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1 August 2003 Fishes of the Gulf of Maine for the 21st Century: A Look at the New Bigelow and Schroeder
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Bigelow and Schroeder's Fishes of the Gulf of Maine. 3rd ed. Bruce B. Collette and Grace Klein-MacPhee, eds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2002. 748 pp., illus. $75.00 (ISBN 1560989513 cloth).

Every fish biologist worth his or her salt has a copy somewhere of Bigelow and Schroeder's Fishes of the Gulf of Maine (1953). This reference book has been so useful for the last half-century that it is often still found in wheelhouses of many a fishing trawler and in almost every fish biologist's bag, both aboard ship and back on land. But much has changed for the fishes and fisheries of the Gulf of Maine since Bigelow and Schroeder's 1953 edition was published. Among other changes, there have been new classifications of species (e.g., the striped bass is now classified as Morone instead of Roccus), dramatic changes in fish composition and abundance as a result of intensive fishing by foreign and domestic fleets along the northeastern coast of the United States, and discoveries of several new species. Moreover, new management in the form of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (later amended in 1996 and renamed the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) has altered the nature of fisheries in the Gulf of Maine since the 1970s. Sadly, at least for those of us who have considered Bigelow and Schroeder a good friend, the book has become dated.

The third edition of Fishes of the Gulf of Maine was revised by 38 authors under the editorship of Bruce B. Collette and Grace Klein-MacPhee. Collette is a senior scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service's National Systematics Laboratory in Washington, DC, and an internationally known expert in fish systematics, specifically of mackerels and tunas. Grace Klein-MacPhee is a long-time research scientist at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography and an expert in fish life-history studies, specifically of flatfishes. The third edition of Fishes of the Gulf of Maine was about 20 years in the making and will be gratefully received by the entire fish community.

The first edition, by Henry B. Bigelow (professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology [MCZ] at Harvard University and the first director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and William W. Welsh, was published in 1925 and was based on field work conducted in the first part of the 20th century with colleagues from NOAA's (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Bureau of Fisheries and MCZ. This edition was later revised by Bigelow and William C. Schroeder and issued in its second edition in 1953. In the third edition, Collette and Klein-MacPhee have been loyal to the primary goal of the editions that preceded it, which was “to provide a handbook for easy identification of fishes that occur in the Gulf of Maine, with summaries of what is known of the distribution, relative abundance, and more significant facts in the life history of each.”

The Gulf of Maine is one of the best ichthyologically studied areas in the world. Collette and Klein-MacPhee have added 10 families and 33 species to the new edition, including 9 new species not previously described, reaching a grand total of 118 families and 252 fish species. To maintain continuity with Bigelow and Schroeder (1953), Collette and Klein-MacPhee used the same 150-fathom (about 275-meter) contour line as the arbitrary offshore boundary for including all species likely to be caught within the Gulf of Maine and excluded most of the deep-sea fishes in the Atlantic outside the Gulf of Maine. For those of us who are reluctantly having to put aside the old, often salt-stained and scale-covered copies of Bigelow and Schroeder for Collette and Klein-MacPhee's edition, the transition is made less painful with references in the new edition to pages in the 1953 edition where the same species are described. In total, the new volume cites more than 3800 references (about 36 references per page) and represents a major scientific achievement in concisely summarizing an enormous body of work in fish biology over the last 100 years.

Adding to descriptions of individual fish species, Collette and Klein-MacPhee include data and descriptions obtained from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) that are based on the descriptions and identifications by the eight regional fisheries management councils of essential fish habitat and distribution data from the MARMAP (Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction) program. Collectively, this has resulted in the most comprehensive and cohesive database for establishing and describing the sections on habits, distribution, food, predators, and breeding for each species managed by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. With the dramatic changes in abundance and distribution of fisheries since the 1950s and the enormous database provided by two generations of naturalists, ichthyologists, fishery biologists, and fishers, in addition to the extensive monitoring programs, Collette and Klein-MacPhee had a challenging job to organize and present the information while still being loyal to the format of the original 1953 book. It is in the descriptive accounting and management of this enormous and diverse database that Collette and Klein-MacPhee's organization, presentation, and summarization have triumphed over other references in the field and will make this edition the standard for the next 50 years.

In Collette and Klein-MacPhee's Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, there are clear demarcations among sections for each species. Still included are sections on each species' general morphological features: meristics, color, size, distinctions (where characters are given to differentiate the species in question from other Gulf of Maine fishes), habits (including depth range, bottom type, and temperature and salinity preferences), food, predators, and parasites. Further biological information is separately described under the subheadings of reproduction (which includes breeding habits, fecundity, early life history, eggs, and larvae), age and growth, general range, and occurrence in the Gulf of Maine (this section provides detailed information on local occurrences and is supplemented by beautiful distribution maps in the appendix for 38 species, based on the extensive bottom-trawling data of NEFSC). The last section for each species is “Importance to the Commercial Fishery.” This is divided into two subsections: one with graphs of commercial landings and an index of abundance for 30 of the most important commercial species and, where appropriate, one reflecting the extensive changes in the last 50 years of resource management.

Among all this praise for the Collette and Klein-MacPhee edition, there is only one real disappointment: in the entire 700-plus pages of this impressive work, there was no room for pictures of the early life-history stages, as there was in the 1953 edition. Perhaps these earlier stages deserve a book to themselves? In all fairness, however, the written descriptions of early life-history stages are much more detailed than before, aided in no small part by the explosion in fish early life-history literature over the last couple of decades, which Collette and Klein-MacPhee adequately reference.

Perhaps Allen Peterson says it best in the foreword to this third edition of Bigelow and Schroeder's Fishes of the Gulf of Maine when he writes that he hopes it will become as well known and as widely used as the 1953 edition and will one day perhaps be known as “Collette and Klein-MacPhee.” I am sure that Bigelow and Schroeder would approve.

Reference cited


H. B. Bigelow and W. C. Schroeder . 1953. Fishes of the Gulf of Maine. Rev. ed. Washington (DC): US Government Printing Office. Fishery Bulletin no. 74 of the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior. Google Scholar


IONE HUNT VON HERBING "Fishes of the Gulf of Maine for the 21st Century: A Look at the New Bigelow and Schroeder," BioScience 53(8), 772-774, (1 August 2003).[0772:FOTGOM]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 August 2003
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