Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/12

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4
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

height. This crowding together prevents individual development, and consequently millions upon millions of oysters are lost to the people of this country in this one State alone. That the "planting" of "raccoon" seed in the deeper waters for cultivation would be profitless is shown by the natural growth of the oysters themselves in the marginal waters. They would soon become asphyxiated in the soft, silting mud bottom which occurs along the entire coast line of this State. But it has been demonstrated that, under almost as unfavorable conditions, excellent and healthy grounds could be prepared at comparatively slight cost, as has been so successfully done in Connecticut; and Mr. Dean shows conclusively that the "raccoons" might be scattered in "marginal waters about a fathom in depth," with an almost certain prospect of successful development. Curiously enough, in his article on the Biology of the Oyster Grounds of South Carolina, he advocates the artificial collection and rearing of spat.

There are miles upon miles of these "raccoon" ledges, and even islands which have been formed by the "raccoons," upon this part of the coast; they contain enough seedlings to stock the entire Atlantic coast, and a very little enterprise or judicious State interference would undoubtedly restore to South Carolina and the oyster-consuming population of the United States what must have been in ages past one of the most prolific natural oyster beds of the world.

The conditions in Chesapeake Bay are much more favorable than those which we have just considered. Here Nature has created, as Captain Collins has truly said, the most perfect oyster ground in the universe. But, as is the case with the prosecution of many other fisheries, man—either in his greed or ignorance, or both—has outraged a bountiful Nature by continuously fishing for the oysters without replanting, and as a consequence this remarkable oyster region is becoming rapidly less important.

In his report, Captain Collins accounts for the recklessness of the fishermen and oystermen in this way: "The general belief (in the Chesapeake Bay region) has been, that the natural wealth of the oyster beds is inexhaustible,"and that, "trained from childhood to look upon the oyster grounds as their patrimony. . . . it is perhaps not remarkable that the fishermen of the Chesapeake have bitterly, and to this time successfully, opposed all attempts at legislation intended to convey proprietary rights in the grounds."

Illustrating their reliance upon Nature, the report just referred to quotes the following paragraph from a local publication: "The value of the oyster business alone to southeast Virginia is nearly $2,500,000 per annum. It is a crop constantly harvested, except in the months of May to August inclusive, and