Most of the commercial fishermen on the Hudson work only in the spring, when the shad are running. But Jimmy Mowbray of Peekskill works all year round—on a part-time basis. Jimmy lives on Annsville Creek, which flows into the river. Outside his house, a red-and-white bungalow just off Route 9, is a sign saying "LIVE BAIT WORMS." Jimmy is 26, 6 feet tall and wears glasses. For two years he pitched minor league ball for the Phillies. One of his roommates was Art Mahaffey. When Jimmy's arm went bad after relieving in 11 straight games for Tiffin, Ga. he came back home to fill an opening in the electricians' union. The Mowbrays have always fished the river. Jimmy's great grandfather used to net sea sturgeon in the days when they were so plentiful they were known as Albany beef and brought 6� a pound. Once Jimmy's Uncle Ed, who lives up in back, helped to net a sturgeon that was so big he was unable to land it. The fish seemed almost as long as the 15-foot skiff he was in. Now and then shad fishermen will find a sturgeon. In 1953 a 251�-pounder was caught below West Point. It was eight feet long and had a girth of three and a half feet. Most shad nets are not strong enough to hold sturgeon, which in the Hudson have been known to top 400 or 500 pounds. Sometimes fishermen will find huge holes in their nets, torn by sturgeon that rip through like torpedoes.
The Mowbrays used to net for the Fulton Fish Market. Nowadays Jimmy catches eels up to four feet long and stores them in boxes in Annsville Creek. He sells them to local Italians, who like to eat them on feast days. Most of Jimmy's business is done in baitfish. The river is aswarm with killifish, a very hardy minnow that ranges from half an inch to four inches long. They flock into the coves and inlets to feed on mosquito and midge larvae, and Jimmy scoops them up in a seine. He keeps a stock of 40,000 in boxes next to the eels out in the creek, and he puts 2,000 of them in two bathtubs in his cellar for ready sale. He gets 35� a dozen.
In the spring Jimmy sets fyke nets in the creek mouths to catch fish for stocking ponds. He leaves the nets in the water for two or three days, and when he goes back they are so full he cannot lift them. He shovels the fish out into 50-gallon cans. There are white perch, black bass, catfish that go up to six or seven pounds, pickerel that go up to three, small stripers, an occasional rainbow or brown trout (that the law makes him throw back), rock bass, sunnies, crappies, carp, suckers and big shiners. One customer, a lawyer in Croton whom Jimmy liked, wanted a pond stocked. Jimmy gave him the works: 700 pounds of fish.
During the winter the river freezes over, and Jimmy sets a trap line in the marshes. Most of the time he catches muskrats. He gives the carcasses to friends for eating and cures the skins in the cellar. They fetch $1.25 apiece from a wholesaler in Poughkeepsie. Four or five years ago, before American furriers started buying from the Russians, the price was $4. Occasionally Jimmy gets a mink, which brings $7, and up the creeks he gets beavers, which sell for the same price. He strikes it rich on otters. A good male sells for $20.
Hudson River life is free-spirited around Croton Point, where you can catch almost any kind of fish, but 25 miles downstream Thomas R. Glenn Jr. is at his busiest catching something different—polluters. Mr. Glenn, the director and chief engineer of the Interstate Sanitation Commission in New York City, is a tall, heavy-set Texan who is blunt and direct. "Some sanitary engineers prefer high-sounding terms like 'wastes,' " he says. "I say garbage." Established by the States of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the ISC has jurisdiction over the waters of the greater harbor area east to New Haven and Fire Island inlet, south to Sandy Hook and north to the Bear Mountain Bridge.
The main problem in the lower Hudson is the 175 million gallons of raw sewage that the West Side of Manhattan pours into the river every day. It issues from skyscrapers, apartment houses, gas stations, nightclubs, stores, theaters, restaurants, tenements, factories and hospitals. It floats down the drains that gird the city streets and empties into the river, where the tides and currents rock it back and forth between the Narrows and Croton Point. The majority of New Yorkers are unaware of this phenomenon that commands almost as many awed students of sewage as the Albany pool. One scientist told a fascinated gathering that the river was "one of the most astonishing of the natural agencies for the disposal of sewage that I know of," and Earle B. Phelps, professor emeritus of sanitary science at Columbia, has written, semijocularly, in his otherwise serious and scholarly treatise, Stream Sanitation: "Often homeward bound commuters, crowded on the front end of a [ Staten Island] ferry boat on a hot summer evening, enjoy the light spray of salt water carried aboard by the wind as the bow of the boat hits the passing waves. This is surely a situation where ignorance is bliss." This year, Glenn says, New York City is going to start construction of a $60 million secondary sewage treatment plant for the city's West Side. When the plant is finished along about 1968, it will be able to process a minimum of 220 million gallons of raw sewage a day, which will be good news for ferryboat riders.
Elsewhere in the greater harbor area, the ISC has made violators cease fouling waters. All in all, the ISC has been successful in more than 50 major cases. The commission has five inspectors, too few to police the area thoroughly, so in 1963 the commission installed an automatic robot monitor in the Arthur Kill, a waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey. The kill is lined with heavy industry, and it is a busier ship passage than the Panama Canal. The monitor checks the water every eight minutes. A thermometer takes the temperature, and analyzers in the device sample the pH (the relative acidity and alkalinity) and the dissolved chlorides and oxygen content. Telemetry sends the readings directly to the ISC office at Columbus Circle, where they are recorded on a graph. "When we put it in, we didn't tell anyone about it," Glenn recalls. "We used to come back to the office late at night or on weekends and watch the graph. We could see the polluting start. No one thought we'd know, but we did, down to the exact time, and after a warning the offending companies cut it out." The monitor has been so successful that Glenn is hopeful of installing more. "I am," he says, "very optimistic about the Hudson. It's just a matter of time before the river is cleaned up. I only wish it could be sooner."
Out beyond the Narrows and the Lower Bay, where the Ambrose Lightship rides, the Hudson no longer needs Mr. Glenn. It purifies itself by disappearing into the sea. The ancient channel of the river carves through the continental shelf until, 100 miles away, its canyon plunges more than 1,000 fathoms down to meet the ocean floor. The canyon, or the gorge, as it is sometimes called, lies to the south of the shipping lanes, and for most of the year few men visit it. The distant bottom is marked only by blips on echo sounders, and the water, reflecting the vast depths, is vivid indigo.
The canyon was largely unexplored until 1928, when William Beebe, the oceanographer and director of the Department of Tropical Research of the New York Zoological Society, chanced to visit it briefly. "I had to spend most of the summer of 1928 in New York City," he later wrote in the society's Bulletin, "and yet I longed to be exploring on the edge of known things. How could I manage both at once? There came to mind a cartoon in which Skippy and his small friend stand for a long time gazing out to sea. Throughout three layers of cartoon strips not a word passed between the two urchins. At last, without turning his head, Skippy said, 'You know, that's only the top of it.' That cartoon set me thinking, and brought to mind the Hudson Gorge, silent, black, cold,—with its sunken vastness filled with unknown forms of life."
With the help of L.F.V. Drake, president of the Salvage Process Corporation, Beebe borrowed a tug, the Wheeler, and set course for the canyon. There the surface water temperature was 68�, while 3,000 feet down it was 40� and at the bottom 31�. A special winch lowered weighted silk nets half a mile as the Wheeler crawled along at two knots. At a wave of Beebe's hand the winch began to reel in, and finally the nets came aboard, dripping and bulging with "pink treasure, glittering and gleaming, trembling with strange vitality, every spoonful a cosmos of hundreds of living beings." The fish were so cold they were almost painful for Beebe to touch, and among them were several that hitherto had been found only in such places as the Gulf of Guinea off the west coast of Africa, Panama and the Pacific. Two species were completely unknown. One, a deep-water relative of the herring, Beebe named Bathytroctes drakei, in honor of the helpful Mr. Drake; the other, a small, transparent, ribless, balloon-skinned creature related to the angler-fish, he called Haplophryne hudsonius, for the canyon. All told, Beebe spent only two days at the canyon and he never returned, but he considered his findings so important that he formally named the jaunt aboard the Wheeler the Eleventh Expedition of the Department of Tropical Research of the New York Zoological Society. "Long after the last animal and insect from the heart of Africa and New Guinea have been collected and named and the north and south poles have been crossed and recrossed with tourist planes," Beebe wrote, "strange fish and other creatures will still be brought to light within a day's motor-boat run of New York City."