A century and a half ago, in 1871, Congress created the U.S. Commission on Fish and Fisheries. The reason, even 150 years later, sounds familiar: Study declining fisheries and recommend solutions to reverse this trend.
A famous fish scientist at the time, George Brown “G.B.” Goode, became one of the early commissioners and put together a team of more than 20 scientists, with a similar number of supporting clerical employees, to compile a massive, multi-volume work that investigated just about every fishery known to the nation, detailing the fish themselves, the effort and means to catch them, the ecology in which they lived, and how the fishermen lived and worked.
The work was copiously illustrated. Captain J.W. Collins, an expert on New England fisheries, and Henry Wood Elliott (who also illustrated an edition of “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes”), focused on our region and did remarkable renditions of the life and times of the mackerel industry; some were renderings of photos, others freehand.
What follows are just some of the visuals they created which appeared in “The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States,” with G.B. Goode as the lead author, in 1887. This appears to be the last of the series of annual volumes published with this name and purpose.
In an older version of the fishery, a “Chebacco” boat is shown “drailing” for mackerel. Drawing by H.W. Elliott and Captain J.W. Collins.
Gaffing mackerel over the vessel’s rail. Drawing by H.W. Elliott and Captain J.W. Collins.
The mackerel hook fishery required various hooks like these, and molds to create them. Drawings by H.W. Elliott and Captain J.W. Collins.
We think of lookouts aloft when it came to sighting whaling spouts, but mackerel schooners used them for locating schools as well. Drawing by H.W. Elliott and Captain J.W. Collins.
A mackerel schooner cruising in Massachusetts Bay, with a lookout on the foremast just visible. Drawn from a photograph by T.W. Smillie.
This diagram shows how a purse seine net plays out in the water, with the boat at the bottom. Drawing by Captain J.W. Collins.
With schooner in the background, men in a seine boat “purse the seine,” drawing and gathering a school of mackerel into position. Drawing by H.W. Elliott and Captain J.W. Collins.
In the cabin of the mackerel schooner John D. Long, a seiner from Gloucester. Drawing by H. W. Elliott.