Of all the relationships humankind entertains with the Hudson River, perhaps none is so intimate as that of fishing. The harvest offish and shellfish from the Hudson has endured for thousands of years, and connects us both with the river's productivity and with our cultural past.
Other chapters in this book describe the fish fauna and its use of various habitats within the system. Here, we concentrate on the fisheries themselves, focusing on key species within the commercial and sportfishing arenas. We also examine some of the factors that potentially have large effects on fisheries, namely, the impacts of power plants that withdraw water from the river, and the persistence of contaminants, especially PCBs.
from native to commercial fishing
Before modern agriculture and globalization of products, the fisheries of the Hudson River were an important and diverse local source of protein. Native Americans harvested fish and shellfish long before the arrival of European settlers. Dating of the oyster middens at Croton Point Park show that humans fished there nearly six millennia ago (Anonymous, 2001). Middens at Tivoli Bays in the upper tidal Hudson bear evidence of the consumption of fish and even bland-tasting freshwater mussels (Funk, 1992). Adriean Van der Donck, one of the documenters of the first Dutch settlements, noted "this river is full of fishes" (Boyle, 1979). Settlers could feast on finfish, including American shad, sturgeons, and striped bass, as well as on blue crab, scallops, and the plentiful oysters that extended throughout New York Harbor, East and Harlem Rivers, and up the Hudson as far as Stony Point. Oysters from Gowanus Bay were the size of dinner plates and especially sought after (Waldman, 1999). The Hudson River beds produced well over 450,000 barrels (50,000 m3) of oysters per annum in the early nineteenth century (Boyle, 1979).
Commercial fishers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries harvested a wide variety of fin-fish species from the Hudson, many of which were documented byMitchill (1815) who made numerous observations in the public markets. Among the species most heavily exploited in the nineteenth century were American shad and the two sturgeons. Sturgeons were valued for both their roe and flesh. Harvests were so great in the tidal Hudson that sturgeon was popularly known as "Albany beef," because it was shipped upriver to a hungry market. Shad could be taken in great numbers in the spring spawning runs by stake-nets or drift-nets, then salted for later consumption. In 1895, it was the number one inland fish harvested in the United States (Cheney, 1896), valued at almost $185,000 -equivalent to over $3,900,000 today.
Both American shad and sturgeons were over-harvested in the late nineteenth century. Because of its life history characteristics of late maturation and nonannual spawning, coastwide l89
Number of shad licenses sold
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