Free Food From Many Waters
( Originally Published 1917 )
Perils of the sea fishermen. Romance, mystery, and adventure hang as thick as a Newfoundland fog over the whole fishing industry. It is not too much to say that probably more perils attend the work of taking the fish from the seas and the great inland lakes than surround any other food harvest.
The loss of life in this calling is large. Hardly a season passes that does not show the sacrifice of several ships with their brave crews. Often whole fleets are swept away by the fury of a. single storm. Adventure follows close in the wake of every fishing smack that puts out to sea, and there is scarcely a seasoned fisherman in any crew who has not had many thrilling escapes from death and suffered severe hardships from exposure.
In fact, the everyday life of the fisherman, even in fair weather, would seem to the landsman decidedly hard, for the wind which to him would be a furious gale is held by the crew of a fishing smack to be only "brisk." Even though peril, exposure, and narrow escapes are taken by the fisher folk as "all in the day's work," it seems only fair to recall all this when a delicious piece of cod, mackerel, herring, or halibut is placed on your plate at the family table. You may say to yourself, as you eat a bit of such a fish:
"No doubt there is a story of adventure — a good one, too—behind this fish. Did it come from American waters, or was it caught somewhere off the coast of Europe, or did some brown or yellow man take it from the teeming waters of the Pacific?"
Wherever it was, the men who braved the deep sea waters to get it knew the wild fury of storms so terrible as to test the courage of the most heroic.
Some of the most stirring and powerful stories in all literature deal with the dangers of the fisherman's life. Among sea tales that depict their perils and hardships with wonderful vividness is Kipling's Captains Courageous.
Fishing an inherited calling. Many boys along the North Atlantic coast, in New England, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador, are eagerly awaiting the time when they will be allowed to make their first trip with the fishing fleet. The very dangers of this life make it all the more alluring to the lad who has inherited from a long line of fishermen a generous share of courage, ambition, and pride in the calling, coupled with a love of the. sea. He is not easily turned from following in the wake of his hardy forefathers, who have made the family name, locally at least, famous by their skill and daring.
Among the fisher folk of Holland, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, England, and Ireland, it is more than probable that the son of a fisherman will spend his life on the waters where herring and mackerel swarm. For the boys of these Old World nations are not so free to pick and choose their lifework as are American lads. The son usually follows the calling of his father with little thought that anything else might be more to his liking. Certainly there is always a strong likelihood that any normal boy who has heard from father, grandfather, or uncle the stories of great catches, of clever seamanship, of wild storms, and of plucky escapes from perils of every sort, will be tempted to follow this exciting calling.
Often the only tangible property a fisherman can leave to his family are the tools of his trade —the fishing boat, the nets, lines, and hooks with which he has earned a livelihood, and in which the surplus of a thrifty lifetime has been invested. It is only natural then, when the father dies or grows too old to work, that the family should look to the son to take up the business and make the most of it.
So whenever you eat a piece of herring, or mackerel, or cod, it may add something to its flavor if you will stop and think that the son of the man who hauled that particular fish from the sea is anxiously awaiting the time when he can go out and follow the calling of his 'father, just as you expect, perhaps, to become a storekeeper, a railroad man, a farmer, or a lawyer. If you could talk with the lad in the Labrador fisher's hut, the sturdy Dutch boy whose thatched cabin stands just inside the Holland dykes, the Norwegian, the Scotch, or the Irish boy whose father has always put out to sea when the herring were due, you would probably be surprised to learn that he looks with pity upon any boy who is to follow a less splendid and exciting life than that of the fisherman.
Food for rich and poor. Fish is the poor man's meat and the rich man's delicacy. In many localities it is the cheapest flesh food sold; on the other hand, many of the most costly delicacies served at the tables of the wealthy are taken from the world's waters. For example, good frozen fish is delivered at the doors of settlers in the Northwest at a cost of three or four cents a pound, while in the larger cities, to which the chief supply is sent, brook trout may seldom be had for less than a dollar a pound, frequently being retailed for two dollars.
In the districts close to the seas, lakes, and streams which abound in fish, this food is the chief meat diet of the poor. Thousands of families in such localities consider any other kind of meat a luxury to be tasted only a few times a year.
Protein at a bargain. To those who have meat on their tables every day, the cheapness of fish means little. But in homes where the cost of fresh meat is beyond the reach of the family purse, except on holidays, this food, freely given up by the waters, means health and happiness. Without it thousands of men, women, and children would be badly nourished. They would not have the strength to do the hard, rough work which falls to their lot, and their chances of bettering their condition would be gone. The nourishing power of fresh fish is from 2 to 4 per cent less than that of meat. But as fish is much cheaper than meat, fish is the real "bargain" when the amount of actual nourishment which one may buy for ten cents is considered. In writing on the subject an eminent Canadian authority has this to say:
"Market cod can usually be obtained, in Ottawa, for 8 cents per pound, or less. It contains 11.1 per cent protein, so that one pound of protein would cost slightly more than 72 cents. Beefsteak contains nearly 15 per cent protein and would be considered moderate in price at 20 cents per pound. At this price one pound of protein would cost $1.33. Fresh haddock contains 8 per cent protein and usually sells in Ottawa for 8 cents per pound. One pound of protein purchased in the form of haddock would thus cost $1.00, and in halibut selling at 16 cents per pound, $1.045, whereas one pound of protein purchased in the way of mutton chops at 20 cents per pound would cost $1.54."
Relative cost of meat and fish. In England, Germany, and almost all European countries, not nearly enough meat-producing animals are raised to supply the people, and meat must be imported from countries where cattle, sheep, and hogs can be grown cheaply. This fact makes the meat expensive. On the other hand, these countries are close to the seas which abound with fish free for the taking. Let us see what this means to the' poorer people of these lands.
At a time when beef was selling in Berlin for 16.5 to 19 cents a pound, fresh mackerel could be bought there for from .8 to 1.1 cents a pound, whiting for 1.4. to 1.6 cents, and cod for 1.7 to 4.9 cents per pound.
Now consider canned salmon, which may be bought anywhere. Here is what the Bureau of Fisheries of our own government has to say about the food value of this fish:
"One pound of canned red salmon of the best quality will cost about 16 cents. (The prices are the average retail prices in Washington, D. C., February 10, .1914.) The same quantity of bone-, muscle-, blood-, and brain-building material and body fuel in other foods would cost:
Eggs, strictly fresh (at 34 cents per dozen). .36 cents
Steak, sirloin (at 27.5 cents per pound). .33 cents
Mutton, leg (at 19 cents per pound) . .32 cents
Chicken, average (at 25 cents per pound) .21.5 cents
Ham, smoked (at 18.5 cents per pound). .13.5 cents
Pink salmon, canned (at 9 cents per can). .12.5 cents
"The best' grades of canned salmon are richer than meats in body-building materials and contain about the same amount of fats. Pink salmon, which is a cheaper grade, is better than meats for making flesh and bone, but has less fat. Either is as digestible as the best sirloin steak, there is no waste, and nothing has to be thrown away except the can."
The fact that the prices of meats have changed greatly from these figures makes little difference, for it has been found that, as a rule, fish prices change with those of meats and that usually there is about the same difference between them. In other words, fish, which is almost as nourishing as meat—in some cases more so—is almost always cheaper than meat.
Realizing the importance of the fishing industry. It is difficult for a boy or girl living inland to form any true idea of the bigness and the importance of the fishing industry. The only way to get such a realization is to visit a great fish market or to watch the unloading of a boat just returned from a fishing cruise. When you read that the fishermen of Great Britain catch almost 3,000,000,000 pounds of this rich and delicious food a year, and that the value of this great catch is from $65,000,000 to $75,000,-000, it doesn't mean much to you. But if you could spend one hour in one of the great fish markets in any large city near the sea and look upon a tiny fraction of the total catch, you would understand that fish is not a trifling sort of food to be tasted at a course dinner or to be eaten on Fridays only.
After such a sight you would always spell "fish" with a big capital. Also you would be very thankful that the sea, the lakes, and the rivers of the earth are stocked by Nature with a supply of food so generous that the poorest may have it on their tables when beef, pork, mutton, and other meats are beyond the reach of their slender means.
Still another cause for thankfulness is the fact that the fish are widely distributed throughout the waters of the world. Of course there are many lakes and rivers in thickly settled regions that have been "fished out." But the seas, the large inland lakes, and the rivers still abound with millions upon millions of fish.
It is a mistake to think that because fisheries ale free, there is no expense connected with the capture of the fish. The actual cost of operating a fishing schooner is considerable and losses of many kincfs often occur. All this must be taken into consideration in the price the fishermen ask for their catch.
A city fish market. I f you are fortunate enough to live where you can visit a retail market that sells only fish and sea foods, by gall means do so. It will give you a graphic view of the geography of the world's waters, so far as the food that they furnish is concerned. To make sure that you understand what you see it would be a good plan to invite your teacher to go with you. Such a trip, especially to a large market in a big city, will be one of the most delightful outings you could possibly plan.
What was seen on a recent visit to a fish market in Chicago may give you a good idea of what an interesting affair such an exploring party may prove to be. Every day this special market receives shipments of fresh fish from all parts of the country, and the counters and tables are so arranged that the fish may be displayed to the best advantage. The tops of these display tables are great trays, kept . half filled with chipped ice. On these were placed multitudes of fish, each fish occupying sufficient space to enable the buyer to examine it carefully. Above the counters were signs indicating froth what place the particular fish then on display came. One of these signs read "Pacific Delicacies," and on the table were beautiful salmon fresh and frozen, or a dozen or more of the giant Pacific coast crabs, a shipment of delicate little sandabs from San Francisco, and a number of beautiful trout from the Puget Sound country. These happened to be the special features for the day.
On another table carrying a placard which read "Fresh Water Fish," were dozens of pike, pickerel, black bass, muskellunge, trout, perch, sunfish, eel, carp, and cisco. There were a dozen or more white-aproned clerks busily waiting on a host of eager buyers. When asked from where all those fish came, one of them said, "Some came from the many fresh-water lakes of the Northwest, some from central New York, and some were taken from the waters of the Rocky Mountains."
Over still another counter hung a sign which read "Sea Food from the Atlantic Coast." Here were found cod, herring, haddock, halibut, sea trout, shad, lobsters, sea bass, flounder—a queer flat fish with its two eyes on one side of its head — and a bewildering array of other interesting fish.
Among these were red fish, trout, sheepshead, pompano, shrimp, red snapper, and sea turtles from the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, each beautiful in its way. On other tables were butterfish, bluefish, striped bass, crappies, scallops, bloaters,. crabs, periwinkles, frog legs, oysters, and clams.
Edible seaweed. But fish and shellfish were not the only foods that make this store attractive, for there were on display various seaweeds such as dulse; kanten, kelp, laver, and carrageen.
Dulse is an edible seaweed found on the North Atlantic coast. It is dried in the sun and eaten uncooked as a relish, or boiled in milk and served as a vegetable or eaten with fish. Kelp is another seaweed found on both the North Pacific and North Atlantic coasts. It is also known as bladder weed, or giant bladder weed. It sometimes has leaves forty feet in length. Kelp is used in making the Japanese soup called "kombu." Laver is a seaweed found on both coasts. In Scotland and Ireland it is called "sloak" or "slook." It is boiled and served with butter, pepper, and vinegar, and by those who like it is considered a great delicacy.
Kanten, a curious Japanese food, is a kind of gelatine. Great quantities of this gelatine are made from the gelidium family of seaweed. It is white, transparent, and has neither taste nor odor. In Japan it is used not only in making jellies and soups, but in clarifying sake or rice spirit. Two or three million pounds of it are exported to this country every year for thickening jams, jellies, ice creams, and other table delicacies. Gelidium seaweed grows largely on the Pacific coast of the United States.
Carrageen, or Irish moss, as this well-known seaweed is more commonly called, owes its name to a town on the coast of Ireland. But most of that found in our markets is from the shores of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. While carrageen is used in various ways, a large part of the product is utilized in making blanc mange and jellies.
Remember that all these foods were in stock at one time in one retail store, so you see the lover of fish may have a different kind every da} foi months if he wishes.
In addition to the fresh fish, this store carries all kinds of imported fish in cans, pickled, and in brine. Every week it sells thousands of dollars' worth of fish, and its sales are constantly increasing.