1894: Demand For Connecticut Sturgeon

Large Numbers of These Big Fish Caught, and Sold in This City.

Middletown, Conn., Aug. 11.–The big sturgeon of the Connecticut River have been a long time coming to market, but they seem now to have arrived. Local fishermen have discovered that the fish, despised in the local market, is worth money in New-York, and they have prepared nets with a twelve-inch mesh in which to take the monsters. During the last week they have been after sturgeon in earnest, and with good success, so that the first shipments to New-York have been large.

It is a good thing that the sturgeon is marketable–good from the standpoint of the Connecticut River fisherman. Every few years the fish upon which he has been depending plays out, and something else has to be sought to take their place. Many years ago salmon were taken here in great numbers, and many families were well supported on the returns of the fishery. Then the salmon departed, and shad came to take their place. It was long before conservative fishermen were reconciled to the change, but now that shad are also becoming scarce in their turn, the merits of the vanishing blessing are highly extolled. Of late years it has been a matter of occasional note that sturgeon were taken in the shad nets, or broke away, ruining the nets and freeing the spoil of the fisherman’s night toil. The big fish with the sucker mouth was despised. Though he ran in weight sometimes as high as 600 pounds, the meat would not bring 5 cents a pound in open market. He was thought to be a menace to all fishing industry along the lower stream.

This season, for the first time, stronger nets have been put in, for the avowed purpose of capturing the big fellows. The first hauls were made during the last week, and some resulted in fine captures. The fish is treated much like a beef creature after capture. It is generally inconvenient to “butcher” at once. When the nets are drawn, the fish is made fast with a rope around the tail, in lieu of horns, and is lariated to some stout bush along the waterside. It can forage about on the river bottom to the length of the lariat, but that is all. There is no such thing possible as slipping the cable. When the captors are ready to proceed with the butchering, they draw the prize in shore, cut its throat, and bleed it in the approved slaughter-house style, and finally slice it up into sections convenient for packing. The sturgeon offered for sale in New-York markets looks about as much like the lashing, vigorous monster that is drawn from the waves as a sirloin steak does like the once rampant steer from which it has been carved.

Although the local market repulses the mere suggestion of sturgeon, the noble fish is worth more in New-York than salmon. And this is not strange, although salmon is a dainty fish, for salmon is beyond doubt salmon the world over, and cannot well be confounded with other fish. But the sturgeon in its sliced and quartered state is capable of becoming almost anything. There is scarcely a fish on the bill of fare that is served in sections that is not likely to prove sturgeon. If you order tenderloin of sole, you may reasonably expect sturgeon; and that you have not before this discovered the deception shows how very toothsome sturgeon really is. It is served fresh and smoked and salted. Sturgeon to the accomplished chef is like clay to the potter–almost any kind of a dish may be made from it.

Sturgeon is a fish rich in roe. From the average capture over a barrel is taken. But it is black in color, and the only use heretofore made of it along the banks of the Connecticut has been as a fertilizer; ordinarily, it is thrown away. But sturgeon roe by rights should be made into caviare, and it is not too much to expect that the development of the sturgeon fishery here will result in the establishment of the caviare-canning industry. Connecticut has a variety of industries, but it has room for still another that promises so well as this.

From The New York Times (New York, New York), Sunday, August 12, 1894.

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