Wednesday, November 21, 2007


How thousands of fish are destroyed in the streams.
The destructive work of the Heron, Kingfisher, Wild Duck, Water Snake, and the Snapping Turtle.

So begins this New York Times article from 1884. It exemplifies the attitude of the time towards wildlife - game species are good, anything that impacts our preferred game species is vilified, and we should manipulate the natural world to meet our will. Throw in a healthy dose of anthropomorphism and you have yourself a party.

The main body of the article describes the hunting practices of major predators along a creek in NY. Check out the characterization of the following:

The Heron

One blue heron, given free scope in a trout stream, would take from it, on a reasonable average, 1200 trout, all full grown, and many of them filled with eggs, during the time the bird fishes, which is from the time the ice leaves the streams in the Spring until it forms again in the Fall or Winter

Many of them filled with eggs! Not the babies! It's relatively pointless to correct an article like this on its numbers, but I am interested in what this figure entails. Lets see.. spring through fall... say 245 days. 1200/245 = 4.9 adult trout a day per heron. Say 2kg for an adult brook trout, our smallest species, and you have herons comsuming 10kg of fish a day. The weight of a Great Blue Heron in Sibley is 2.4 kg. So herons consume four times their weight in trout a day. Anyone know actual figures regarding heron consumption?

The Wild Duck

Always a glutton, when a duck finds the spawning beds in the small streams that feed the main water it will soon devour thousands of eggs, and shovel the entire contents of the breeding places into its stomach if not molested. One flock of wild ducks can easily destroy the entire breeding prospects of any trout stream in a short time.

I wonder what duck hunters would think about the implied attitude of the article that ducks should be controlled? Everyone has different values.

The Water Snake

The water snake, lurking as it does by the hundred along every trout stream, fishes with so much tact and cunning that it numbers its prey by the thousand from the time it emerges from its hole when the warm weather comes until it is driven into its Winter quarters.

By the calculations above, that means water snakes also eat 4-5 prey items a day. Ridiculous.

The Snapping Turtle

The harshest words of all are saved for the snapping turtle: of the deadliest foes of the finny tribe in existence.

The snapping turtle is one of the antediluvians. It has cruelty in its eye, strength in its muscles, imperviousness in its shell, and neither mercy nor gentleness in its heart and bowels.

Ahhh! No mercy from the snapping turtle bowels!!

The article concludes:

By the watchfulness displayed by the employees of the State Hatching House on Caledonia Creek thousands of trout are saved every year from the depredation of these persistant enemies of the fish. If the game protective laws could prohibit their operations generally throughout the country the increase in the number of trout in those streams would be surprising.

This article clearly predates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as highlighted by this response to predators:

No less than 30 blue or night herons, some of them measuring seven feet from tip to tip of their wings, have been killed while fishing in the creek this season.

Sadly, this attitude towards the natural world is still very much present today. Today, you just need permits or to pressure the DEC to do it. Just look at the lethal cormorant eradication debate. Cormorants eat fish, sometimes large fish (I know of a Double-crested Cormorant taking a 14 or 15 inch Walleye on Oneida Lake). Anglers don't want anything to impact their fish stocks, so they pressure governments to do anything to remove this easy target. Check out the debate in the UK and in NY.

Compare the vilification of trout predators with the vilification of Double-crested Cormorants in this Niagara Gazette article from 2006 (bold emphasis mine):

The double-crested cormorant is now on the hit list of many northern states along with southern states that have no use for the destructive birds at all. Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin are joining Vermont, Minnesota and other states in attempting to curtail the explosive growth of the bird.

They have been blamed for denuding islands in Lake Champlain, Ohio and many other states with their droppings and nesting sites. In the southern states, they snatch fish from fish-farm impoundments costing fish farmers millions of dollars in loses.

Most states employ marksmen who use air rifles or .22-caliber long guns to kill the birds. Some states destroy the nests, or when a nest is found, oil the eggs to prevent hatching. In the Great Lakes, double-crested cormorant nests increased from 89 nests in 1972 to more than 120,000 today.

No one has come up with any good things to say about the bird and many fishermen wish for an open season on shooting them. Many anti-hunting and animal-rights groups object to drastic measures to control a pest that has no redeeming value whatsoever. When one bird species, such as the double-crested cormorant, renders an island uninhabitable for humans, then it’s time for it to go.

(Note: I am not denying that Cormorants impact fish stocks and do considerable damage to colony habitat. I only wish to draw comparison to the wording)

This attitude places the human at the forefront, bending nature to his will. If an animal doesn't have a positive economic impact on the human consumer, it has no "redeeming value". This attitude wasn't right in the 1800's and it isn't right now.


One final, unrelated note regarding this quote from the NY Times article:

"The author... saw a mink, a kingfisher, and a water pilot all watching for trout within a distance of 100 feet"

Anyone know what a water pilot is? I tried googling it and came up dry


  1. Interesting find. I agree with you 100%, but still...the phrase "deadliest foe of the finny tribe" is felicitous.

  2. p.s. "water pilot" is an old name for water snakes. Conant and Collins mention it for Nerodia taxispilota, but if in NY it must have been N. sipedon.

  3. Thanks for info on the water pilot!

    The old article did have some very interesting phrases. :)