Back to alphabetical index ###Back to area index index

Fishing Grounds of the Gulf of Maine

St. Georges Bank, more generally known as Georges Bank. [15] This is by far the largest and most important fishing ground near the coast of the United States and is second to none in the western Atlantic except the Grand Bank of Newfoundland. It lies eastward of Cape Cod and Nantucket Shoals and is apparently an extension of the latter, since the water is no deeper between the southern part of the shoals and the western part of the bank than in many places upon it. Its southern limit, as shown on the chart, is 40 deg. 40' north latitude, though the 50-fathom line extends 7 miles farther south. The southern limit, therefore, may be considered to be about 40 deg. 30' and the northern as 42 deg. 08' north latitude. The eastern part is in about 66 deg. and the western in about 69 deg. west longitude. The greatest length from the northeastern to the southwestern extremity is about 150 miles; the greatest width, N. and S., about 98 miles, according to the charts of the Coast Survey.

Depths range from 2 to 50 fathoms. On the western part, between the parallels of 41 deg. 10' and 41 deg. 53' north latitude and the meridians of 87 deg. 20' and 68 deg. 37' west longitude are a number of shoals, known as the East Shoal, North Shoal, Southwest Shoal. Cultivator, etc. The Southwest Shoal is the largest, being 15 miles long SSW and NNE., with an average width of 2 1/2 miles. The position of the center of this shoal is 41 deg. 39' north latitude and 67 deg. 48' west longitude. There are from 2 to 15 fathoms of water on the shoals and between them are depths of from 12 to 30 fathoms. The tide sweeps over these with great force, causing strong rips, and during rough weather the sea breaks heavily on them, rendering approach to their vicinity extremely hazardous.

Over most of the bank the bottom is sand, although patches of rough ground (gravel, pebbles, and rocks) of greater or less extent are found in some localities. Its position between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf Stream cause the tide to run swifter than on other banks and to swirl around instead of passing directly over, back and forth. The writer has seen two men have difficulty in holding an empty dory against the current.

The Report on the Fishery Industry of the United States, in 1887, says that the first attempt at fishing here (of which there is any record) was made in 1821 by three Gloucester vessels. The cod and halibut industry, according to the same authority, began in 1830, although not fully established as a permanent industry until 1835.

The area of the whole bank is approximately 8,050 square miles, all of which, except for the shoals, is available in summer for the taking of cod, haddock, cusk, halibut, and hake, with a considerable amount of mackereling and swordfishing, as well as the taking of other species.

During February, March, and April large schools of cod make their appearance on the bank. At this season these are found most abundantly on the "Winter Fishing Ground"; a part of Georges lying eastward and southeastward of the North Shoal between the parallels of 41 deg. 30' and 42 deg. 00' north latitude and 66 deg. 38' and 67 deg. 30' west longitude. The area of this Winter Fishing Ground is about 1,100 square miles. This part of the bank seems entirely given over to the codfish, since it is too broken, sharp, and rocky to please the haddock. Depths here are from 30 to 40 fathoms, deepening away from the North Shoal.

This area is essentially a spawning ground for the cod, which appear to come on the hank from the SE., as they almost invariably, after reaching the ground, move slowly to the N. and W. as spring approaches. This is in the direction of the shoals. As soon as the spawning season is over the schools of cod break up, but more or less fish are caught on different parts of the ground at all times of the year, though rarely are they found so plentiful as when the winter school is on the ground.

Cod are found along the Northern Edge virtually the year around, though many of the winter school move on to the inner waters of the gulf and others go over to Browns Bank, where the early comers seem to appear in the first days of April.

In its production Georges Bank itself is rather evenly divided between haddock and cod, the cod showing a slightly larger proportion. The South Channel, on the western edge of Georges, shows predominantly as a haddock ground, and the haddock from The Channel is considered a better fish than that from Georges. Georges Bank itself is also an important haddock ground in the spring and early summer, when this species abounds about the Cultivator Shoal (SE. by S. 88 miles from Highland Light. Cape Cod) in depths from 18 to 30 fathoms; and at the same season along the Northern Edge (140 to 200 miles E. by S. 1/2 S. from Boston Lightship in about 41 deg. to 42 deg. N. lat. and 66 deg. to 88 deg. W. long.) in 45 to 80 fathoms in summer, the fish moving off into the deeper water (90 to 100 fathoms) in the neighborhood of the Corner of the Channel as the winter comes on.

Many are found in March, when they return from the deep water, when fishing is carried on 65 miles SE. from Highland in 70 fathoms; then they come into the 40-fathom depths from the North Shoal westward to the Corner of The Channel along the Northern Edge. In April the Cultivator Cove is good ground even into 20-fathom depths.

The Southwest Part. (120 miles SSE. from Highland Light, Cape Cod, with 45 to 80 fathom depths) is a good ground for haddock from the beginning of the fall up to about Christmas, after which the best winter fishing for this species is found on the Southeast Part (reached by steaming 145 miles ESE. from Boston Lightship in order to clear the shoals, then SSE. 40 to 50 miles, depending upon what part of the ground it is desired to fish). January is perhaps the best fishing month upon this portion of Georges.

While not considered a halibut ground, as compared with some of the other offshore banks, Georges can show a very considerable catch of this species. Because of its nearness to the markets it is more intensely fished than any other ground of equal area and by a far greater variety of crafts, most of which take a greater or less amount of halibut. The otter-trawl fleet, both here and in The Channel, takes a large amount of this species when its total catch is considered; and these fish are mainly small, of from 4 to 10 pounds in weight, with only rarely a larger one.

The salt fishers, also, and the rest of the market fleet combine to make an imposing total of the poundage of halibut from Georges and its vicinity. The Georges halibut is esteemed by the trade above the halibut from other grounds. Perhaps its flesh may be superior, though for what reason it is difficult to say, unless because, since the trips to this ground average fewer days in length, the fish are received in the markets in a fresher condition than are those from more distant banks.

The principal halibut grounds on Georges for the spring and summer months (April to July) lie between the Cultivator Shoal and the North Shoal in depths from 10 to 18 fathoms, and E., S., and SW. from the North Shoal in the same soundings. This area is sometimes called Little Georges. There are also a number of mussel grounds on the southwest part of Georges, having depths averaging 20 fathoms, all of which furnish good feeding grounds and a substantial catch of halibut in the seasons when these fish are in the shoal water.

During July and August the halibut are found along the Northern Edge, over a stretch of ground about 65 miles long in 60 to 100 fathoms; and from this time until the hard weather of the winter begins the fishing goes on about the Northeast Peak (about 42 deg. 00' N. and 66 deg. 00' W.) over the narrow area on the edge of the suddenly deepening water, beginning in from 60 to 70 fathoms, then out to 200 and even 300 fathoms. The winter fishing on Georges is very difficult and somewhat hazardous, so that the halibut fishery in these waters is rarely carried on or, at best, by very few vessels after November or before March.

Mackerel are usually quite abundant on Georges in their season, generally being large or medium fish. Herring also are found there in good number but are somewhat distant from market as fresh fish.

[Table 4--Fishing grounds of the Georges Area, showing the principal species taken upon them.]

By far the largest percentage of the swordfish catch landed in the ports of Boston, Gloucester, and Portland comes from Georges Bank. A considerable portion of the fish listed from this ground under the heading "Miscellaneous" is made up of this species.

The swordfish arrive on Georges on the Southwest Part and on the Southern Edge about June 5, and the traveling schools pass over the bank, northward bound, up to August 10. In fact, all through the season when they are present in northern waters, even up to November, they may be found on Georges. Probably the best area of the bank for this species is on the parallel of 41 deg. N., where the shoal rises steeply out of "blue water."

[Footnote 14: Capt. John Smith wrote of this region: "Toward the South and Southwest of this Cape (Cape Cod) is found a long and dangerous shoal of sands and rocks. But so far as I incircled it, I found thirtie fadom water aboard the shore, and a strong current; which makes mee thinke there is a Channell about the shoales; where is the best and greatest fish to be had, Winter and Summer in all that Countree. But the Savages say there is no Channell; but that the shoales begin from the main at Pawmet, to the Ile of Nausit; and so extends beyond their knowledge into the sea." That the captain's reputation for far-visioned wisdom may not be held too lightly, let these figures speak, taken as they are from the bureau's records of the landings at the three ports of Boston, Gloucester. and Portland for the year 1927, when the fares from his "Channell" numbered 2,036, with a poundage of 121,688,693 and a value of $3,607,358.]

[Footnote 15. "The earliest record of this name (Saint Georges Shoal) that the writer has found appears upon a map discovered in the library of Simancas, in Spain, where a chart said to have been made by a surveyor sent out to Virginia by James I of England, in 1610, was found in 1885 or 1888, after having long before disappeared from England. This chart is thought to embody, besides the work of Champlain and other foreigners, the information contained in the English charts of White, Gosnold, Pring, and probably of Waymouth's Perfect Geographical Map. It is thought to have been drawn by Robert Tyndall or Captain Powell." _Genesis of the United States_. Alexander Brown.]