As the head of the Department of Commerce, and thus charged with such responsibility for our game fisheries as weighs upon the mind of the Federal Government, I wish to state a fact, to observe a condition, to relate an experiment, to define a proposition, to offer a protest, and to give the reasons for all.
The fact I refer to is that our game fishing is decreasing steadily and rapidly. The condition is that the present method of rehabilitation through hatcheries and distribution of fry and fingerlings is a failure because of high infant mortality. The experiment in the case indicates that artificial hatching can be made successful if the fingerlings are carried through infancy to childhood. The proposition is further to extend these nurseries in coöperation with the Izaak Walton League of America and all fish clubs. The protest is that even this is useless unless we can check pollution of our streams. The reason for it all is that fishing is good for the soul of man.
Man and boy, the American is a fisherman. That comprehensive list of human rights, the Declaration of Independence, is firm that all men (and boys) are endowed with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—which obviously includes the pursuit of fish. America is a well-watered country, and the inhabitants know all of the fishing holes. The Americans also produce millions of automobiles. These coordinate forces of inalienable right—the automobile and the call of the fishing hole—propel men and boys to a search of all the water within a radius of one hundred and fifty miles during week-ends alone. They extend it to a radius of five hundred miles on summer holidays. The radii of operations of all these men and boys greatly overlap. All of this has overworked the fishing holes, and the time between bites has become longer and longer, and the fish have become wiser and wiser.
Some millions of fishermen have invented thousands of new lures of seductive order and devised many new and fearful incantations, with a host of new kinds of clothes and of labor-saving devices to carry them about.
We have indeed made stupendous progress in physical equipment to overcome the mysteries of fish. We have moved upward from the rude but social conditions of the willow pole with a butcher’s-string line, fixed with hooks ten for a dime, whose compelling lure is one segment of an angleworm and whose incantation is spitting on the bait. We have arrived at the high state of a tackle assembled from the steel of Damascus, the bamboos of Siam, the silk of Japan, the lacquer of China, the tin of Bangkok, the nickel of Canada, the feathers of Brazil, and the silver of Colorado—all compounded by mass production at Chicago, Illinois, and Akron, Ohio. And for magic and incantations progressed to application of cosmetics to artificial flies and to wonders in special clothing with pigeonholes for varied lures and liniments, and to calling a bite a ‘strike.’ Nor do I need to repeat that fishing is not the rich man’s sport, even though his incantations are more expensive. I have said elsewhere that all men are equal before fishes. But I ask you if, in the face of all this overwhelming efficiency and progress, there is less time between bites.
However, our fishermen can put in many joyous hours at home, polishing up the rods, reels, and lures, discussing new flies, when the imponderable forces of spring begin to move their bones. They could not get such joy out of a collection of live angleworms, and that is all a part of what we are trying to get at anyway—recreation and soul satisfaction.
But I am off the track, because the Department of Commerce deals not in the beatitudes but in statistics. Moreover we must also maintain the economic rather than the biologic method in discussion or some other department of the Government will accuse Commerce of invading its authority. Nevertheless I may say, as an aside, that the fishing beatitudes are much amplified since Izaak Walton, for he did not spend his major life answering a bell. He never got the ‘jumps’ from traffic signals or the price of wheat. The blessings of fishing include not only Edgar Guest’s ‘wash of the soul’ with pure air, but they also now include discipline in the equality of men, meekness and inspiration before the works of nature, charity and patience toward tackle makers and the fish, a mockery of profits and conceits, a quieting of hate and a hushing to ambition, a rejoicing and gladness that you do not have to decide another thing until next week.
To return, then, to the economics of this sport. Having done everything to improve the tackle, lures, and incantations, we must conclude that the distance between bites has been increased because of rising ratio of water to fish. In other words, there are fewer fish.
From the number of fishing licenses issued in licensing states the Bureau of Fisheries estimates that ten million people went game fishing in the year 1926. Any calculation of twenty years ago will show that not one million went fishing in a year. But I have no sympathy with attempts at disarmament of the gigantic army which every year marches against the fish, nor do I suggest any limitations on its equipment of automobiles, tackle, or incantations. I am for force—more force and more fish.
Despite the statistical inefficiency of our department, I do not know how many fish each one of the army captured last year. Judging by my own experience, the number was not large. I spent several days searching fishing holes at various points between Chesapeake Bay and the Pacific; I tried to find some spot where not more than six automobiles were already camping, or where the campers did not get up before daylight and thus get the two or three fish which were off guard at that time of day. The State of New Jersey secures an accounting from its licensees of the number of game fish caught. It averages about 4.5 fish per fisherman per annum. Fishermen are not liars, and therefore I conclude that even in that well-organized state it was heavy going.
Now I want to propose an idea. I submit that each fisherman ought to catch at least fifty fish during the season. I should like more than that myself, but that ought to be demanded as a minimum under the ‘rights’ as implied in the Declaration, provided it includes one big one for purposes of indelible memory, conversation, and historic record.
And at once I come to a powerful statistic, — that is, fifty fish times ten million men and boys, — the purpose of which I will establish presently. This minimum ideal of a national catch of five hundred million game fish is of fundamental importance if we as a nation are to approach a beatific state for even two weeks in the year.
And, as we are thinking nationally, five hundred million fish divided among one hundred and twenty million people is not so much as you might think at first, for it is only about 4.1 fish per person and it includes the little ones as well, and each of us is supposed to eat 1095 times a year, less whatever meals we miss while fishing.
At this point someone will deny that we have ever taken five hundred million fish in a year. I agree with him that we have not attained any such ideal average in long years. If it had been true, the moral state of the nation would have been better maintained during the last calendar year. There were lots of people who committed crimes during the year who would not have done so if that the increase in crime is due to a lack of those qualities of mind and character which impregnate the souls of all fishermen except those who get no bites. Unless we can promise at least fifty fish per annum per person, including that occasional big one for recounting and memory purposes, we may despair of keeping the population from further moral turpitude.
Nearly fifty years ago the game fishermen in certain localities began to complain bitterly to their Congressmen about the expanding distance between bites, which in economic terms is called the ‘lag.’ As an equal opportunity for fishing must be properly considered by any great government as a necessity to public tranquility, measures were at once taken. The great government said: ‘We will now add artificial means to those of the natural birth and distribution of fish.’
Thereafter the Federal Government build forty game-fish hatcheries. The state governments built 191 hatcheries for game fish, and private enterprise constructed sixty more. In these mass-production works, the maternal carelessness of laying eggs out loose in the water to be eaten by cannibalistic relatives and friends was to be halted, and the eggs were thereafter carefully safeguarded in glass jars and troughs and temperatures. The baby fry and fingerlings thus born in security and reared up in comfort to half an inch long or so were then placed in private railway cars and distributed back to the streams, being thereupon started on their happy way to be eaten by the same relatives and friends, as fresh meat instead of fresh eggs.
We have steadily increased in zeal in these endeavors to beat the lag between bites, until during the last few years these 291 hatcheries, working on fifteen species of game fish, have turned out an annual average of one billion, one hundred million infant game fish to be duly launched into life among the cannibals.
In addition to these paternalistic and maternal endeavors on the part of the Government, I am aware that Mother Nature has herself been busy also. Private enterprise, in the shape of responsible mother fish, is working upon the same problem; it is probably doing more than the paternal Government, for all I know—private enterprise usually does. One thing we do know: it takes a host of fingerlings to provide for the survival of a single fish of blessed memory. At a particular control station over Alaskan salmon it is estimated that 1,668,750,000 eggs and fry were launched into life and 3,740,000 adult fish came back. It is thought that all who escaped infant mortality did come back—so that the loss was 99.77 per cent. Or, in other words, it took 450 fry to make a fish. At this rate the annual one billion, one hundred million fry and fingerlings from the whole battery of hatcheries would produce one third of a fish per fisherman per annum.
I may say parenthetically that I introduce these statistics of birth registration and infant mortality among fish because it will relieve your minds of anxiety as to accuracy. But if anyone feels that these figures may be wrong, he has my permission to divide or multiply them by any factor based upon his own experience with the time element in bites, the size of fish, or the special incantations.
In any event one billion, one hundred million bureaucratic-mothered fry from all our combined government hatcheries meant only 2.2 fry for each fish in the modest minimum national ideal I have insisted upon. And if anybody thinks that it takes only 2.2 fry to make a fish he is mightily mistaken. I conclude statistically, from my own experience of the time between bites, that the Alaskan figure of mortality should be corrected from 99.77 per cent to 99.99 per cent.
It is a solemn fact that only some microscopic percentage of those fry or fingerlings, whether synthetic or natural, ever live to that state of grandeur which will serve as inspiration to polish the tackle or ensure the approach to the battle in renewed hope with each on-coming season. And we lose ground every year, sector by sector, as the highways include more fishing holes in the motor routes. We must either multiply the output of our hatcheries by some fearful number or find some other way out.
Some four years ago I expressed to Commissioner O’Malley, when inducting him into the headship of the Bureau of Fisheries, my complete skepticism in regard to the effectiveness of our synthetic incubation and its statistical relations to the realistic life of a fish. My general thesis was that these infants did not have a dog’s chance to gain that maturity which was required by public policy. He and his able assistant, Mr. Leach, thereupon started experiments to see if we could not apply mass-production methods in the nursing of infant game fish to an age when they could survive traffic accidents or do battle with cannibals or enter the cannibal ranks themselves—in any event hope to survive. It was my aspiration that, if these adolescent youths could not win in open combat, at least some of them, reared to three inches long, might make a full meal for a cannibal in the place of two hundred fry fresh out of the eggs, and then we should save 199 or so. These experiments were seriously successful. And the same authorities, Messrs. O’Malley and Leach, are convinced that by this same means we have improved the fighting chance of these children of fish up to about a fifty-fifty go, and thereby our own billion, one hundred million governmental fingerlings might serve as a base to produce the national ideal of five hundred million big ones. I again refer you to my previous statement on the safety factor in the magic of statistics.
Nor was it so expensive. One hundred bass couples in specially prepared pools produced two hundred thousand off-spring and raised them to three inches long for a total outlay of five hundred dollars, omitting rent and experts, or four fish for a cent. Likewise trout were carried along in life under the shelter of hated bureaucracy until they could do battle with their enemies.
After this preliminary experience I appealed two years ago to fish and game clubs throughout the country to cooperate with us in establishing more experimental nurseries—the Department of Commerce to furnish free fingerlings, free breeding stock, and free technical supervision. It was one of the conditions of this appeal that all streams in each neighborhood should be stocked with the product so as to give the boy a chance also. Fifteen chapters of the Izaak Walton League, sixteen clubs and private individuals, five states and municipalities, have cooperated to establish nurseries in nine states. Pennsylvania leads with fourteen stations; Minnesota is next with thirteen stations. The State of New Jersey, working independently on the same general basis, has done wonders.
Last year was our first year; 4,667,000 fish were raised up to battling age in these coöperative nurseries and delivered into the streams. The annual capacity of these nurseries when going full blast is probably near twenty million fish.
Now the purpose of these statistics is to demonstrate that we need more nurseries. We ought to have several hundred. They are inexpensive compared to the annual outlay on tackle and the automobile journey to the fishing holes. When you get through at any fishing hole you will be glad to have paid for several hundred fish at the rate of four to a cent. And by stocking all streams in the neighborhood we are offered a large opportunity for establishing fealty from the small boy to the ideals of the sportsman. He may for sound reasons of his own continue to use his worn fly or even a worm, but be assured he will grow up to refined tackle and expensive incantation later on.
Our Government, national and state, is to-day spending nearly $2,000,000 a year on game-fish hatcheries. We are convinced of their futility unless we can carry their work this one stage further. That stage should be accomplished through local effort and coöperation, with the Federal Government standing ready to furnish instruction, advice, breeding stock, and fingerlings free to any chapter or club which will undertake the task. If every state in the Union would respond as Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have responded, the job would be done.
The hatcheries are the necessary works for mass production of infant fish. That is a technical job requiring large expense, high skill, and training. Clubs cannot well undertake to run them, and we have long since accepted their care as a proper function of the Federal and state governments. But the nurseries require only a few thousand dollars for plant, and but a few hundred dollars annually for operation. It is our view that the nurseries are the only agency that will make the hatcheries worth while. If our nurseries could turn out five hundred million three-inch fish, we could trust the natural mothers to supply the balance.
I appeal to the fishermen of America to take up this great hope of permanent game fishing in our country. It is your problem, and the remedy for a departing sport lies with you and not in demanding that an already maternally and paternally responsible Government do the whole job. Unless something like this is done, our sons will not be catching the limit. It is the real hope of triumph over the discouragement between bites.
And there is another phase. Aside from the cannibalistic enemies of infant and adolescent fish, acting in lively alliance with the organized army of ten million fishermen, we have still another fish enemy to deal with. That is pollution. Herein the poison cup which we give to eggs, fry, fingerlings, adolescents, and adult fish alike.
Now if we want fish we have to reserve some place for them to live. They all occur in the water, but it happens that Nature adapted them—except, perhaps, the lowly catfish and lowlier carp—to clean water.
And this question of pollution has a multitude of complications and suffers much from a lack of understanding. There are as many opinions about pollution as there are minds considering it. Those who are unconcerned are not under the spell of the fishing lure. Pollution exists in different waters in different degrees—from ships, factories, coal mines, chemical works in cities and towns, to mention only a few of them. Many of these things injure public health and destroy the outdoor appeal of the streams, and all of them damage the fish.
But after all we are an industrial people. We have to work at least eight hours a day and all but two or three weeks in the year, and we cannot abolish our industries and still pay for fishing tackle. So I have long since come to the conclusion that what we really need in every state is that there should be a survey by our state authorities of all the streams, and a division of them into three categories.
The first category would include the streams that have not yet been polluted. Immediate protection would be given to these streams or parts of them, in order that they should never be polluted; no industry would be allowed to settle upon them unless there was adequate guaranty that there would be no pollution. The second category would include the streams that are polluted to the finish. There are many of these that could never be recovered as a matter of practical fact without the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes through the crushing of their industries. The numbers who would benefit by clearing the streams would be infinitesimal compared to those who would be involved in the suffering and loss implied in such an operation. Then we should have a third category of streams—those that are perhaps partially polluted, but in which we could get correction by systematic and sound action and thus gradually restore them to the first category.
There is also the problem of pollution of our coastal waters. I have discussed that elsewhere and will not enter upon it now. The same handling of our stream pollution is one of the most important of conservation measures for our country. For various reasons concerned with States’ rights it can be but slightly a Federal problem. But States’ rights ae state responsibility, and the mental complex of some states which leads them to pass on their problems to the Federal Government deserves psychopathic treatment by indignant fishermen.
Now the reasons for all this are some of them economic in their nature, some moral, and some spiritual. Our standards of material progress include the notion and the hope that we shall lessen the daily hours of labor on the farm, at the bench, and in the office—except for public servants. We also dream of longer annual holidays and more of them, as scientific routine and mass production do our production job faster and faster. But when they do the job at all they dull the souls of men unless our leisure hours become the period of reaching life’s highest objective, which is obviously following the gentle art of fishing.
We are decreasing hours. Those infallible clocks of progress, the humble statistics, tell us that the hours of work of the gainfully employed have steadily decreased during the whole of thirty years. The great majority of us (except public officials) really work no more than eight hours a day, except during the stress of planting or harvest or elections. If we work eight hours and sleep eight hours we have eight hours left in each day in which to ruminate and make merry or stir the cauldron of evil.
Our stage of civilization is not going to depend upon what we do when we work so much as what we do in our time off. The moral and spiritual forces in our country do not lose ground in the hours we are busy on our jobs—their battle time is the time of leisure. We are organizing the production of leisure. We need better organization of its consumption. We devote vast departments of government and great agencies of commerce and agencies of commerce and industry, science and invention, to decreasing the hours of work, but we devote comparatively little to improving the hours of recreation. We associate joy with leisure. We have great machinery to produce joy, some of it destructive, some of it synthetic, some of it mass-produced. We go to chain theatres and movies; we watch somebody else knock a ball over the fence or kick it over the goal bar. I do that and I believe in it. I do, however, insist that no other organized joy has values comparable to the joys of the out-of-doors. We gain less from the other forms in moral stature, in renewed purpose in life, in kindness, and in all the fishing beatitudes. We gain none of the constructive rejuvenating joy that comes form return to the solemnity, the calm and inspiration, of primitive nature. The joyous rush of the brook, the contemplation of the eternal flow of the stream, the stretch of forest and mountain, all reduce our egotism, soothe our troubles, and shame our wickedness.
And in outdoor experience we make a physical effort that no sitting on cushions, benches, or side lines provides. To induce people to take its joys, they need some stimulant form the hunt, the fish, or the climb. I am for fish Fishing is not so much getting fish as it is a state of mind and a lure of the human soul into refreshment.
But it is too long between bites; we must have more fish in proportion to the water.
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