Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/365

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361
THE PASSING OF THE STURGEON

THE PASSING OF THE STURGEON: A CASE OF THE UNPARALLELED EXTERMINATION OF A SPECIES
By WALTER SHELDON TOWER, Ph.D.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF GEOGRAPHY, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

THERE is little chance for doubt that the sturgeon was originally present in great abundance both in the coastal and the inland waters of the United States, since frequent mention of the species is found in the annals of the colonial period. Probably the earliest mention of this fish is found in Burk's "History of Virginia" where it is stated that a sturgeon fishery existed in that colony in 1626.[1] For some reason, however, this early experiment did not prove successful and was abandoned. A century later Beverley's history of the same colony states that the rivers contained "multitudes of shad, rock and sturgeon," the last-named species being caught with nooses by the Indians. In fact, so abundant were the sturgeon that they often leaped into the canoes of the Indians, "as many of them do still (1722) every year into the boats of the English."[2] A letter from William Penn to the Free Society of Traders in 1683 names sturgeon first in the list of abundant fish in the waters of his province.[3] Throughout the region bordering on Delaware River and Bay the early settlers were struck at the immense number of sturgeon seen in those waters and here, as in Virginia, many and often fanciful stories are told about the fish being so numerous that they jumped into open boats. Even as late as 1850 it was not an uncommon occurrence for passengers on the ferry to see several sturgeon during a single trip between Camden and Philadelphia. In the Great Lakes, on the Pacific coast, in Maine and southward from the Chesapeake, the records tell the same story of sturgeon in wonderful abundance. Yet, strange as it may seem, in those days of none too abundant food supply, the sturgeon apparently was not often eaten until many years after the colonies were established. It is not known just when this species was first made the object of a regular fishery. The unsuccessful Virginia experiment in 1626 was undoubtedly the first attempt. But after the abandonment of that venture there is no record of a regular sturgeon fishery until more than a century later. There is a tradition that before the revolution market-

  1. Burk, J. D., "History of Virginia," Vol. II., p. 17.
  2. Beverley, Robert, "History of Virginia," pp. 117-119.
  3. Watson, J. F., "Annals of Philadelphia," p. 46.