The Handling Of Fresh Fish
( Originally Published 1917 )
Summer-caught fish. Fish caught in our rivers, lakes, and seas that are to be sold fresh, or uncured or canned, are divided into two classes: summer caught and winter caught. Summer-caught fish are sometimes frozen before shipping, though the general practice is to put them promptly into boxes filled with cracked ice for shipment to the various markets throughout the country. They are carried in special fish cars designed to keep the ice in the boxes from melting. These cars, which are known as fish refrigerators, also are iced, especially if they are to travel a considerable distance.
When ice-packed fish are received at the markets they are distributed to the various retail stores for sale to the public. Sometimes more ice-packed fish are received than can be sold immediately, and the surplus is sent to the cold storage plants to be frozen. In this condition the fish can be kept indefinitely.
When the surplus stock of ice-packed fish is received at the cold storage plant, the fish are dipped into water and passed into a "sharp freezer," with a temperature of about ten degrees below. zero. There the fish are allowed to remain until frozen stiff. Then they are removed to the storage rooms, which are also kept at a temperature below freezing.
The small fish are placed in pans and frozen in quantities, whereas the larger fish, such as the halibut, are frozen singly. After being frozen, the fish are "glazed" by being dipped into water. The intense cold of the frozen fish causes a thin ice to form over them immediately, thus doubly insuring their preservation. The best known of the summer-caught fish are the salmon, halibut, pickerel, trout, whitefish, cisco, bass, and mackerel.
Winter-caught fish. Then there are the winter-caught fish, which are frozen at the time of catching. In the Northern States, especially in North Dakota and Minnesota,' the problem of handling and storing fresh fish is simplified by the assistance of Jack Frost. During the winter months peddlers cover the countryside selling frozen fish from their wagons. These peddlers often dispose of hundreds of pounds of pike, pickerel, perch, and bass a week, the customers buying large supplies at a time, because the fish can be kept until the cold weather breaks.
It is not unusual, for instance, for a small country hotel to order from three hundred to five hundred pounds of fish. In a certain North Dakota town one peddler thus handled four cars of frozen fish in a single season. His supply was kept in an old wood-shed and peddled throughout the country.
While winter-caught fish are secured in practically all the lakes throughout northern Minnesota, yet a great percentage of them come from the Canadian Great Lakes: Manitoba, Winnipeg, and Winnipegosis. The fish-consigned to the towns in North Dakota and Minnesota are transported in ordinary freight cars, but for shipping great quantities of frozen fish throughout the United States, the special fish refrigerator cars are used. In this way, frozen fish may safely be shipped even to the warmest states of the South and arrive in perfect condition. When the fish reach their destination, they are, of course, immediately sold or placed in cold storage.
Let us imagine for an instant that we are up north among the Great Lakes of Canada, out on the ice with the fishermen. We would be sheltered from the driving wind by small tents and snow walls or even snow houses, toiling side by side with the French Canadians and the husky Swedes. We would do our fishing almost entirely with nets, though great quantities of fish are caught with hook .and line, and many are speared.
Although it would be bitterly cold out on the ice, yet we would get enough exercise to keep us from becoming numb. For it would take all our energies to handle the nets, keep the ice from forming over the airhole through which we would fish, prevent the fish from becoming imbedded in the ice while freezing, and pack in boxes the fish already frozen.
The local dealers would haul away great wagon-loads of unpacked fish, but the frozen fish would be shipped in large boxes to the various large cities in the United States.
Then we would see these boxes loaded into large sleds and hauled to the nearest railway station, where they would be placed in refrigerator cars. If bound for the warm Southland, these cars would be iced at a northern shipping point, and their iceboxes kept filled with ice and salt until they arrived at their destination, with the fish frozen as stiff as when placed in the car.
A snowfall makes it much easier to handle the fish, as they are allowed to-freeze in the fresh, crisp snow, which need not be removed in packing.
Marketing salt water fish. The principal salt-water fish marketed fresh are the halibut, the salmon, and the herring. A hundred-and-fifty-pound halibut, for instance, is caught in Alaskan waters, hurried to a local packing station, boxed in ice, and carried in a fast steamship to Seattle. There it is reiced, transferred to a fish refrigerator car, and shipped east.
If consigned to Chicago, this fish could be on sale at a retail market in that city within a week after it was caught, or could reach the market in any eastern city twenty four hours later.