The Sponge Fishery


The Fisheries Exhibition Literature – Volume 5 – 1884

A Conference excerpt taken from The Fisheries Exhibition Literature Volume 5, for the International Fisheries Exhibition in London 1883.

Key West Sponge Market

The Sponge Fishery – The Florida Sponge grounds form three separate elongate stretches, along the southern and western coasts of the state. The first includes nearly all of the Florida Keys the second extends from Anclote Keys to Cedar Keys; and the third from just north of Cedar Keys to Saint Mark’s, in Apalachee Bay. The linear extent of these grounds is about 120 miles, and their breadth varies from a few miles to 15 or 20 miles. The total area of the Sponge grounds worked in 1880 was reckoned at about 3,000 square geographical miles, but this does not by any means cover the possibilities of the coast, as many additional sponging areas have been discovered since then.

Key West is the principal headquarters for the Sponge fleet. The Florida Sponge fishery differs from the Mediterranean in that no divers are employed. The Sponge fleet consists of over 100 vessels, ranging in size from 5 to 50 tons burden. The cruises last from four to eight weeks, at the end of which time the vessels return to Key West, a few only going to Apalachicola. The process of bleaching or liming Sponges has been extensively in vogue at Key West, but it is now meeting with much discouragement from the trade, for while it renders the Sponge much lighter in colour, it also partly destroys its fibre, and makes it less tough and durable. The Florida Sponges are all shipped from Key West and Apalachicola to New York. The value of the Florida  Sponge fishery to the fishermen averages about $200,000 annually.

“The Florida Sponge fishery originated about 1852, for, although the occurrence of Sponges on the Florida reefs was previously made known, the species were not supposed to be of commercial value. The industry has gradually developed to the present time, but during the past few years has remained at about the same standing. The demand for the better grades greatly exceeds the supply. Fully 75 per cent in value of all the Florida Sponges marketed are of the Sheepswool variety.”