Fish and Fishing
Posted On: 12/08/2017 - 4:03pm, Posted By: Other
This post is guest-authored by Stanley Hedeen, professor emeritus at Xavier University and long-time volunteer at the Geier Collections & Research Center.
The fish collection at Cincinnati Museum Center holds dozens of species native to the Cincinnati area. Ever since humans arrived in the region, they have fished for many of the larger native species. The prehistoric Native American people manufactured fishhooks from bones, harpoons from antlers, and fishnet from plant fibers. After settlers of European descent displaced the local Native Americans at the end of the eighteenth century, fishing continued to be a regular activity. Fish were hooked, speared, netted, shot, scooped from shallow overflow pools on floodplains, and captured at fish dams. The first known fish dam in the region was constructed by pioneers who laid rocks and brush across a riffle in the Little Miami River during 1790. The structure, located about a half mile above the river’s mouth, directed the water flow through a narrow chute leading into a fish trap.
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), a common species in regional streams
Cincinnati’s early markets carried many local fish, including Ohio River catfish priced at 25 cents apiece in 1819. University of Transylvania professor Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1820 reported that fish in Cincinnati “always meets a good market, and sells often higher than meat.” Commercial and subsistence fishermen shared the local waters with sportsmen. In 1830, a group of city residents organized the Cincinnati Angling Club to “enjoy, in harmony and good fellowship, the delightful and healthy amusement of angling, and to improve themselves in the science of that innocent sport.” The first anniversary dinner of the club was held about 20 miles northwest of the city at a lodge on the Whitewater River. The meal consisted of some of the 353 fish that about a dozen club members had caught in the preceding day and a half.
Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis), one of several edible sunfish species.
Commercial fishing in the Cincinnati vicinity grew during the nineteenth century in order to keep up with the demands of an increasing metropolitan population, a large portion of which was comprised of Catholic immigrants who purchased fish for fast days. Water pollution and growing competition from distant fisheries caused the disappearance of regional commercial operations in the twentieth century. Sport fishing, however, continues to be a popular recreational activity at streams and reservoirs throughout the Cincinnati area. Non-native North American sport fishes such as the Striped Bass (Moxone saxatilis) and Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) have been liberated into area water bodies as has the imported Eurasian Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio). The pollution-sensitive Harelip Sucker (Moxostoma lacerum), on the other hand, has vanished from the Cincinnati vicinity and all other portions of its geographic range.
Common Carp, introduced to the region in the nineteenth century.