National Geographic : 1949 Jun
Purse Strings Tighten Around Acres of Fish; School's Out for 200,000 Menhaden Though the menhaden is pursued with increasing diligence, its numbers do not seem to decrease. In 1948 almost a billion pounds were processed, double the yield of the salmon, its closest rival. Menhaden nets, costing up to $6,000, require frequent repairs. Sharks, trapped inadvertently, rip the fabric to shreds. Massed menhaden have been known to suffocate sharks preying on them. rather recent addition to the menhaden fleet. The industry, always alert to new aids, has added airplanes to its equipment in the last two years. Radio-equipped, company owned or chartered planes scout the fishing grounds. When the pilot discovers a school of menhaden, he directs his company's boats to its location. "Boats Away!" Taylor scanned the sea with his binocu lars, handed them to me, and pointed to a menhaden boat to the south of us. I saw its purse boats lowered and leave the mother ship. Menhaden had been sighted. That was assurance that the fish were running and the Mace would get its share. Captain Wade and the mate climbed to the crow's-nest, 60 feet above the water (page 820). They were up there less than 20 min utes when the captain commanded, "Boats away!" Pilot Taylor stepped to the door of the pilothouse, looked up, and noted the direction in which the captain pointed. I saw no evidence of menhaden. "How does the captain know menhaden are schooling?" I asked Taylor. "There are two ways," he explained. "Some times porpoises pursue the schools, causing the fish to cluster so tightly for protection that they are literally forced to break water. The other way is to sight a reddish-brown patch." Taylor pointed out the reddish-brown patch; the Mace's engines stopped. Crewmen scurried to their stations, tugged to release the seine-laden purse boats. The striker boat, a small round-bottomed craft, already had been dropped overside and boarded by a crew man. Standing upright and facing forward to keep the menhaden in sight, he rowed to ward the school.