California’s early fisheries, research, and records
In 1870, the year before the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was established, California’s legislature set up its own Board of Fish Commissioners under “An act to provide for the restoration and preservation of fish in the waters of this state.” Signed by Gov. H. H. Haight, it was approved on 2 April and three Commissioners were appointed: B. B. Redding, S. R. Throckmorton, and J. D. Farwell. The initial appropriation of 5,000 was used primarily to import new varieties of fish and protect native fishes viewed as valuable food fishes (Bryant, 1921).
California’s Fish Commission was appointed to look after the welfare of fish in general, but salmon in particular (Scofield, 1939). Eventually, the need to protect game was recognized, and the Commission was given jurisdiction over game in 1878 and was retitled the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC).
During its first decade, the Commission was active in introducing several different varieties of both food and game fishes which, at that time, were “regarded as being among the greatest achievements in fish culture and acclimatization” (Shebley, 1911). Among the species introduced were black bass, glass-eyed perch, yellow perch, catfish, tautog, brook trout, saltwater eels, lobsters, oysters, shad, horn-pouts, silver eels, eastern (Atlantic) salmon, rock bass, whitefish, and more, mostly from the U.S. east coast. During 1876-77 an attempt was also made to introduce the awa from Hawaii. Striped bass were successfully introduced in 1879, carp in 1880, and the Commission published its first report on the edible fishes of the Pacific Coast in 1881.
By 1898, six fish hatcheries were operating, along with several egg collecting stations; the Sisson Hatchery alone was handling 16 million eggs at one time. By 1903-04, more attempts were made to introduce the grayling and the land-locked salmon, but without success. An unsuccessful attempt to introduce the ayu from Japan was made in 1920.
One of the first problems confronted by the Commission was pollution of coastal streams by sawdust from local mills. Fish passage around dams was also a problem, and a state law to require such facilities was secured early. A major problem in 1876-77 was the declining run of salmon in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. On the other hand, shad had become so plentiful by 1885 that the Commission recommended repeal of the closed season on the species.
Politics also was a problem in the latter 1880’s and a Board of Fish Commissioners report to then Gov. R. W. Waterman, pulled few punches:
“The work of the [Fish] Commission was progressing very satisfactorily, until disturbed by the attempt on your part [the Governor’s] to reorganize the Commission by placing thereon persons of your own selection. This attempted removal of the members of the Commission [Routier and Harvey] discredited the acts of the Commission, destroyed public confidence in the legality of their official acts, and defeated all efforts to an efficient discharge of their duties.” (Biennial Rep. State Board Fish Commiss. 1886-88).
Licensing of commercial fishermen began on 21 March 1887 to get a better handle on salmon data and management. By the latter 1880’s, the screening of irrigation ditches to protect anadromous fish was gaining increased attention, and problems were also recognized in conflicting county laws regarding the mesh of salmon nets which made law enforcement difficult. By the early 1890’s, the sale of fish and game in San Francisco during closed seasons was an important problem.
Early on the CFGC was concerned with scientific investigations, and Biennial Reports often presented articles by such well-known scientists as Cloudsley Rutter, W. M. Lockington, David Starr Jordan, Carl H. Eigenmann and others. Until about 1914, the salmon industry was California’s most important commercial fishery industry, receiving considerable attention. In 1897 the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries sent A. B. Alexander to Marin County to study salmon life history-especially first-year stream residency, and that work was later taken over by N. B. Scofield when Alexander returned to duty on the fisheries steamer Albatross. The following year, salmon life history was studied by Cloudsley Rutter for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and by Scofield for the CFGC. In 1911, C. H. Gilbert of Stanford University studied seaward salmon migrations by marking 100,000 fry, though success was very limited.
In 1912, Charles L. Gilmore was directed to survey State streams and record all available data on fish distribution, and in 1913 the Commission began emphasizing scientific investigation of fish and game problems, with help from experts from the State University at Berkeley and Stanford University. Charles H. Gilbert began a study of the life histories of salmon and trout, while Frank W. Weymouth conducted a study of the life history, abundance, of edible (Dungeness) crabs. In addition, Harold Heath conducted research on clams and Charles L. Edwards studied abalones.
In 1914, a Department of Commercial Fisheries was created within the CFGC, to handle the growing needs of that sector, particularly the developing albacore and sardine packing industries, but also the salmon canning industry. By then, sturgeon had been nearly eliminated (Scofield, 1939), and salmon were being exploited “to the danger point through mild-curing and canning for shipment” (Scofield, 1939).
Sale of fish in local markets was not a large endeavor around 1914; it was the growing number of canning plants for albacore and sardines that led the new department “to conserve and at the same time assist these industries.” Other tunas were only experimentally being packed, and mackerel canning was not developed until 14 years later. Scofield (1939) noted that “The three sardine canneries of 1914 with a combined capacity of one hundred tons per day could be stored in the warehouse of one of our plants of today, and one of our present day fishing vessels frequently delivers more sardines in one boat load than was possible for the entire sardine fleet of 1914.”
In 1914 marine recreational fishing was small in scale and unorganized but for a few big game fishing clubs for tuna and swordfish. There was no fleet of party or charter boats, nor were there many shore boats carrying passengers to anchored fishing barges off the coast.
Scofield (1939) also noted that “In 1914 the idea of basing administrative policy upon the results of carefully compiled field studies was not generally accepted as necessary or even possible, but the past twenty-five years have justified the more far-seeing founders of the Bureau.” With formation of the Department of Commercial Fisheries, studies began on the life histories and habits of marine fishes, and in 1917, W R Thompson was hired to investigate albacore. Later, he was put in charge of the State Fisheries Laboratory.) According to Bryant (1924), the fishery investigations were modeled after those of Scotland, were unique to the United States, and special effort was made to keep the studies continuous.
A state patrol boat for scientific work was added in 1918, and a system to record fish catch statistics was also initiated. By 1920, the Commission was operating 16 fish hatcheries and 6 egg collecting stations, primarily for salmonids (Bryant, 1921).
Records of California’s commercial fish catch date from 1872. Those annual catches, partly estimated, were published in 1879 in the “Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries of the State of California.” Surveys of the San Francisco markets were made again in 1885 and 1886, and estimates were made of the landings at San Diego and Los Angeles (Fish Bull. 86).
A law requiring a license to fish commercially was passed in 1909, and in 1911 a law was enacted requiring wholesale dealers to obtain a license and record their purchases-weight and kind of fish, transaction date, and the name of the seller. Records had to be kept in books open to periodic inspection by CFGC deputies. Those records constituted the beginning of California’s fishery data statistical system. In 1915 the wholesale dealers were required to submit their data in monthly statements. In 1917, a new law mandated a revised record gathering system. Every wholesale dealer or processor of fish was required to fill out, at the time of purchase, a receipt in duplicate for the fish purchased, showing the date, name of fisherman, weight in pounds of each variety, and the price per pound. A signature was required on each receipt, with the original going to the fisherman. The duplicate copy, for the dealer’s records, was to be held for 6 months, from which the state obtained its statistics. This law changed the required record keeping from a set of books to individual receipts of transactions. However, the law provided no original record for the state and the law was modified in 1919 making the receipts to be in triplicate, with the original (white), the duplicate (yellow), and the state’s triplicate copy in pink, thus establishing the well known “pink ticket’ ” A later alteration in 1950 added a fourth ticket, orange, for use by the issuing company which expedited the forwarding of the pink ticket to the DFG.
The 1917 California legislature also passed the Fisheries Tax Bill, providing that all packers, canners, and curers of fish and all wholesale dealers in crustaceans or mollusks pay the state a tax of 2.5 cents per 100 pounds of fish received for use in other than its fresh condition, or of crustaceans and mollusks received irrespective of the form in which they are to be used, with the money set aside for use for fisheries patrol and investigation work in the districts from which the revenue was derived.
Other new laws that year gave the State Market Director the power to control the fresh fish markets in the state by fixing the maximum price to be charged by the retailer, wholesaler, and the fishermen for all kinds of fish used in the fresh state. Wholesale and retail fish dealers were to buy a license with the revenue therefrom to be mainly used to advertise and popularize the lesser known fishes. The aim was to stimulate the sale of fresh fish which would there by reduce the cost of fish owing to the larger volume of sales. Yet another bill taxed harvested wet kelp at 1.5 cents per ton, with two-thirds going to the CFGC for patrol work and one-third going to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for research on kelp-an important source of potash, which Germany had cut off.
The states early efforts at compiling fish catch and processing data proved to be very good, and the system, with little alteration, has been in use for many decades.
Literature Cited Bryant, H. C. 1921. A brief history of the California
Fish and Game Commission. Calif. Fish
Game 7(2):73-86. __________ . 1924. Scientific investigation by the
California Fish and Game Commission. Calif.
Fish Gam 10(2):51-62. Scofield, W. L. 1939. The [California] Bureau
of Marine Fisheries was founded twenty-five
years ago. Calif. Fish Game 25(3):251-252. Shebley, W. H. 1911. History of the introduction
of food and game fishes into the waters of
California. Calif Blue Book, 1911:513-527. This report was prepared from a variety of early California Fish and Game Department reports and bulletins; views or opinions expressed or implied do not necessarily reflect the position of the Department or the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA.
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