Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, 1983
Pages 273-285

Part 2 of Notes on the Movements, Habits and Captures of Mackerel for the Season of 1882
By Captain J.W. Collins (Back to Part 1)

Indeed, mackerel had never been more plentiful on the American coast from the commencement of the spring fishing to the middle of August, nor had vessels ever made larger captures, than during this period. The following record of arrivals with full fares taken in this region is gathered from the journal of Captain Martin:

June 22. Arrival of four mackerel schooners, one of which fished off Mount Desert. June 26. Arrival of ten mackerel schooners. Most vessels report catching their fish off the coast of Maine. June 27. Arrival of four mackerel schooners from 20 miles southeast of Matinicus. June 29. Arrival of four mackerel schooners, one of which caught its fish 30 miles east of Mount Desert Rock. July 16. Schooner S. A. Campbell arrived with 360 barrels, reported to have been caught 10 miles from Grand Manan Island.

In August, however, a decided change took place in this fishery, the receipts of mackerel at the principal fishing ports falling off considerably.

August 2. Five fares of macherel arrived on previous day, one of which was caught 40 miles southeast from Mount Desert Rock, one 35 miles southeast from Matinicus, and a third 35 miles to the southward of Monhegan Island. The other two fares were caught on Cashe's.

August 8. - Six arrivals of mackerel fares, some of which were caught 30 miles north-west from Yarmouth, N. S.; and the others 25 miles southeast from Mount Desert Rock.

It is worthy of notice that quite all of the localities mentioned here by Captain Martin are those where there is deep water, or at least where the depth is more than 50 fathoms. Indeed, the area is very small off the coast of Maine where a depth of less than 50 fathoms can he obtained outside of 15 miles from the land.

This decrease was due in a great measure to the prevalence of dense fogs which hung over the waters frequented by the mackerel fishermen, and often rendered fishing impracticable.

It is also possible that the comparative scarcity of the fish which occurred at this time may have been caused by a remarkable discoloration of the sea-water, which appeared about the 1st of August along the coast of Maine and in the Bay of Fundy. Mackerel fishermen, returning from the Bay of Fundy and the coast of Maine, August 10, reported that for ten or twelve days previous the water off Monhegan and Mount Desert had presented a most singular appearance, its color resembling that of diluted milk.

This whitish streak was 30 or 40 miles wide and extended some 65 or 70 miles in a northeasterly direction from Monhegan Island, its inner edge varying from 5 to 25 miles distant from the land. The line of demarkation between this colored water and the blue sea was very conspicuous and as regular as a wall. During this period the white water was semi-transparent, so that the fish, to which was imparted a reddish tinge, could be seen beneath the surface at a great distance. Some men stated that mackerel passing from blue to white water appeared to be peculiarly affected by the change, apparently becoming wild and rush- ing madly to and fro. Others, however, did not notice any of these peculiarities in the movements of the fish, merely stating that the mackerel rarely schooled at the surface. The semi-transparency of the water, however, enabled the fishermen to see the schools so far beneath the surface that, in consequence, they could be inclosed in the purse-seines as well as if they were inclined to swim closer to the top of the water.

For a couple of weeks after the appearance of this phenomenon many schools of mackerel were captured in the "white water," though the best fishing was beyond its limits about the western part of the Nova Scotia coast, off Yarmouth, and on the Seal Island Ground. At the same time, however, the market boats, and occasionally the salt fishermen, made some large hauls in the waters around and inside of Monhegan which were, at the time of the phenomenon, within the area of discoloration.

It is difficult to define precisely the influences which this "white water" may have exerted on the movements of the mackerel, but it certainly is the general opinion of the fishermen that one effect produced was a sudden and almost total disappearance of the main body of the fish from the coast; though it is probable that the discoloration was due to an unusual accumulation of some form of animalcula or crustacea in the water, it is nevertheless true that little or no food suitable for the mackerel occurred within its limits. All of the mackerel fishermen with whom I have conversed on this subject agree in saying that without exception the fish taken in the "white water" had little or no food in their stomachs. It is not probable that there was any chemical change in the sea, yet many of the most intelligent and observing fishermen are of the opinion that the schools of mackerel were peculiarly affected by the "white water," or at least acted queerly within its limits.

Capt. George H. Martin, of Gloucester, assured me that the fish appeared less shy and could be captured far easier than when in blue water, not attempting to escape from the seine by "diving," as is so frequently the case under ordinary circumstances. This is all the more remarkable since the wonderful clearness of the water, previously alluded to, made it possible even for the fishermen to see the bottom of their seine which was sunk a depth of from 18 to 25 fathoms.

The occurrence of heavy fogs, as has already been stated, during the month of August and the beginning of September, and the fact that the main body of mackerel was at that time found on the Seal Island Ground --catches of mackerel were also made on this ground as early in the season as the latter part of June--and Brown's Bank, where strong currents and heavy tide-rips occur, rendered it extremely difficult for the fishermen to capture the fish which were found in that region. The result, therefore, of these combined adverse influences was a great decrease in the catch of fish by the mackerel fleet.

It seems altogether probable that the mackerel caught on the Seal Island Ground and about Brown's Bank were the same fish which occurred earlier in the season in such abundance between Cashe's and George's Banks, and which, as has previously been stated, probably moved to the eastward from the above-mentioned locality. What direction this body of mackerel took after leaving Brown's Bank cannot be absolutely determined, but it is the opinion of most of the experienced fishermen that the fish, continuing their outward course from the shore, swept off by the southern edge of George's instead of passing inside, as is their usual habit when making their regular fall migration. This irregular movement was anticipated as early as July, for on the 8th of that month Captain Martin wrote: "If no other school of mackerel comes along the catch will be light during the latter part of the season. I do not think the mackerel on the Seal Island Ground will go into the Bay of Fundy."

The fishermen at that date, too, reported an abundance of mackerel on George's, and Captain Martin, on June 28, 1882, noted the arrival, in Gloucester, of two fares of mackerel from that bank.

Although a few fares may have then been taken on George's, it seems probable that in most cases, there was a slight error in the reports of the skippers; for, to my knowledge, several of the Gloucester vessels which visited George's on the strength of these statements failed to find any mackerel in that locality. These failures may have been due to some extent to the prevalence of dense fogs which covered the bank much of the summer, and rendered it next to impossible for the skippers to keep their position on this ground, where the tides sweep with great velocity.

Therefore it seems probable that most of the fares which were reported on several occasions to have been caught on George's Bank were in reality taken in the near vicinity, north of the bank, or farther east, on Brown's Bank.

Little more can be said relative to the movements of the mackerel on the New England coast during the season of 1882, except to speak of the scarcity of fish throughout the remainder of the season, which was in remarkable contrast to their abundance in the early part of the year. It is true that a few of the vessels--the "lucky ones "--succeeded in making many good catches during the late summer and fall, but the majority of the fleet averaged small fares.

I am, indeed, assured that some vessels took less than 100 barrels each from the first of August until November. The mackerel which still remained near the coast, appearing in somewhat scattered schools--and for the most part of small size--began their fall migration at about the usual time, that is, late in September or early in October. About this date the vessels, many of which had been fishing on the off-shore grounds, having lost trace of the fish there, collected near the coast and pursued the mackerel as they moved in a westerly course from the shores of Maine towards Massachusetts Bay and contiguous waters. The fall catch of mackerel, which, even with favorable weather, would probably not have been very large, was seriously affected by the prevalence of strong easterly winds, and no doubt the departure of the fish from the coast was somewhat hastened by the same cause.

An interesting and somewhat remarkable feature of the mackerel fishery during the fall should be mentioned. When the mackerel reached the waters about Cape Ann and Massachusetts Bay, comparatively few catches were made in the daytime; the phosphorescence exhibited at night, however, aided the work of the seiners. The fish rarely schooled by daylight, and even when they did they were, according to the statements of several parties, so shy as to render their capture very difficult and often impossible.

Most of the fish taken were caught at night, and, as I was assured by some of the fishermen, so small was the probability of seining mackerel in the daytime that on many of the vessels no one was kept on the lookout for schools. Dark, moonless nights are, under such circumstances, best for the capture of mackerel, since at such times the movements of the fish may be known and traced by the phosphorescence thrown out from the schools.

Notwithstanding, however, that every effort was made both night and day, the vessels, as a rule, did so poorly that the majority of the mackerel fleet had "hauled up" before the 1st day of November. A few very fair catches were, however, made in Barnstable Bay and about Cape Cod on subsequent dates.

Before closing these remarks it may be well to refer again to the schools of mackerel which, detained beyond their usual period of migration along the Nova Scotia shore, eventually found their way into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Whether any of the fish, which under other conditions might have gone to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, were hindered from doing so by the accumulation of ice about the eastern part of Nova Scotia, can only be conjectured. According to the reports of the Boston Fish Bureau, mackerel have never within the memory of man been so scarce in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as during this season.

The catch of the boat-fishermen at Prince Edward Island has been unusually small, while not a single fare, so far as can be learned, was taken by either American or Canadian vessels, if we except a small trip caught in gill-nets by an American schooner on the Labrador coast.

Indeed, it is a fact that one Provincial vessel, at least, the Festina Lente, Capt. Andrew Hammond, of Lockport, Nova Scotia, was engaged during the past season in mackerel seining on the New England coast.

It seems only proper to allude to this fact in this connection because it goes to prove that the claims made by the Canadians concerning the superiority of the mackerel fisheries in their waters is wholly without foundation. There is every prospect that in future years a fleet of Canadian vessels will be engaged in mackerel seining on our coast, instead of our fishermen being compelled to resort to Provincial waters, as was the case when hand-lining was the principal means of capture. In this connection, and as a fair demonstration of the importance and prosperity which the mackerel fishery has reached at the present day on our coast, should be mentioned the remarkable and unparalleled stocks which have been realized by some of the vessels from the sale of their fish.

The following extracts from the Cape Ann Advertiser give a statement of the most important stocks made by the vessels engaged in the mackerel fishery during the season when this species can be taken, namely, from April 1 to about the middle of November:

"Two of the largest mackerel stocks ever landed at this port or in New England have been made by the schooners Nellie N. Rowe, Capt. Eben Lewis, and the Edward E. Webster, Capt. Solomon Jacobs, the past season, comprising eight months of time actually employed.

"The net stock of the Rowe was $35,537, and of the Webster $34,229. The average share of the Webster's crew was $959.75, and the steward, Mr. Warren Fowles, with his extra pay of $160, made for his season's work, $1,129.75." - (Cape Ann Advertiser, November 17, 1882.)

"The following good stocks are reported in the mackerel fishery by vessels hailing from this port: Schooner J. H. French, Capt. John Chisholm, net stock about $20,000, crew shared $615; schooner Leona, Capt. Willard Pool, net stock $19,715.72, crew shared $582; schooner Carl Churz Capt. Jed. Warren, net stock since June 6,$15,608, crew shared $468--stock for the year, $23,222, crew sharing $733.86; schooner John D. Long, Capt. Charles Hardy, net stock $18,500, crew shared $571; schooner Helen M. Crosby, Capt. Joseph Swim, net stock $18,020, crew shared $596; schooner Ivanhoe, Capt. James Crowley, net stock $16,945, crew shared $525; schooner Golden Hind, Capt. Solomon Reed, net stock $16,323, crew shared $594; schooner John S. McQuin, Capt. Henry G. Coas, net stock $16,035.57, crew shared $517." (Cape Ann Advertiser, November 24, 1882.)

It should be borne in mind that the above figures, large as they may appear, represent only the net stock made by the several vessels, and that to get a more correct idea of the value of the fish taken we must add to the stock of each schooner from two to three thousand dollars.

This will give us, approximately, the amount for which the fish were sold.


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