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Kansas State Board of Agriculture
First Biennial Report

Fish Culture.


Report of HON. D. B. LONG, Commissioner of Fisheries, Ellsworth, Kansas.

To His Excellency GEO. T. ANTHONY, Governor of Kansas:

Appointed by your Excellency as Commissioner of Fisheries, I beg leave to make the following report, in compliance with Sec. 2, Ch. 117, Session Laws of 1877, for the year ending June 30th, 1878.

The large territory comprising the State of Kansas, larger than all the New England States, with its long streams and numerous branches, gives to the fish culturist a vast field for labor. While I have endeavored to make my investigations as thorough as possible, and to gather such facts as will be of interest and use to the State, the time allowed has been far too short to meet all the requirements and demands made upon the Commissioner.

It must be remembered that, in a branch of industry new to the people, and having the importance of this new enterprise, nothing can be done hastily. It requires time, patience, perseverance and money — with which there is no doubt of ultimate success in stocking our streams with a better variety of fish. As so little is known of the labor and workings of this important branch of farming that is attracting the attention of the civilized world, I deem it not improper to give a brief history in this first report.

Although in experiment to the people of Kansas, it is not an experiment but a reality to the people of the Old World. In China, fish farming has been in practice for over two thousand years. It is no longer an experiment to many of the States in our Union, nearly all of which have laws for protecting and propagating this source of their food supply. Some of them have made large appropriations, erected extensive fish hatcheries, giving employment and support to many, and making fish culture one of the important branches of legislative control; and in no instance has the enterprise been abandoned, but encouraging reports come from every State. Like "bread cast upon the waters," they have turned loose millions of young fish into their rivers, lakes and ponds, increasing the source of wealth by furnishing cheap, healthy food for the masses of their people, and a revenue to the State; and yet with no people or age has the subject received that measure of attention its importance justifies. Our waters in Kansas are bountifully supplied with food, both vegetable and animal, to sustain life and the growth of millions of fishes, native and migratory. There can be no just reason why our numerous streams may not be made as productive of wealth to our State as the fertile valleys through which they flow. It is estimated by good authority, that every acre of living water is capable of being made far more profitable and productive, and to contribute more to the support of mankind, than an acre of the best land in the world.

Our waters in Kansas, like our plains, are undergoing a change. Twelve years ago the country west of Manhattan was considered by many as fit for nothing but the buffalo and Indian. But how is it to-day? We find for a distance of 250 miles west of Manhattan the finest wheat country in the world — and in other cereal productions equal to any State in the Union. Many of the streams contained little or no water, and but few springs could be found.

But a change, grand and sublime, as if the Ruler of the Universe had said: "Let this barren desert be made the garden of the world; let these streams with poison waters be made pure; let the dry streams be supplied with running, pure water; let living streams come forth from rocks and hills" — and it was done. This may appear strange, but it is nevertheless true, that our land, said to be once sterile, is now productive; in our waters, once said to contain alkali, none is now found; streams once dry, now contain running, pure water; and to my own personal knowledge, springs of living water, where there were none to be found before, now exist. These are facts that can not be contradicted, and are arguments in favor of stocking our streams with a better variety of fish. Our people, when once convinced that the "fish business" is no humbug, will take hold of it with their accustomed persevering energy, which knows no failure.

Let me acknowledge the assistance gratuitous given by the different railroad companies in the State. They realized the advantages in having the streams stocked with fish. It is an advertisement of our energy that has made for our State a worldwide reputation, and which attracts the intelligent immigrant from all parts of the world. The K. P., A. T. & S. F., and the M. K. & T., have furnished free transportation over their respective roads, whenever application has been made.


The subject of "fish culture" is very ably presented by Hon. Geo. H. Jerome, Superintendent of the Michigan Fish Commission. It is written in his eloquent style, and is from such a reliable authority, that I will give his production for the benefit of those wishing to know the modus operandi of fish farming. The extract is as follows:

"FISH CULTURE. — Fish culture, or fish production, is an industrial art, requiring labor and practice and skill to produce sought-for results. It is as distinctively an art as is glass or iron manufacture, or fruit production, or stock breeding, or farming, requiring certain appliances and adaptations to the obtainment of ends, the same in the one case as the other. Not, perhaps, one of the 'liberal' or 'fine' arts, yet the century may not close ere the adjectives 'liberal' and 'fine' shall not inaptly qualify our rising and cherished art. It has already progressed far enough to have become the subject of innumerable patents and copyrights — confirmation strong that it is no weakling in aspiration and promise.

"Its claim is an augmented food production and supply, by means of which a valuable article of food, almost indispensable to a proper bone-and-brain development, may be doubled, trebled, quadrupled. This is fish culture in theory. In scientific practice, it requires a study of waters to know at what point a reformation may begin, and to what just limit it may be carried; a study of the fishes to know their worth, spawning seasons, peculiar habits and necessities; an investigation of the cause of their decrease or increase, as the case may be; a complete knowledge of one and all of those essentials that antedate birth, development, and the reproduction of valuable animal life. Then follows the manual work — the preparation of ponds, races, hatching-houses, supply troughs, hatching-boxes, egg trays, partition screens, egg nippers, pans, dippers, brushes, feathers, etc. The master workman, whatever his trade or occupation, will see to it that his chest of tools is full and in order. Next comes the procurement of the breeding-fish, male and female, to be obtained if possible without injury — healthy, vigorous parents always preferred. The fish obtained, the fish culturist, guided by observation and experience, will quite readily detect in the gravid fish those signs which precede and denote the mature spawner. Carefully noticing the premonitory indications, the porcelain or tin pan is brought to the place of operation, containing but very little water, the viscid fluid that accompanies the flow of the ova affording sufficient moisture. Formerly water was used, but is now generally discarded, it being thought to have the effect of drowning the spermatozoa or life principle of the milt. The spawner is then caught, gently seized and held (if small, one person is sufficient; if large, two or more persons are required) in an oblique-perpendicular position, the vent being directly over the pan. If ripe, which means a mature condition of the ova, the eggs will often flow into the vessel by the mere force of gravity or muscular contraction, without any hand pressure or manipulation whatever; but if not so yielding up her spawn, a slight pressure with the thumb and fingers along the abdomen will cause the ova to be extruded. This process, once or twice repeated, in a majority of cases will secure the entire yield.

"The fish is now returned to the water in almost as good a condition as when taken from it, for the whole process has not occupied more than from twenty to forty seconds. The male fish or milter, as he is termed by pisciculturists, is now taken from the tub or trough near at hand, held in a similar position, and the manipulator, by a gentle pressure along the lower portion of the abdomen, will discover, provided the fish is ripe, an extension into the vessel containing the ova, a few drops of a creamy, whitish substance termed milt, spermatozoa, or fertilizing fluid. The fish is returned to the water, no pain or injury having resulted, a very little water is poured into the pan or porcelain vessel, and the contents stirred with a feather or tremulously shaken in a manner to give the ova a rotary motion, and very soon all or nearly all the eggs will have become impregnated, vitalized. The pan is now allowed to stand a few minutes. The eggs meanwhile are undergoing great changes: prior to the introduction of the milt or zo-osperms, they were in a manner agglutinated and in a flaccid condition; now they have become enlarged, are now translucent; each egg, no longer coherent, is an individuality, and by one of those mysterious processes by which Nature works, are become hard to the touch, so that they will roll about like shot on a smooth surface. Here now we have the vivified germ, the embryo fish. In this state they are taken, cleansed in one or two waters, and carefully placed upon a bed of gravel or upon wire cloth trays, and with a feather evenly distributed over the surface, the object of such spreading being to allow the clear, living water to come continually in contact with all the eggs — well-oxygenized water being as essential to a normal, healthy development of the embryo, as it is material to the life and growth of the fish in its subsequent stages. Now, with pure and perpetually running water, filtered if necessary by one or more flannel screens, with clean tools, clean surroundings and with clean hands, we enter upon the work of incubation, a labor lasting five, ten, twenty, forty, eighty, one hundred and twenty days, or even longer, depending upon species and upon quality and temperature of water. Dead eggs, easily distingushied, whenever discovered are to be at once removed, as they produce a byssus that sends out its clammy, fibrous arm, like Hugo's devil-fish, to destroy every living egg within their reach, and all sediment and substances of every sort, foreign to the before-named conditions of their health and growth, are to be sedulously guarded against. The eyes first appear, then a faint embryonic structure, and soon after a dim outline of the 'coming' fish may be seen, growing more and more visible each day, until some morning you see the wreck of a habitation floating down the current, and a tiny creation, most unmistakably alive, settled down amid the interstices of the gravelly bed, or meshes of the wire tray, a third, or a half, or perhaps three-fourths of an inch in length. About the most perceivable thing of this new birth, is a bag or sack attached to the belly of the fish. This sack, with the salmo quinnat, is of a rich, pinkish color, resembling one or two drops of blood incased in a semi-transparent membraneous bag. At birth it is larger than the fish itself, rendering all movements of the new comer exceedingly awkward and clumsy. This is the umbilical vesicle, or yolk sac — Nature's store-house for the supply and sustenance of the fish during its tender infancy. Until this sac is absorbed, the fish will eat nothing, seems to desire nothing but to be 'let alone,' content with the pabulum stored in its little knapsack, from which it daily, hourly draws that nourishment, the provision and pottage of birthright. Day by day the sac becomes smaller, till it can scarcely be perceived with the naked eye; then the fish begins to move about, as if in quest of something to satisfy its hunger. This yolk sac, with the salmon and trout and some other species, lasts from thirty to forty days; with other varieties, not so long. During the existence of the umbilical vesicle the fish are known as alevins; afterward, up to certain periods of growth, minnows or fry. The sac being absorbed, the fry should be fed two or three times a day; or oftener, in limited quantities, will do no hurt. Various kinds of food are given — bonny-clabber, the yolk of an egg, boiled calf's or beef's heart, boiled hard and grated; liver of all kinds, (except hog's liver,) chopped or grated so fine as to become the consistence of thick blood, mixed with a little sweet cream, is used as food, while the fry is very young. Under proper care and feeding, the fish will come on rapidly, so that in a few days or weeks they will do to be removed from their hatching-troughs and planted in the lakes and rivers, there to grow and to bear testimony that fish culture is neither a myth nor a phantasm, but an ocular, tangible and gustable reality."

Such, in general outline, is fish culture. The limits of this report will not of course permit the mention of the different methods and processes of the art in the treatment of different species, differing as they do in different countries, and even with different establishments in our own country.

Transcribed from First Biennial Report of the State Board of Agriculture to the Legislature of the State of Kansas, for the Years 1877-8 embracing statistical exhibits, with diagrams of the agricultural, industrial, mercantile, and other interests of the state, together with a colored outline map of the state, and sectional maps, in colors, of each organized county, showing their relative size and location, railroads, towns, post offices, school houses, water powers, etc., etc. Topeka, Kansas: Kansas State Board of Agriculture. Rand, McNally & Co., Printers and Engravers, Chicago. 1878. Transcribed by JoAnna Ellsworth, April 2002.

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