The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 88, July 1984 - April, 1985

Sea Turtles in Texas: A Forgotten Commerce
ROBIN W. DOUGHTY*
C OMMERCIAL FISHING DEVELOPED SLOWLY IN TEXAS DURING THE
nineteenth century. In an 188o survey for the federal government
Silas Stearns, a fisheries expert, was struck by the enormous potential
for the fishing industry in Texas and the rest of the Gulf states: "No-
where," he said, "do the rich Southern fauna find a more genial habi-
tat and in few localities could man levy upon the sea a heavier tribute
of delicious fish and mollusks to supply his table." He added, however,
that Gulf Coast residents harvested little; the Massachusetts catch was
five times more valuable than that of the entire Gulf Coast. Oregon's
was four times more profitable and Maine's three times.?
During the 188os, however, commercial fishing in Texas and the
Gulf Coast increased dramatically. In Texas alone employment in
fishing more than doubled (reaching 1,116 fishermen and 161 shores-
men). An important component of this increase was the turtle indus-
try. By 1890 turtles ranked tenth among forty-six fishing products
caught in the Gulf states and in Texas they were fifth. The Texas
turtle catch, however, soon leveled out and began to decline steeply
after 1892. Exploitation and pollution had begun to take their toll on
*Robin W. Doughty is associate professor of geography at the University of Texas at
Austin. The author thanks Henry H. Hildebrand and the Center for Environmental
Education for providing important information and Raymond W. Neck for comments on
the manuscript and acknowledges assistance from the University Research Institute, Uni-
versity of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is Wildlife and Man in Texas: Environ-
mental Change and Conservation (College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press,
1983).
iSilas Stearns, "Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico," United States Commission of Fish
and Fisheries, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States: Section II-A
Geographical Review of the Fisheries Industries and Fishing Communities for the Year
i88o, prepared by George Brown Goode . . . and Associates (Washington, D.C., 1887),
535, S. Misc. Doc. 124, 47th Cong., Ist sess., 1881-1882 (Serial 1999). Stearns's statistics
did not square with others presented by Hugh M. Smith, "Statistics of the Fisheries of
the United States," Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission . . . for 1893, XIII (Washington,
D.C., 1894), 413-414. Stearns's point, however, was correct: the Gulf Coast fishery lagged
behind others in the Pacific, Great Lakes, New England, and Mid-Atlantic states.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 88, July 1984 - April, 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101210/. Accessed August 22, 2014.