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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Spencer F. Baird
Spencer F. Baird circa 1875
© Smithsonian Institution

G. Brown Goode

American Fishes; a Popular Treatise upon the Game
and Food Fishes of North America, with Especial Reference
to Habits and Methods of Capture

(New York, 1888)


The 35-year old administrator and ichthyologist of the Smithsonian must have delighted in writing this popular book on American fishes. Up to that point, most of Goode's writings had been scientific and professional in nature, and published as government documents, which he referred to as "dismal looking bunches of papers." When it was suggested that he write a book for the fishermen and the general reader, he quickly agreed: "...and since, as it happens, I know more about fish and fishing in America than I do about anything else, I consented." (Prologue, p. xi, dated 1 December 1886). American Fishes is a handsomely bound book, with illustrations, including a color frontis, which is reproduced here.

Fronti
Frontis of American Fishes by G.B. Goode

Goode had a wide knowledge of scientific and popular literature relating to the world of fishes, and his private library included over two thousand books and pamphlets. While about 1,750 species of North American fishes were known to science in the mid 1880s, Goode chose to cover about 40 popular game and food fishes in his American Fishes, discussing their geographical range, habitat, methods of fishing, and commercial applications. His familiarity with non-scientific literature is impressive, as evidenced by a wide range of references to classical and popular works: "... almost all the bright things that have been said about fishes by poets and anglers and philosophers from the time of Aristotle to Izaak Walton and Thoreau " (Jordan, 1910, Leading American Men of Science, p. 400). One may find a quotation from the Greek author Athenaeus ("Come, let us discourse about fish,") or a poem such as this one about catfish ("The Catfish is a hideous beast,/ A bottom-feeder that doth feast/ upon unholy bait:") published in Punch.

Goode covered what he considered to be "every North American fish which is likely to be of interest to the general reader, either because of its gameness or its economic uses." He defined a game fish as "a choice fish, a fish not readily obtained by wholesale methods at all seasons of the year, nor constantly to be had in the markets -- a fish, furthermore, which has some degree of intelligence and cunning, and which matches its own wits against those of the angler, requiring skill, forethought and ingenuity to compass its capture." Much of the information came from the survey of American fisheries done in conjunction with the 1880 Census. Goode not only was in charge of this extensive survey but also edited the multi-volume publication, Fisheries and Fishery Industries. In American Fishes, he was able to convey his knowledge of fish and fishing beyond the circle of his fellow scientists to a general audience, thus fulfilling one of his goals, the diffusion of scientific knowledge to the general public.

The book proved popular, and the initial printing sold out. Demand remained strong, and in 1903 a revised edition was published, edited by Goode's friend and colleague, Theodore Gill.

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