The American shad is a native fish of East Coast waters like the St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers, and yet the largest shad population in the world is in the Columbia River on the West Coast, an east-to-west migration of three thousand miles. Humpback whales migrate the same distance in water each year, and caribou do so on land, but the shad of the late 1800s made the trip in style: they took the train. Accompanying them was a man who spent a decade as the leading fish culturist in the North Country.
Livingston Stone was born in 1836 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard with honors in 1857. He attended theological school and became a church pastor, but ongoing health issues resulted in an unusual prescription: spend as much time as possible in the outdoors.
A career change was in order, and in the late 1860s, Stone pursued his interest in all things fish. With the intelligence of a Harvard grad and a chess expert, he proved far more capable than most men in his field. In 1871, he helped found the American Fish Culturists Association (which later became the American Fisheries Society), commissioned by the government to restore America’s depleted rivers.
In 1872, just a few years beyond the ministry, he was hired as a federal employee to open California’s first fresh-water fish station, the Baird Hatchery, named after the first U.S. Fish Commissioner, Spencer Baird. That same year, he authored a book that became a standard – Domesticated Trout: How to Breed and Grow Them – and was appointed U.S. Deputy Fish Commissioner for the Pacific Coast, a position he held for twenty-five years.
Among the issues Livingston Stone addressed were the effects of overfishing, and the need to feed a surging human population. It was decided that several marine species long-established as food staples on the East Coast — shad, striped bass, catfish, Penobscot salmon, eels, lobsters, and others — should be transplanted to the West Coast. Stone, tasked with safely transporting the fish cross-country, transformed a Central Pacific Railroad car into a 2,000-gallon aquarium on wheels, employing ice, milk cans, and a hand-aeration system. While successfully transporting live fish across the country, he was provided with subjects to study, fish to stock rivers, and the opportunity to develop breeds.
More trains followed in 1874, plus an ambitious stocking effort supplying the Rhine in Europe with 100,000 shad, delivered by Stone on the steamer Donan. Solving the problem of long-distance transportation of live fish and eggs was a major step in restocking programs around the world.
Stone also supplied the eastern U.S. with eggs from the hardy salmon of the McCloud River, a branch of the Sacramento that held specimens weighing from twenty to fifty pounds. The six million eggs he harvested were used to stock the Delaware, James, Mississippi, Potomac, and Susquehanna rivers.
For the first decade of his career, Livingston worked closely with Seth Green, who is remembered today as the Father of Fish Culture. In 1878, a paper published by Stone detailed the measures necessary to successfully transport salmon eggs great distances, citing the farthest as a shipment from New Hampshire to New Zealand.
During his tenure as deputy fish commissioner, Stone was decorated several times for innovative work. At the World’s Fair in Berlin in 1880, he was awarded a gold medal for inventions in fish culture. In 1883, for a display at the London Fishery Exhibition, an international gathering of world experts (where he also served as a judge), he received a signed diploma from Edward VII, Prince of Wales. He also was awarded a bronze medal by the Society d’Acclimatization in Paris.
That same year, he was considered for the position of United States Commissioner of Fisheries, but declined the promotion. Regardless, he remained a stalwart of the department. In the government’s view, Stone’s work with Seth Green, introducing American shad to West-Coast waters, had been a tremendous success. Twenty years after the first stockings, the fish were common along three thousand miles of coastline, from the Baja Peninsula (Mexico) to the Columbia River (Washington and Oregon) to Cook’s Inlet (Alaska), propagating by the millions and pursued by both sport and commercial fishermen.
In 1895, looking to establish a new fisheries station, the federal government purchased an old mill at Cape Vincent, New York, where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence River. In 1896, Livingston Stone wrote his second book, The Artificial Propagation of Salmon on the Pacific Coast of the United States, and the following year, he moved back East to become the first superintendent of the Cape Vincent Hatchery, which began producing lake trout, whitefish, and brook trout.
During his nine years of service at Cape Vincent, Stone’s expertise was called upon at many eastern hatchery sites, including Ogdensburg (sturgeon and walleye); establishing and overseeing a hatchery at Swanton, Vermont; and sturgeon work at Delaware City, Delaware.
In 1898, his well-received paper on the history of fish culture was presented to the National Fisheries Congress at Tampa, Florida. He was an important figure at Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, in 1903, when U.S. Fish Commission members met, coinciding with a gathering of the American Fisheries Society.
Meanwhile, his outstanding work continued at Cape Vincent, a four-story facility that hatched trout and salmon in the basement, and sturgeon, walleye, and whitefish on the second floor. In 1905 the site produced 28 million fish (brook trout, lake trout, landlocked salmon, and whitefish). For anglers who swear by the purity of certain strains of fish, it can be unsettling to learn of the mixing of species that continued decade after decade. For instance, consider the sources of just the 1905 stock produced at Cape Vincent and dispersed to many locations: “Brook trout eggs from Massachusetts; whitefish from Lake Michigan; lake trout from Duluth, Minnesota; sturgeon and pike-perch [walleye] from Swanton, Vermont, and from various western stations.”
In 1906, at age 70, Stone was sidelined by illness. Unable to work, he moved to Pittsburgh and was cared for by family members. He was still able to play chess, a lifetime passion of Stone’s, second only to his work with fish. While living at Cape Vincent, he had participated in frequent competitions and tournaments, and represented New York in Interstate Correspondence Chess Matches.
His greatest achievement in chess occurred in 1900 at a tourney held on Murray Island (or Murray Isle) in the St. Lawrence. Among the competitors was Frank J. Marshall, a brilliant player who in 1909 became U. S. Chess Champion, a position he retained for 27 years. In the 1930s, as captain, he led the U.S. National Team to four gold medals in the Chess Olympiads.
During the Murray Island tournament, Marshall conducted an exhibition, playing ten players simultaneously, a gambit routinely resulting in ten victories. But in this instance, the one defeat Marshall suffered was to Livingston Stone, a brilliant player in his own right.
The man admired as one of America’s most important fish researchers passed away on Christmas Eve, 1913, at age 77. His legacy still touches millions of lives in many ways, through the modern shad fishery on the West Coast, and particularly in the Columbia River, where an estimated million shad breed each year, descendants of fish planted there 140 years earlier. He also provided West Coast fishermen with today’s favorite sport fish, the striped bass, transplanted from the East at about the same time.
The Cape Vincent Hatchery established more than a century ago by Stone is today’s Cape Vincent Fisheries Station, featuring among other things an excellent aquarium. More than two thousand miles away, his name lives on through the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery, built in 1997 just below Shasta Dam, several miles north of Redding, California. In 1989, he was voted into the National Fish Culture Hall of Fame in Spearfish, South Dakota.
Photos: Livingston Stone; Map of West Coast shad distribution; Cape Vincent hatchery (1908).