Friday, June 23, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: June 23

June 23, 1913 – According to today’s The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, the “Curlew,” a government fisheries steamer, working out of Homer station, has begun planting clam spawn. The “Curlew” will be all summer in this work at different points on the Mississippi River.

Until about 10 years ago clams of every variety were plentiful in the upper Mississippi, until the button industry grew out of all proportion to the number of shells that could be caught. This was caused by a non-conservative spirit of the clam fisher. He drained the river of shells and left no means whereby others could grow.

Clam Shell “Pearl Buttons”1

 In 1908 Dr. Curtis and professor La Feve, who were students and are now teaching at the University of Columbia in Missouri, spent several months in studying the clam in this section. Their research led them to the study of the clam spawn, the different variety of shells, their value commercially, and the length of time it took the clam to mature the full growth shell. At this time they learned that five years was the length of time from the egg to the larger shell, and that in order for the egg to mature it must come in contact with the gills, fins or tail of a fish. The report of Dr. Curtis and Professor La Feve was sent to the government fisheries bureau. In it was seen the need of immediate action being taken to save the clam from extinction.

The crew on the “Curlew” use fishing nets and hooks on the river to collect the best varieties of game fish that are necessary for the life of the clam. The fish are put in tanks on board the steamer, where they are sorted, only the best adult fish being used. Live clams are brought in large numbers and a little bag containing the spawn is opened. Each clam contains several hundred eggs. When examined under a powerful microscope the tiny shell is visible. These eggs are put in tanks with the fish, and as the fish move through the water, the tiny eggs lodge themselves on some part of the fish. When they come in contact with the fish their life begins, and they do not drop off until they are of proper size.

When the egg leaves the fish, wherever it drops it begins to feed. At this time of the year the mucket, one of the best varieties of the clam, is the only kind that is spawning. Other varsities have different times in the year to spawn. The length of time that the egg is in contact with the fish is about 15 days, according to the season.

Experimenting in clam shells has helped to discover that for commercial uses the clams of Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River are the best that can be obtained in this part of the country. This is the variety that the “Curlew” is distributing.

Lake Pepin Clam Shells Used for Buttons2

 Some clam exerts are of the opinion that certain beds on the river should be protected by closed season laws.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Fisheries Steamer Plants Clam Spawn in Mississippi. Federal Experts Undertake the Work of Replenishing ‘Raw Material’ of Pearl Buttons. Game River Fish Necessary as Foster Parents of Microscopic Mussels.”; June 23, 1913; p. 7.



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