Fishy Imports: The First Foreign Fish in California … Came From New York

STATEWIDE—Leave it to a fish commissioner from New York to deliver the first foreign fish into California waters. An entry in the University of California’s “History and Status of Introduced Fishes in California, 1871-1996” revealed a batch of American shad was transported from New York to Tehama (about 125 miles north of Sacramento) by New York Fish Commission member Seth Green.

The hatched fish, which were taken from the Hudson River and taken aboard a train on June 19, 1871, were transported in milk cans. The milk cans contained 12,000 newly hatched American shad.

Green would arrive in Sacramento exactly one week later – but not without his fair share of worry and doubt.

“At Chicago … I first tried the water from the city water-works, but found there was too much oil in it,” Green reportedly wrote. “The fish were still in good order when we arrived at Omaha, but there I could not find any water in which they would live five minutes.

“The only way I kept my charges alive was by drawing the water out of the cans into pails, and pouring it from one pail to another until purified,” he continued.

Weather continued to be an issue as he continued west toward Utah, according to a June 22 journal entry reportedly written by Green.

“[Somewhere between Omaha and Ogden] Bad water all day, with the thermometer 100 degrees in the shade from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I used ice water the entire day, a very little at a time, and had hard work to keep the temperature of the water below 82 degrees,” Green wrote. “I began to feel blue and doubtful of the result. The fish suffered considerably.”

The suffering, for the most part, ended when Green and his fish arrived in Sacramento on June 26, 1871. Green would board another train – this one from Sacramento to Tehama – and transport the fish to a stretch of Sacramento River. B.B. Redding, who was one of the first members of the California Fish Commission, reportedly accompanied Green on the final leg of his delivery.

Green deposited the fish into the Sacramento River at Tehama the evening of June 26 – about 10,000 of the 12,000 shad survived and were planted into the river.

“This was the first formal introduction into California of a fish alien to the state,” an entry of “History and Status of Introduced Fishes in California, 1871-1996” stated. “Today, many of our introduced fishes (shad, striped bass, the black basses, and others) are so commonplace that many people believe them to be native to California.”

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