Although it may be small now, the community of Irving was, in the 1800s, a place of some importance.
In anticipation of its being made the Western terminus of the New York and Erie Railroad, Irving's development plans progressed, but afterwards ceased following the railroad's decision to make Dunkirk its terminus. There was one activity that remained unaffected, though, and that was Irving's commercial fishing industry.
In 1884 the largest local fishery was the Irving Fishery located on Cattaraugus Creek which flows into Lake Erie. The fishery, operated by two men, Smith and Fenske, specialized in sturgeon fishing. The daily catch, besides being sold locally, was shipped to markets in Rochester, Pennsylvania, Ohio and even Europe.
At daybreak each day the men of the Irving Fishery sailed out to where the two pound nets had been cast half a mile from shore and lifted a catch of about 150 sturgeon with an individual weight of 60 to 100 pounds. The mesh of the nets was of a size regulated by law to allow for the escape of smaller fish, and the "pots" of the nets, into which the sturgeon were trapped, measured 24 square feet by 30 feet deep.
After lifting the nets and filling their flat bottomed boats with the sturgeon, the fishermen headed for shore where the fish, usually still alive, were taken to a "slaughterhouse" to be killed by cutting off their tails and causing them to bleed to death. The sturgeons' roe was then removed and this, after being salted in brine for a period of time, was eventually packed in kegs and shipped to Hamburg, Germany as caviar.
Following the removal of the roe, the sturgeons' heads were cut off and the offal taken out and discarded, that is, except for the air-filled bladders or "sounds" which after curing were used in the manufacture of isinglass, glue and as a wine rectifier. It sold for around three dollars a pound.
What then remained of the fish was cut up. It was either sold locally or put in kegs and shipped to market. Local fish peddlers from nearby towns, who waited on the beach each morning when the catch was brought in, bought the sturgeon for two to three cents a pound for resale on their routes.
Each day no part of the catch was wasted, for the discarded offal was taken by local farmers for fertilizer.
Agnes Pfleuger is a Dunkirk resident with this piece first appearing in the OBSERVER in 1970.