Charlotte and I had a fantastic time at Maritime Gloucester Heritage Day, with much, much climbing in and out of the giant lobster pot, seeing friends, art activities, exploring the touch tank, and getting to know a Boa Constrictor 🙂

Beautiful Fish: Stickfish (Part 2)


Stickfish; fish stick, fish finger

About the April 2nd post on Stickfish … It was intended to appear online April 1st, so with the delay, you might call it a red herring.   The fish stick in the photograph here was drawn for the previous post by P K Bezanson.

Embedded clues in the previous post:

(Asperacutis clarencei)  For Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956), who, right here in Gloucester,  developed the process for manufacturing frozen fish blocks.  Most fish sticks are cut from blocks.  Mark Kurlansky’s 2012 biography of this remarkable man is highly recommended.

Francis McCaffery (1921-2010)  Mechanical Engineering graduate of Columbia College, 1943.  Went immediately to work on the Manhattan Project, then after the war, to the Birdseye Division of General Foods.  In 1954 McCaffery cofounded Commodore Foods with plants in Lowell and Westford where he developed the machinery to manufacture fish sticks.

  1. Robert Kinney (1917-2013) Joined Gorton’s in the early 1950’s, becoming president in 1958.  Guided Gorton’s to lead in the production and marketing of fish sticks.  In 1968 General Mills acquired Gorton’s and Kinney moved to Minneapolis where he soon became CEO of General Mills.  From there he further strengthened Gorton’s earnings by deploying the considerable resources of General Mills Engineering Departments on the fish stick manufacturing practice.

[M.A.T.W]   Guy whose picture is on the yellow bag.  The fish stick in the photo is from this bag.

mean length 3.5 to 4 inches.  Largest specimen 6.4 inches.  Fish blocks are 19X10X2½ inches and there are only so many ways you can slice a block into sticks.  It takes some doing to cut the 19 into thirds and get it through the process intact.


I landed in the fish stick business in 1964 with Gorton’s engineering.  Fish sticks had only been around for about ten years at that time and I knew of three companies who each claimed to be first to market fish sticks.  After moving elsewhere, continued work on the manufacturing process back at Gorton’s and with other producers for a span of fifty years.  Trivia point … a modern fish stick processing line produces in under twenty years enough sticks, if they are place end to end,  to reach the moon.  This on a single shift basis with average down time.



New Film: Joe Virgilio Makes Saint Joseph Rolls –By Kim Smith


Joe Virgilio Makes Saint Joseph Rolls is a wonderful addition to Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Community Film Project. So many thanks to Joe for taking time from his busy work day to allow filming! Highlights include Joe sharing stories about the early days working alongside his grandfather and cousins, when the thousands of rolls needed for Saint Joseph’s Day were made by hand. 

For store hours and menu visit Virgilio’s Facebook page here.

Read more about Virgilio’s Saint Joseph rolls here.

Beautiful Fish: Short Big-eye -By Al Bezanson


The most striking characters of this fish are its very large eyes and its brilliant red color. Apart from these, it is distinguishable from the sea bass tribe by the fact that its whole head, as well as its body, is clothed with rough scales and that the anal fin is longer than the soft-rayed portion of its dorsal fin. Its sidewise flattened body, unusually stout dorsal fin spines, very large ventral fins, and small pectorals, are ready field marks to separate it from the rosefish, the only common Gulf of Maine species of similar appearance that rivals it in color.

Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

A big-eye found alive on Marblehead Beach, September 3, 1859; a second, found at Scituate, Mass., in 1932 or 1933;[43] and a third, about 1½ inches (38 mm.) long, picked up in a tide pool at Cohasset, Mass., by F. G. Bemis in September 1937,[44] are the only definite records for this southern fish within the Gulf. But since it occasionally appears in some numbers at Woods Hole in summer, it may round Cape Cod more often than this paucity of actual records suggests.


From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder (1953) online courtesy of MBL/WHOI


Beautiful Fish: Shorthorn Sculpin, Longhorn Sculpin, and Staghorn Sculpin -By Al Bezans

Meet the Horned Sculpins:


Shorthorn Sculpin; Daddy Sculpin; Black Sculpin; Greenland Sculpin

The Shorthorn Sculpin, with its large flat head, vast mouth, weak tapering body, bat-like pectorals, and insatiable appetite, typifies the sculpin race in northern seas.


Longhorn Sculpin; Gray Sculpin; Hacklehead; Toadfish

Everyone who has fished along the shores of our Gulf is more or less familiar with this sculpin, for it is a nuisance to cunner and flounder fishermen. It often is bothersome to the angler to unhook when it spreads its needle-sharp spines and erects its spiny dorsal fin. It grunts when pulled out of the water and bites on any bait.


Staghorn Sculpin

The most southerly record for this Arctic sculpin, and the only one for the Gulf of Maine, is of a specimen caught at Eastport, Maine, in 1872, and now in the United States National Museum. It is only as a very rare stray from colder waters to the north that it ever reaches our Gulf.


From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schoeder (1953)  courtesy of MBL/WHOI

Beautiful fish: Hook-eared sculpin and Mailed sculpin -By Al Bezanson

Meet the sculpins

The several members of the sculpin and sea raven tribe that are known from the Gulf of Maine are a homogeneous group, characterized by large spiny heads; very wide gill openings; very broad mouths; slender bodies; separate spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins (united in some rare species); large fanlike pectorals but small caudals; and by ventrals that are reduced to three long rays. All of them, too, have a fashion of spreading the gill covers and of flattening the head when taken in the hand. They likewise produce grunting sounds, and some of them have the power of inflating themselves with air or water when they are molested.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder (1953) courtesy of MBL/WHOI

Beautiful Fish: Unicornfish -By Al Bezanson


With Gloucester awash from a wicked storm nobody knows what may swim into town.  If you come upon a creature like this please notify NOAA, for the unicornfish is quite rare.   According  to Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder (1953) only two specimens have been found, both caught on the western edge of Georges in 1930 by the schooner OLD GLORY.

Beautiful Fish: Blue Hake -By Al Bezanson

Blue Hake

Our previous post spoke of two members of the hake tribe – WHITE HAKE aka BOSTON HAKE sometimes called BLACK HAKE and sometimes MUD HAKE when they are not simply called HAKE or their other name, LING.  The other mentioned, SQUIRREL HAKE is more commonly known as RED HAKE, except when it is called LING.  Got it?

Today we have another – BLUE HAKE.  It’s rare in the Gulf of Maine but common beyond the slope and has been taken at 1,000 fathoms.  BLUE HAKE look much like WHITE  and RED HAKE and also like BLACK HAKE which are really WHITE HAKE, as explained in the previous paragraph.

Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953.  Courtesy of MBL/WHOI – BLUE HAKE




Ever since 1616, when Capt. John Smith wrote “Hake you may have when the cod failes in summer, if you will fish in the night,” it has been common knowledge that they bite best after dark, from which it is fair to assume they do most of their foraging between sunset and sunrise.

We are forced to discuss these two hakes together, for they are so hard to tell apart that they are often confused, while they agree so closely in habits and distribution that what is said of one applies equally to the other, except as noted below.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953 _ Courtesy of MBL/WHOI

2010 to 2016 Massachusetts landings of white hake have been in the range of 3 to 5 million pounds.  Squirrel (Red) hake landings 197 to 366 thousand pounds.




WHITING; NEW ENGLAND HAKE (Merluccius bilinearis).  Differs from true hakes (genus Urophycis)  Drawing by H. L. Todd

Silver hake are strong swift swimmers, well armed and extremely voracious.  Probably a complete diet list would include the young of practically all the Gulf of Maine Fishes. A 23¼ inch silver hake, taken at Orient, N. Y., had 75 herring, 3 inches long, in its stomach. And it is probable that the silver hake that frequent Georges Bank feed chiefly on young haddock.  As sweet a fish as one could ask, if eaten fresh or if slack salted overnight and used for breakfast the next morning.  Soften so fast they must be frozen quickly.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953.  Online courtesy of MBL/WHOI.


Massachusetts landings of silver hake reached a peak in the 1950s with a high of 108 million pounds in 1957.  From 2010 to 2016 landings have been in the range of 7 to 9 million pounds.  (NOAA)


Beautiful Fish: American Dory -By Al Bezanson


Size—  The largest four specimens yet seen measured 18¼ and 18½ inches; 19 inches, weighing  3 pounds; and 20 inches, weighing 4½ pounds and 24 inches, weighing 7 pounds

General range—  Outer part of the continental shelf from the latitude of Chesapeake Bay to the vicinity of Sable Island, Nova Scotia, and perhaps to the Laurentian Channel that separates the Nova Scotian Banks from the Newfoundland Banks. It reaches the inner parts of the Gulf of Maine now and then as a stray.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

Online courtesy of MBL/WHOI



 MACKEREL (Scomber scombrus) Drawing by Luella E. Cable

On dark nights the schools are likely to be betrayed by the “firing” of the water, caused by the luminescence of the tiny organisms that they disturb in their progress. The trail of bluish light left behind by individual fish as they dart to one side or the other, while one rows or sails through a school on a moonless, overcast night when the water is firing, is the most beautiful spectacle that our coastal waters afford.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

When bluefish invade mackerel schools at night the fireworks on display below are spectacular. The larger streaks tearing through a mackerel school tell the story.

Al Bezanson



MONKFISH; ANGLER; ALLMOUTH; MOLLIGUT; FISHING FROG … The first spine bears an irregular leaflike flap of skin at its tip, which plays an important role in the daily life of the goosefish as a lure for its prey … Weighing up to 50 pounds … The goosefish has often been cited for its remarkable appetite. We read, for instance, of one that had made a meal of 21 flounders and 1 dogfish, all of marketable size; of half a pailful of cunners, tomcod, and sea bass in another; of 75 herring in a third; and of one that had taken 7 wild ducks at one meal. In fact it is nothing unusual for one to contain at one time a mass of food half as heavy as the fish itself. And with its enormous mouth (one 3½ feet long gapes about 9 inches horizontally and 8 inches vertically) it is able to swallow fish of almost its own size. Fulton, for instance, found a codling 23 inches long in a British goosefish of only 26 inches, while Field took a winter flounder almost as big as its captor from an American specimen. One that we once gaffed at the surface, on Nantucket Shoals, contained a haddock 31 inches long, weighing 12 pounds, while Captain Atwood long ago described seeing one attempting to swallow another as large as itself.


No regular commercial use has been made of the goosefish in America up to the present time. But it is an excellent food fish, white-meated, free of bones, and of pleasant flavor.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953.  Available free online courtesy of MBL/WHOI

If you were a goosefish you would say the “importance” situation has taken a bad turn since 1953.  The 2002, third edition, of Fishes of the Gulf of Maine notes:  Total landings remained at a low level until the mid-1970s, increasing from a few hundred metric tons to around 6,000 mt in 1978.  Landings remained stable at between 8,000 and 10,000 mt until the late 1980s and then increased to a peak level of 26,800 mt in 1996.  Usually only the tails are landed.  There is also a lucrative market for goosefish livers.

In the 1960s the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Technological Lab on Emerson Avenue in Gloucester was involved in marketing support for goosefish (monkfish), then considered an underutilized species.  I worked there at that time and recall Julia Child and the Boston Globe’s food editor, Dorothy Crandall visiting the lab and providing enthusiastic support.  Here’s a 1979 photo of Julia Child with a monkfish.


Al Bezanson




Halibut caught in shallow water are very active, usually starting off at great speed when they are hauled up from the bottom, often spinning the dory around in their attempts to escape.  (Goode and Collins, 1887)  The offshore fishery for halibut began about 1830, when cod fishermen brought word to Gloucester of a great abundance of them on Georges Bank,[61] and they were caught there for a few years thereafter in numbers that seem almost unbelievable today. Thus we read of 250 caught in three hours; of vessels loaded in a couple of days; and of a single smack landing 20,000 pounds in a day.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schoeder, 1953


GLOUCESTER — On March 7, 1935, two men trawling for halibut from a Gloucester schooner off Newfoundland disappeared from their overturned dory and were presumed drowned. The deaths of Charles Daley and Stephen Olsson were unremarkable, except that they were among the last of their kind. Their families mourned and then turned to the task of surviving without them. Within a few years, dory fishing was no longer.  (From a review of Alone at Sea by John N Morris, 2010)


Beautiful Fish: Shad -By Al Bezanson


A typical member of the herring tribe. Largest of the herrings that visit our gulf, growing to a length of 2 ½ feet.  One tagged in Chesapeake Bay was recaught 39 days later at Race Point.  The shad, like the alewife, spends most of its life at sea, and makes most of its growth there, but runs up into fresh rivers to spawn, the spent fish soon returning to salt water, and its fry running down also.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

In the spring of 1778, the shad run in the Schuylkill River saved George Washington’s army from starvation at Valley Forge. Thus one could claim that this country owes its victory over the British to shad and, hence, the title of John McPhee’s book, The Founding Fish.

Al Bezanson

Beautiful Fish: Common Mummichog

Killifish; Salt-water minnow; Chub; Mummy… So closely do they hug the shore that a line drawn 100 yards from land would probably enclose all the mummichogs in the Gulf of Maine… Seldom more than 4 inches long. Abound in the tidal creeks that cut our salt marshes, in muddy pools, in ditches. Shoals of “mummies” may often be seen moving in with the flood tide.  Often trapped in little pools until the next tide arrives.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

-Al Bezanson



“The sea horse grotesquely resembles the “knight” in an ordinary set of wooden chessmen in its sidewise flattened body, in its deep convex belly, in its curved neck and in its curious horselike head carried at right angles to the general axis of the body. The head is surmounted by a pentagonal star-shaped “coronet,” and the snout is tubular with the small oblique mouth at its tip, like that of its relative the pipefish.”

This exquisite pen and ink drawing from 1883 by H. L. Todd is just one of many by this artist in Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 576 pp, 1953. The book is available free online courtesy of MBL/WHOI.







They search the bottom by dragging the chin barbel and the sensitive tips of the ventral fins as they swim to and fro, either for food, or to stir up shrimps and other food items. (Herrick)

The maximum size is about 15 inches and 1-1/4 pounds, but few of them are more than 9 to 12 inches long. Most common close to stream drainage.

A delicious little fish that you won’t find in markets.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953




Schooner Captain and super GMG FOB Al Bezanson writes, “While searching for something else on the NOAA website I discovered that this treasure of a book is available free online. I purchased a printed copy of the 1953 edition long ago from the Museum of Comparative Biology at Harvard University, and I open it randomly at times to read a page or two about the creatures that inhabit the sea off Cape Ann. You can work your way through fish by fish, enjoy the exquisite drawings, the habits and the anecdotes about common and exotic marine life. Here are couple photos from my copy and a link to the book.”

Link to the book: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Here’s more … MBLWHOI sponsored the copying of the 1953 edition to make it available online. There is a newer 2002 edition, not digitized, from Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC,  2002. 748 pp., illus. $75.00 (ISBN 1560989513 cloth). Review here…