FISHING: Floridas Industry
Fishing is often called the first industry--and probably rightly so. Commercial fishing in Florida may be 2,000 years old, as substantiated by the results of archeological diggings in Dade County as reported in Roberts (1979). References in the Bible also point to the fishing industry of early times:
Then, as well as now, problems of lack of use of nontraditional species exist. Since the earliest days of the colonies, fishing has been a big business when the US occupied the top position in fisheries. The port of Glouchester, Massachusetts was settled as a fishing port in the 1620s, making our nations fishing industry about 360 years old. Floridas "modern" fishing industry is even younger in age. At best, Florida fishing as a "business enterprise" is 160 years old. Key West was settled in 1822, and from the very beginning of its existence, fishing formed one of its principal industries as pointed out in Schroeder (1934). Most recorded documentation about Floridas fisheries concern the last 100 years. This paper addresses this segment and period of history of the fisheries. An attempt will be made to briefly discuss the "modern" history of both the commercial and sport fisheries in Florida. More recorded history is available on the commercial fisheries and thus they receive the emphasis.
One objective of this conference is to identify articles relating to maritime history and their potential for preservation. Two problems exist with fisheries. Many articles used in early fishing are undoubtedly housed in many private collections and small local museums of artifacts. Second, the fishing industry as known today is not that "historic" due to its relatively young age. Consequently the identification of "preservable" items as a result of this paper is minor and will take a much more extensive effort then could be expended.
The Early Spaniards
Fishermen from Cuba and other Spanish colonial settlements who first sailed their smacks into the waters of Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay recognized that the bays, inlets, and rivers of the area abounded in edible fish and green turtle to be taken at minimal risk and perhaps with substantial profit. Hammond (1973) makes the reasonable assumption that commercial fishing, at least on a small scale, was carried on in Charlotte Harbor in the latter part of the seventeenth and the early years of the eighteenth centuries, although evidence of such operations is meager. The fishing camps or "ranchos" extended from Boca Grande southward to San Carlos Bay and the Caloosahatchee River.
Several writer of 1765 and 1772 as quoted by Hammond (1973) make reference to the Spanish fishermen living on the Mullet Keys and near what is today Boca Grande. These writers describe the salting and drying of fish, which supplied Havana and other Spanish settlements in the West Indies during the Lent season. It appears that 12 to 14 Spanish fishing vessels annually plied the waters of Charlotte Harbor during the 1780s. The fishermen, who apparently peacefully co-existed with the Indians, were left undisturbed during the British occupation of Florida from 1763 to 1783.
During the 1830s various accounts report that between 130 to 600 men, women and children were engaged in the Charlotte Harbor fishery. About half were Indian. During 1831, pressures for direct control of the fisheries by the territorial government began to mount, and by 1836 after a number of confrontations, the occupation of Charlotte Harlot by Spanish fishermen was ended. However, the struggle to contain the Indians was only beginning and the area took on a basically military population. Hammonds (1973) work gives a very interesting treatment of the evolution of these fisheries and of the political and settlement pressures brought to bear on them.
The Development in General
Floridas earliest-sought seafood commodity was finfish. Before the technology of netting reached the south, the hook-and-line method was successfully employed for reef fishes of all types, as well as some of the coastal pelagics such as king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. Fishing was a principal industry at Key West from the very beginning of its settlement in 1822 when great clipper ships made it a port second only to New York. Fishermen from St. Augustine came to Key West to fish eight months of the year and regularly sold their catches to Havana markets.
During the late 1800s, ice was either unavailable or only sparingly available in the form of winter block ice, shipped in by schooner from the northeast. Consequently, most of the reef fishes, such as snapper, grouper, grunt, triggerfish, etc. were kept alive by placing them into what was called a live well - a water-filled, box like structure which was built directly into the hull of the boat, and which had openings drilled throughout to facilitate water transfer. These fishes were later sold locally and were kept alive until time of sale.
The larger reef fish landings were made early on in the Key West area, although Floridas panhandle region was not far behind in joining in as a primary producer. The fishing fleet in Key West was composed mainly of small boats, some with sails only, some with gasoline engines and some with both. Most fished close to shore as reported in Schroeder (1924). Ice became available in the panhandle much earlier than in South Florida and aided in a rapidly expanding fishery for Pensacola, Panama City and Apalachicola.
Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and mullet were produced in quantity for the first time after netting practices were established in the early 1900s. The lower southeast Florida coast and the Keys produced many pounds of both king and Spanish mackerel while the Cape Sable region quickly became the established leader in the area of mullet production which, by 1918, was a 35 million pound per year industry as reported in Schroeder (1924).
Because of the shortage of ice and cold storage facilities prior to the early 1920s, most of the pelagics (which could not be kept alive in a live well) were split, salted and sold in Cuba, where salted fish was an acceptable staple.
The biggest breakthrough for Floridas fisheries came in 1950, with the discovery of pink shrimp on the famous Tortugas grounds. Until the discovery of deepwater shrimp in the Dry Tortugas, mullet was the prime commercial seafood catch in Florida. At one time, mullet fishermen actually threw away shrimp caught on their nets because there was little market for them.
Jacksonville, popularly know as the "gateway to Florida", supported no extensive commercial fisheries in the early 1900s as reported by Fieldler (1928). However, fishery trade was extensive in that many assemblers and distributors handled fish in this area. Mullet, Spanish mackerel, sea trout, fresh water bream and shrimp were the principal items handled. Distribution was made to 25 states, the District of Columbia and Canada with New York being the leading market. Fieldler (1928) gives a very detailed "market channel" study of the fish trade in the mid 1920s.
The industry has grown with the state but in many ways is depictive of days past. The independent fisherman is still the primary economic unit as compared to fleet and large vessel operations of some other US fisheries and those of foreign countries. This paper, in the following commercial fishery sections, concentrates on the development of several of the currently and/or historically important individual fisheries in Florida.
Sponges--Almost coincidentally, a small sponge industry began with the settlement of Key West. These sponges were used only for local domestic use until the year 1849 when William Kemp sent a sample shipment of sponges to New York and found a ready market as reported in Roberts (1979). Immediate expansion of the industry began and, by 1890, Key West (which at this time was the largest city in Florida) held almost an absolute monopoly of the trade in the United States. Three hundred and fifty vessels, employing up to 1,400 men, sold some three quarters of a million dollars worth of sponges in that year. Nearly all of these sponges were collected from shallow water by means of a pole with a hook at the end.
Schroeder (1924) reports that in 1905, the first colony of Greek sponge divers had been established at Tarpon Springs. The Greek divers brought with them the technology of hard-hat diving and this quickly became the accepted method of collecting sponges.
As the Key West sponging grounds were by this time becoming depleted, Tarpon Springs quickly took over the lead in sponge production. This remained the case until 1947 when a blight, thought to be the result of a red tide outbreak, virtually wiped out the sponge beds. Around this same time the synthetic sponge was introduced. The combination of these two circumstances virtually eliminated Floridas sponging industry.
Red Snappers--The red snapper (and grouper) fishery in the Gulf of Mexico started in northwest Florida about 15 or 20 years before the Civil War as reported by Collins in Camber (1955). The men who engaged in the red snapper fishery were originally from New England. Fishing at this time was within the forty-fathom line, between Mobile , Alabama and Fort Walton, Florida. Pensacola became the dominant center of the fishery when the first company handling primarily red snappers was formed there in 1872. Jarvis (1935) reports that the first fish house for handling and shipping red snappers was built by S.C. Cobb under the name of Pensacola Fish Co. A.F. Warren was brought in as a partner. After several ownership changed and company formations, two companies, the Warren Fish Co. and E.E. Saunders & Co. became the dominant red snapper companies.
During the 1880s, the larger vessels began to fish southward to the Florida Middle Grounds and the Dry Tortugas. By the late 1890s, vessels were fishing off the Campeche Banks of Mexico. Live wells were used until 1895 when ice became available from ice plants in Pensacola. Fishing has continued in these areas along with the development if the party boat sport fishery primarily for the red snapper along the entire Florida West Coast.
Vessels used were primarily of two types. "Smacks" were large sailing schooners of between 50 and 60 tons with auxiliary engines. Each carried 8 to 11 men and had about 20 tons of ice capacity. These vessels spent up to 32 days at seas and were 60 to 100 feet long. "Smacks" operated primarily out of Pensacola and Tampa, although Jarvis (1935) reports they sailed from 5 ports and about 58 were believed in use in 1935. "Chings" were smaller near shore sailing vessels of between 5 and 20 tons, which carried 4 to 5 fishermen and also ice for the catch. These vessels sailed primarily from Tampa, Pensacola, Panama City, Apalachicola and Carrabelle on maximum ten-day trips. Handlines was the primary gear employed until the early 1950s when power and hand-driven reels were introduced, along with diesel engines, depth recorders, and radios. The earliest year any landings were statistically recorded was 1880 when 1.5 million pounds of red snapper were landed.
The majority of fishermen in the red snapper fishery were not native to the region. The largest single group was Scandinavian in origin. There were also Italians, Germans, Nova Scotians, and Newfoundlanders, besides men from other parts of the US. A great many of the smaller "chings" were also operated by entirely black crews as noted by Jarvis (1935).
Clams--Off the southwest coast of Florida, in the region of the Ten Thousand Islands, was an area of approximately 150 square miles which comprised Floridas early clam fishery. Schroeder (1924) described this area as "probably the largest bed of hard clams in the United States". The industry began around 1880, and until the arrival of the first mechanical dredges in 1905, digging clams by hand was the sole methods used. The reason given for not using traditional tongs was that the clams were too abundant and accessible.
Two canneries were built to process these abundant clams, one at Marco and one at Caxambas in Lee County, by the early 1920s, the Marco facility had an annual capacity of 100,000 cases of clam products. The Caxambas cannery was reported as being somewhat smaller. Canned products from both of these facilities were usually transported by freight boat to Key West for transfer to larger coastal steamships for further distribution.
In 1945, a devastating red tide virtually killed off the clam beds and, to this date, the industry has been slow to revive.
Turtles--The turtle industry of Florida dates back to the late 1800s. Rebel (1974) recorded a small-scale turtle fishery in the Indian River district as early as 1885. Other primary areas were the Cedar Key region on the west central coast and the Keys - particularly Islamorada and Key West.
Early turtling in Florida was done from small boats utilizing two-man crews. These boats dropped slowly out of fishery during the developmental years of Florida. At the same time, the turtle population continued to depreciate. By 1947, there were virtually no turtles actually caught for the market in Florida. The turtles, which were landed, were produced by large schooners from waters around the Moskitos Keys area east of Nicaragua. These vessels unloaded at Key West several times a year and the thriving industry flourished up until 1971 when the animals came to be classified as endangered by conservationists worldwide. The last turtle schooner to unload at Key West was the A.M. Adams- probably the most recognized schooner in the Florida industry. This vessel later finfished off the north coast of South America and today lies sunk at the docks in St. Laurent, French Guyana.
Oysters--Oystering has been a business in Apalachicola for at least 100 years. This "land beyond the river" has devoted a large part of the last century to harvesting oysters along with shrimp and fish. Ingle and Dawson (1953) report that oysters were harvested in Apalachicola Bay for human consumption long before the arrival of the white men as indicated by the shell mounds or middens in Franklin County. Attempts were made to can oysters in 1860 in Apalachicola, the first time canning was attempted in Florida. This, and another attempt in 1883, were abandoned, although some canning did occur in the 1890s. There were some oyster producers who were in favor of leasing bottoms for private cultivation in 1898, but apparently no lease program was in effect.
Almost all oysters were harvested initially from natural beds rather than leased beds. Roberts (1979) notes record of a man named Popham who tried to sell shares on the Apalachicola oyster beds in the early 1920s; however, his plan failed--he didnt own the beds. In 1920, there were four canneries and nearly a dozen raw houses. There was a small oyster business at Carrabelle and some beds at Cedar Key and light oystering during this time period as noted as a problem even in these early writings. Churchill (1920) reports that few oysters were canned at Fernandina with a few other small local oyster businesses existing around the state.
Most oysters were collected by hand tongs whose basic physical configuration has changed little and which are still in use today. Small sloops about 40 to 50 feet were used for tonging under sail power with a small auxiliary gasoline engine. These sloops stored oysters in shallow holds and on the open deck. Churchill (1920) gives a complete description of oystering with pictures of the early vessels and gear used in oystering.
Shrimp--Shrimp fishing is an old industry. Since ancient times, shrimp has been a delicacy in the Orient. Traps, small tide nets and occasionally seines were first used in California by the Chinese who brought over the technology in the mid- 1800s. The pioneer of the shrimp industry in the Gulf area was Lee Yin, from Canton, China. In the 1860s, Yin built the first drying platform in Louisiana and started processing dried shrimp, mostly for export to Hawaii, the Philippines and China as reported in Hamilton (1951).
The first statistics on the shrimp industry for the United States were gathered during the 1880s. The total catch was about 10 million pounds. By 1905 it had risen to 24 million pounds.
In Florida, the year 1902 marks the beginning of the shrimp industry. In that year Sallecito Salvador, a Sicilian immigrant began fishing and seining along the Fernandina beaches. By 1906, Mr. Salvador and a few of his fellow fishermen had established the nucleus of the shrimping industry of Florida as it is recognized today.
Introduction of the otter trawl in 1912 marked the beginning of a great expansion in shrimp fishing since the otter trawl enabled the fishermen to fish in deep water and drag where the concentration of shrimp is the heaviest. In 1922, Mr. Salvador moved his firm to St. Augustine nearer good grounds. Here production climbed rapidly until 1929 when the depression hit the industry.
By 1934, the catch was restored to its former high level and continued to increase until 1940. Around 1949, another decline in production was one reason for the exploration of new grounds, which resulted in the development of Key West as the chief shrimp port of Florida. John Salvador (the son) discovered the Key West grounds in 1950. While examining a daylight trawl at about dusk, he found many more shrimp than normal in his catch, prompting him to put the nets back overboard. This second trawl was filled with shrimp and "pink gold" had been discovered. Some 300 boats quickly came to Key West, and the first full season, 1950-1951, produced 15 million pounds. Before the Key West discoveries, Apalachicola was the main shrimp-producing center on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Sport fishing also has a maritime heritage in Florida. However, documented reports of the industry are not nearly as abundant as those for commercial fishing. Interestingly, the earliest reports point up the same commercial-sport conflict that exists today. An excellent historical survey on this issue is given Herbert (1980). As reported by the Herbert (1980) from Gregg (1902), the fish in Florida had declined since the advent of "the steamboat", the railway, and last but not least, the ice factory, which were followed by the man with the net." Greg added that in some areas the "man with the net" had been restricted and fishing in those parts was still good. The same issues are prevalent in todays fishery.
Gregg (1902) reporting on his frequent visits to Florida beginning in 1885, spent most of his time at various angling resorts on both the Eastern and Western Coasts. Greggs s book contains references to Frank Forester, "Fish and Fisheries", 1859; Thaddeus Norris, "American Anglers Book", 1864; Genio C. Scott, "Fishing in American Waters", 1869; "Camp Life in Florida", edited by Charles Hallock, 1877; and "Camping and Cruising in Florida", James A. Hensahll, 1884. These books, according to Gregg, furnished to the visiting anglers a wealth of information as to where to fish in Florida.
Fishing "tourists" were not numerous in the late 1880s. Parties visiting the West Coast were obliged to go by stream up the St. Johns River, and stage or wagon across to the coast, or by rail to Cedar Key, and then north or south to their destination by small steamers, or small sailing craft. Parties for the East Coast could go from Jacksonville to New Smyrna by steamer or sailboat, then up or down the inside or outside waters to destinations on sailboats; or could take a steamer up the St. Johns to Sanford, or Enterprise, and stage or wagon to New Smyrna or Titusville, then small sailboat up or down the coast.
According to Gregg, the leading fishing resorts on the East Coast during the late 1800s were located at Oak Hill, New Smyrna, and Ponce Park. Between 1890 and 1897, Gregg reports trips to the following locations (among other) for sport fishing: Lake Worth, Mayport, Indian River, Biscayne Bay, Coconut Grove, Cape Florida, Soldier Key, Ragged Keys, Sands Cut, Longs Key, Cape Sable, Whitewater Bay, Chuckaluska, Charlotte Harbor, Marco, Homosassa, Tarpon Springs, Dunnedin, Clear Water (sic), Johns Pass, Pass a Grille, St. Petersburg, Port Tampa, Sarasota, St. James City, Punta Gorda and Ft. Myers.
Gregg (1902) quotes Barton W. Evermann, Ichthyologist of the US Fish Commission, from a paper at the Fishery Congress in 1898, as saying "...There is perhaps no state in the union whose fishes have attracted more attention than those of Florida. The commercial fishermen, the angler and the ichthyologist share the interest in the fishes of this state. The number of species that are sought because of their commercial value is far greater than in any other section of America..."
Gregg goes on to say, "I have fished in every State and territory in the union but three, and from Siberia and the Behring (sic) Sea to the Gulfs of California and Mexico, and, all sorts of sport with rod and reel". Gregg concluded his work with an extensive species by species treatment of his personal (and others) experience in catching the species in Florida prior to 1802, a description of gear with pictures and prices of tackle used, and lists of boarding houses that were available around the state.
Reiger (1973) also provides an excellent history of saltwater angling. Although not specifically about Florida, this book reviews the sport from its origins in commercial fishing centuries ago, to its development in the nineteenth century because of new technologies. Reiger remarks that the chief consequence of the American Civil War for saltwater sportsmen was that it delayed the angling exploration of much of the southern coast. Some regions, such as the Florida panhandle, Reiger remarks, remained relatively unknown to sport fishermen well into the twentieth century.
The reputation of Florida as a fishermans Mecca actually goes back before the Civil War. Coastal schooners and packet steamers trading between northern ports and southern destinations such as Havana, New Orleans and Tampico, Mexico often stopped in Floridas uncharted inlets, caught fish and returned north with tales of an angling paradise. After the Civil War, many sporting expeditions of Florida were undertaken. Between 1873 and 1875 two expeditions were sponsored by the weekly "Forest and Stream" newspaper. From these expeditions came the first description of gamefish that would later be the springboard for the development of big game angling--the tarpon. Credit for the first tarpon caught on rod and reel in Florida generally goes to a Mr. W.H. Wood of New York City in 1885. Other anglers have claimed in their writings of taking tarpon in 1882 and 1878. Word of tarpon spread to London by 1886 and in the decades ahead British anglers made a considerable contribution to the development of sport fishing along Southern coasts. The English Angler in Florida (1898) and The Giant Fish of Florida (1902) give accounts of tarpon fishing in Punta Gorda and Boca Grande. The international fame of tarpon fishing in Florida marked the beginning of the development of specialized saltwater tackle capable of handling all the larger seafishes. Fishing reels were produced in New York as early as 1857, but not until the 1890s was a "striped bass" or "tarpon reel" advertised. By 1910 in Florida, Henry Flaglers East Coast Railway had lured some anglers away from the West Coast and the tarpon shared the Atlantic limelight with the sailfish, king mackerel, barracuda and other fishes.
Originating from an early and colorful past, both commercial and sport fishing in Florida are thriving and important industries to the state. The commercial fisheries provide incomes to the people who fish and market the fish and enjoyment to the many consumers who partake of Florida seafood. Sports anglers furnish themselves with the enjoyment of fishing, food for their own table, and, while doing so also create jobs and incomes for Floridas citizens. Both uses of Floridas resources will continue to provide future generations with a maritime heritage.