BULLETIN OF THE UNITED STATES FISH COMMISSION. 1884
The Sturgeon Industry
In the month of May, when sturgeon most abound, the market is usually supplied with other and choicer varieties of fish. Hence, until recently, this really valuable food-fish has been neglected and its commercial importance underestimated. This difficulty has been met and overcome by the enterprise of New York packers. The process consists in placing the sturgeon, as soon as caught and dressed, in a large freezer, where, by a patented method, they are frozen solid as they lie in boxes.
This process is so perfected in the works at Salem, N. J., that 125 sturgeon, averaging 85 pounds each when dressed, can be frozen every seven hours. The fish are afterwards taken out of the boxes and stored in large rooms, through the center of which a freezing apparatus extends which is charged anew every day. By this means the fish can be kept for months until they come into demand.
The sturgeon range from Georgia, in winter, to Saint John, N. B., in summer, and are followed up in their season by men expert in their capture. Large gill-nets are used in this business, each about 200 fathoms long and with meshes a foot in size.
The Delaware River is the principal field of operation. Sturgeon enter this stream about the 22d of May, and in such immense numbers that nets about a quarter length have to be used, larger ones being at that time unmanageable. Mr. Blackson, an experienced fisherman, tells me that he has seen them so abundant that his net would sink with their weight as soon as it was thrown out. The average catch per net is from 25 to 30 fish apiece at each cast. This lasts about two weeks. The sturgeon move steadily up-stream towards the head of the
BULLETIN OF THE UNITED STATES FISH COMMISSION. 347
river, and then suddenly disappear about the 10th. of June, after whicb they must be sought elsewhere. How they get out of the river without being caught is a mystery. All that the fishermen know about it is, that one day they are busy catching fish and the next all their nets are empty.
The boats used in this business are all constructed on the same plan; about 24 feet keel, 7 or 8 feet beam, capable of carrying about 30 sturgeon apiece. A boat load of big ones looks, oddly enough, like a load of small logs.
The flesh of the sturgeon, as is well-known, is rather coarse and oily; and, as much depends on its right preparation for the table, we took some pains to inquire how it is cooked by the wives of the fishermen themselves, who ought to know as well as anybody, seeing that it constitutes a staple article of their diet. From several methods recommended, we give the two that seem the most promising:
The first method is to cut the flesh into slices and parboil them to get rid of the superfluous oil, and then fry them in a-thin batter.
The second method is to cut up the meat into squares, 2 inches thick, which are to be thoroughly boiled, and then pickled for two days in spiced vinegar, after which they are ready for eating, and are considered excellent by the fishermen.
The usual way of preparing sturgeon for market, however, is by smoking. Strips an inch or two thick are put through a pickling process, then hung on hooks over slow fire of corncobs or sawdust of hardwood. After thus smoking for a single night they are ready to be shipped to any part of the country. The preparation of caviare is an important part of the business. While this is not yet in as general use in this country as in Russia and other parts of Europe, where it is in so high esteem that no repast is served without it, it is coming into favor, especially in the Western and Southern States. There are two sorts of caviare, the soft and the hard, the latter being worth about twice as much as the former. The value of the best hard caviare in the South, early in the spring, is said to be from 15 to 20 cents a pound.
In order to make the best article, it is necessary to strip the roe from the sturgeon as soon as possible after the fish has been caught. Before being dried, it is rubbed through a coarse sieve to break the eggs apart, and to free them from the membranous tissue. Next, the roe is thoroughly salted, after which it stands a certain length of time. Then it is emptied into fine sieves, where it remains till it is so dry as to roll like shot. The finished caviare is packed in casks previously lined with napkin linen, each layer being salted with fine table salt. Each keg holds about 150 pounds.
With proper care, the caviare may be kept for a year or longer. For the trade it is often canned like fruit, in which condition it will stand transportation to warm countries and will keep an indefinite length of time. It may be eaten as put up
348 BULLETIN OF THE UNITED STATES FISH COMMISSiON.
without further preparation, though it is thought to be improved by the addition of a little vinegar or lemon-juice. Pressed caviare is a favorite with Russian soldiers, who are said to take a liberal supply in their knapsacks whenever they are going on a long march.
Improvements might be made, no doubt, in the preparation of American caviare, and the subject is worthy of receiving the especial attention of packers.
First published in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, July 26, 1883.