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Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission Volume 7

The fisheries of Gloucester, Massachusetts in April 1887, with notes on those of other localities
By W.A. Wilcox

Although April is a spring month, the weather has much resembled that of midwinter, with heavy falls of snow occurring so late as the 18th. The cold weather and frequent storms have considerably delayed the vessels in beginning their season's work. During the month comparatively few Gloucester vessels have been employed, these fishing mostly on George's Bank and off Cape Ann, though a small fleet has fished on the Western Bank for cod and halibut.


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During the recent severe gales a number of vessels have found it desirable to use oil in breaking the force of the seas. This practice is growing in favor among the Gloucester fishermen, and at least one vessel claimed to have been saved in this way during the month. This vessel, the schooner Willie M. Stevens, while on her homeward passage, encountered a heavy gale and came to anchor off Cashe's Ledge. Her anchor failed to hold, and it was by the use of oil that she was enabled to prevent the seas from breaking over her.

Codfish have been scarce on George's and Western Banks, and the vessels from these localities have, with few exceptions, returned with, small fares. On the shore-grounds off Cape Ann and in Ipswich Bay, however, they have been very abundant. This abundance has been especially noticeable on the fishing grounds, 3 to 5 miles southeast from Eastern Point, where cod of large size and fine quality are reported to have been more plenty, than for years. During the greater part of the month the vessels fishing in that locality have had large catches.

Some of these vessels, with crews of ten men, have left the harbor for the fishing grounds in the early morning and returned before dark with from 12,000 to 15,000 pounds of codfish, while the dory fishermen have frequently caught from 800 to 1,000 pounds per day. On these grounds trawls and hand-lines were employed, the bulk of the fish being taken by the trawl fishermen. In Ipswich Bay trawls, hand-lines, and gillnets were used, but by the 25th of the month most of the nets were laid aside. The large catch in the in-shore waters has offset to a considerable extent the light receipts from the distant banks, thus bringing the total receipts for the month nearly up to those of April, 1886.

During the winter of 1878-79, the United States Fish Commission began the propagation of codfish at Gloucester, hatching out several millions of young cod, which were placed in the waters near Eastern Point, and the unusual abundance of fish on these grounds is by many attributed to the stocking of these waters by the Fish Commission at that time.

Owing to the cold and backward spring, the mackerel fleet have been considerably delayed in starting for the southern fishing grounds, but at the end of the month fifty-two vessels from Gloucester and other ports had sailed. The schooner Grampus, of the United States Fish Commission, sent out to study the habits of the mackerel, is reported as having taken the first fish, these being obtained on April 8, in gillnets, about 50 miles east from Cape Charles. The schooner Caroline Vaught, of Boothbay, was the first to land fresh mackerel in New York. She secured about 10,000 medium-sized fish 50 miles east of Hog Island, in lat. 37 degrees 20' N., and long. 74 degrees 30' West. on April 21, this locality being nearly identical with that where mackerel were first taken in 1886.


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Between 1876 and 1880 no mackerel were taken by the southern fleet prior to April 2, the first catches being, respectively, on the 25th, 26th 6th 13th, and 2d of that month. From 1881 to 1885, inclusive, the first catches were made in March, these being obtained in 1881 on 22nd, in the three following years on the 31st, and in 1885 on the 28th. Last year the first fish were seined on the 10th of April.

The vessels fishing on George's during the present month have reported finding several good-sized mackerel in the stomachs of the codfish At its last session Congress passed a bill prohibiting the landing or importation of mackerel caught prior to June 1. This bill goes into effect next season, and continues in operation for five years. This is, therefore, the last season for some time during which the spring mackerel fishing can be prosecuted.

During the month numerous traps and weirs have been put in fishing order along various portions of the New England coast, these being intended to supply the vessel-fishermen with bait, although many will ship their catch fresh to be used for food.

The receipts of halibut have been much below those of April, 1886; those landed at Gloucester being chiefly from the fishing grounds off Sable Island. Halibut are also reported to have been quite abundant off Nantucket Shoals.

Fish landed at Gloucester by the fishing fleet in April, 1887.

*The miscellaneous receipts from other ports, during the month consisted of 1,000 barrels menhaden oil from Niantic, Conn