries of the Pacific Coast of North America ©1882

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