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Historical Materials: Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities

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Statistics on the American fisheries have been compiled in many forms by several government bureaus since the establishment of the United States Government. Among the earliest were records of the cod fishery, kept by the Customs Bureau, which determined a vessel's eligibility for a bounty paid for codfish as the vessel's exclusive catch for a period of four months. The intention of the bounty, and its result, was a rapid rebuilding of the New England fishing fleet after the Revolution. As the cod fishery prospered, eligibility restrictions mounted until the requirements became so onerous and complex to administer (and comply with) that the bounty was ended after the Civil War. (1) 

Exports of cod were recorded by the Customs Bureau and published in the annual "Commerce and Navigation Reports" by the Department of Commerce. The earliest records of this activity prior to the annual reports are to be found in "American State Papers", covering the years 1791 to 1823. The  subsequent annual reports are found in Commerce and Navigation: Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, beginning in 1813. (2)

The United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, under the leadership of Spencer Fullerton Baird, was established in 1871 to address the problem of declining stocks of American food-fish, then subject to fishing gear and methods of greatly increased efficiency. Resulting investigations were published in the Commission's "Annual Reports" which covered not only American fish and fishing gear, but foreign fisheries as well. International fishery expositions were held in this period, and the "U.S. Fish Commission" played a prominent role as both exhibitor and host. Correspondence within the Commission and with foreign bureaus and academic institutions became so voluminous that a separate publication, the "Bulletin" was necessary to manage this exchange. Statistical reports appeared regularly in the two publications, generating further studies and commentary. (3)

Perhaps the best known publication of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was the monumental seven-volume work, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, published between 1884 and 1887. Edited and partially written by G(eorge) Brown Goode, it described the economically important species of aquatic and marine fauna and the history and methods of catching and processing them. One book of plates illustrated the target species; another, the methods of their capture and preparation for market. Also included were descriptions of fishing grounds, the fishermen and their communities, and statistical and geographical reports. The meticulous drawings of the fish and invertebrates are used to this day in field and technical publications.

– Erik Ronnberg


1. Thomas Jefferson, "Cod and Whale Fisheries: Report to the House of Representatives, February 1, 1791", American State Papers, "Commerce and Navigation", vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1832), 8–12.  Reprint: 42nd Congress, House of Representatives, 2nd Session (Misc. Doc. 32, 1872), 1–11; and Raymond McFarland, A History of the New England Fisheries (New York: Appleton and Company and University of Pennsylvania, 1911), 129–44, 147–48, 162–69.

2. American State Papers, vols. 1, 2. Can be read and downloaded online at the Library of Congress website: Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury (Commerce and Navigation) can be found at Federal Depository libraries throughout the nation, usually in large cities or universities. These tend to focus on specific types of government publications; only specific libraries, called Regional Depository Libraries, have comprehensive collections, and should be contacted first to locate the nearest depository library with collections of interest.

3. Goode, G..Brown, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884-1887). Note: Arabic numerals in parentheses refer to individually bound volumes.

   Section I: "Natural History of Useful Aquatic Animals" (1883): Text; and Plates

   Section II: "Geographical Review of the Fisheries Industries and Fishing Communities for the Year 1880" (1887): Text with tabular data

   Section III: "The Fishing Grounds of North America" (1887): Text with charts

   Section IV: "The Fishermen of the United States" (1887): Text with Illustrations

   Section V: "History and Methods of the Fisheries" (1887): Text: vol. 1; Text: vol. 2; and Plates                                      

Related tables: Fishing »

Cod and Mackerel Fisheries of Massachusetts, 1837–65

From Samuel Eliot Morrison, The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783–1860 (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1921), 395.

Commerce and Navigation
Report of the Secretary of the Treasury (ending June 30, 1850)
Published January 1, 1851
6 x 9 in.
Hard-bound volume, 420 pages
Private collection

The Index to this report is as follows:

1. Exports of domestic produce (goods, wares, and merchandise)

2. Summary of the same

3. Exports of foreign merchandise (previously imported)

4. Summary of the same

5. Imports of foreign merchandise

6. Summary of the same

7. Tonnage of American and foreign vessels cleared

8. Tonnage of American and foreign vessels entered

9. Tonnage and national character of foreign vessels                entered and cleared

10. Statistical view of the commerce of the United States

11. Statistical view of the commerce of each State and               Territory

12. Tonnage of American and foreign vessels cleared from       each district

13. Tonnage of American and foreign vessels entered into          each district

14. Tonnage of the several districts of the United States

15. Condensed view if the tonnage of the several districts of        the United States

16. Number and class of vessels built during the year 1850

17. Comparative view if the registered and enrolled tonnage       from 1815 to 1850

18. Number and class of vessels built from 1815 to 1850

view ]
Maine Register (Fisheries)
George Adams, publisher

Details about Maine's fishing industry, see pp. 256–57.

Citation: "Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Statistics (accessed July 23, 2024).
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