How New York Ate 100 Years Ago
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Oyster Industry.

New York had access to an extraordinary abundance of domestic and commercial clamming, crabbing and oystering, and fresh, salt and brackish water fishing. Seafood fed the rich and poor, and fish was prepared for breakfast lunch and dinner. Eventually the waters of New York Harbor were polluted, and industrial construction changed the water front, limiting access and eliminating aquatic breeding grounds. The restoration of wetlands, cleaning up of the Hudson river, and the relocation of much of the harbor traffic has recently begun to make the waters more favorable for fishing and shellfish, but bringing back aquaculture and recreational fishing to New York Harbor will take much more work and vigilance.

Though considerable oyster farming still went on in the sound, the dredging of the Harlem Ship Canal, begun in 1889, changed the Bronx waterfront forever. The New York Herald presented a picture of life before the canal:

     "The life of the bobtail clam, which has had its haunts in the marshy meadows of the Harlem River, is fast drawing to a close. Within six short months the luscious bivalve will cease to exist there, except in the memories of the inhabitants of Fordham Heights, Kingsbridge, and vicinity. No more will the blithesome clam digger, clad in long rubber boots, a short fustian coat, and a red necktie, hie himself to the flats when the tide is out and dig himself a bucketful of this fruit for breakfast. The removal of dams in the long talked of ship canal will put an end to his occupation. It will take away the vocation of the angler for eels, and from a romantic, placid, lagoonlike estuary it will transform the stream into a canal with swift-running currents, in which few of the present inhabitants of its waters can exist. Here and there along the banks of the big ditch a few small submerged nooks may be left in their pristine state, but the locality will never again be the happy hunting ground it has been in the past."

In 1889, the Hudson River shad catch was 4.3 million pounds. By the mid-1940s, pollution had ruined the taste of shad in the Hudson.

Panfish & Blue Crabs
Greenpoint, Brooklyn was called "the garden spot of America" for its tree-covered peninsula. The water surrounding it was filled with panfish and blue crabs, providing recreation and food for Brooklyn residents. Waterfront oil refineries and rendering plants ultimately polluted the waters.

Oysters and Shellfish
Dumping industrial waste and raw sewage in the bay and the Hudson River finally made oysters all around New York Harbor unsafe. Arthur Kill oyster beds were shut in 1917 for health reasons. They were partially reopened the next year, but were closed again by the City Health Commissioner in 1924, due to an outbreak of typhoid traced directly to raw shellfish.

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