Group Title: study of the Florida natural sponge industry with special emphasis on its marketing problems
Title: A study of the Florida natural sponge industry with special emphasis on its marketing problems
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Title: A study of the Florida natural sponge industry with special emphasis on its marketing problems
Alternate Title: The Florida natural sponge industry
Physical Description: xiv, 227 leaves. : illus. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Petrof, John Vasil, 1933-
Publication Date: 1967
Copyright Date: 1967
Subject: Sponges -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Marketing thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Marketing -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida, 1967.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 219-226.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00097837
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000568654
oclc - 13692581
notis - ACZ5392


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June, 1967

3 1262 08552 3792


The author is greatly indebted to members of his doctoral

committee, Dr. Carter C. Osterbind, Dr. Myron S. Heidingsfield,

Dr. Ralph H. Blodgett, Dr. Charles W. Fristoe, and Dr. John H. James,

for the guidance they have provided during the writing of this disser-

tation. He is particularly grateful to Dr. Carter C. Osterbind who

encouraged the writer to undertake the present study and from whom

the writer learned the first elements of the fishing industry. The

author also wishes to express his gratitude to the many fishermen,

packers, and distributors in the sponge industry,without whose cooper-

ation much of the information presented in the following pages would

not have been available. Equally real is the author's debt to the

staff of the Bureau of Conmercial Fisheries, United States Department

of the Interior for providing him with the financial assistance which

made this study possible. Lastly, the author wishes to thank his

wife for her encouragement and assistance during the preparation of

this manuscript.



The sponge industry in the United States is located primarily on

the vest coast of Florida in Tarpon Springs. Around the turn of the

century the industry was established by immigrants of predominantly

Greek origin from southeastern Europe, and their old-world methods of

operation are still being used. From the time of its establishment

until World War II the industry experienced an increasing amount of

sales and prosperity. For example, during the 1940's sales of natural

sponges climbed to approximately $3 million annually.

After reaching their peak in the early 1940's sponge sales have

declined up to the present time. Annual sales of domestic natural

sponges have dropped from their approximately $3 million peak to an

average annual figure of less than $400,000 between the years 1960 and


Persons engaged in the business of harvesting and selling sponges

realize the existence of a problem, but they disagree concerning its

causes and solutions. Some industry members attribute the decline in

sponge sales primarily to the invention of artificial sponges, whereas

others see an inadequate supply of divers as the main cause of their

predicament. Suggested solutions include tariff protection, importation

of middle-aged divers from the eastern Mediterranean, and government

support of sponge prices.

Confusion and diversity of opinion prevent spongers from taking

steps toward a constructive solution of their problems. The bulk of


the research that has been conducted on the sponge fisheries has

emphasized the biological aspects of the industry. The economic

aspects of the industry have either been totally ignored or have been

touched upon only incidentally. The purpose of this study is to

analyze the neglected economic and marketing aspects of the natural

sponge industry and to attempt to determine the real causes of its

problems. With the exception of landing statistics there is virtually

a complete lack of information on the sponge fisheries between the years

1908 and 1937. Inasmuch as no such work has been undertaken before, an

attempt has been made to bring together, analyze, and evaluate all

factors of economic significance pertaining to the Florida sponge

industry at its various stages of production and distribution.

Because of the scarcity and fragmented nature of the available statis-

tics on the sponge fisheries, past and present data have been supple-

mented by information obtained through interviews conducted with fisher-

men, packers, and sponge distributors and by the personal observation

of the author. For example, most of the material presented in

Chapter III is based upon information obtained from a sample of better

than 80 per cent of the diving craft operating in the sponge fisheries

in the suaer of 1964. Also, to obtain material in Chapter IV it was

necessary to interview the entire packer population in Tarpon Springs,

Florida. The section on distributors is based upon personal interviews

conducted by the author in New York and New Jersey. These interviews

covered 30 per cent of the total distributors in the United States;

however, according to trade association officials this 30 per cent

sample is responsible for more than 80 per cent of the sponge sales at


the distributor level. Similarly, the information on the operations

of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange and the Sponge and Chamois

Institute were obtained through interviews with the officials of these

organizations and through personal observations by the author.

Foreign competition and competition by artificial substitutes

have also been examined in order to evaluate their impact on the

natural sponge industry of Florida. Information on foreign competition

was obtained through correspondence with U. S. Department of State

officials in sponge-producing countries and foreign government officials

of such countries. Such information was further supplemented by

correspondence and personal interviews with U. S. Customs officials

and International Trade specialists in Atlanta, Georgia. Data on

synthetics were obtained through correspondence with home offices and

interviews with the regional representatives of the major synthetic

producers in Atlanta, Georgia.

Because of such factors as the very small size of the populations

involved, the great length of time spent in contacting individual

respondents, the language problem, and the lengthy and wide-ranging

nature of the responses, it was not practical to attempt to crystallize

the data-gathering process into formal questionnaire form; therefore,

most of the prepared questionnaires were used loosely as interview

guides (see Appendix A).

The results of the present study have led to the identification

of the problems of the sponge industry and to recommendations which,

it is hoped, will benefit the Florida sponge interests in the long run.

At this stage it may be useful to point out that the recommended

course of action may not completely solve the problems of the sponge

interests in Florida; however, correct problem recognition is of

paramount importance in determining any future course of action for

the Florida sponge industry.



ACINOWLEDGMENTS .................. ii

PREFACE .. . . . . . ...... . . ....... iii

LIST OF TABLES ........... ........ ..... ix

LIST OF FIGURES ..... ....... .......... xiii

I. INTRODUCTION ...... ................ 1

Historical Utilization of Natural Sponges. ... 1
Description of the Natural Sponge. ......... 3
Commercial Kinds of Natural Sponges. .......... 5
Qualities Affecting the Value of Natural Sponges . 16
Geographical Location of Natural Sponges in the
United States .. ........ ........... 19


Historical Development ............... 22
Early Period, 1895-1937. . . . . . . 28
The Period from 1937 to 1964 ............. 48
Importance of the Sponge Industry to Florida and
the United States .................. 77


Sponge Fishing Methods and Auxiliary Procedures. .. 81
Units of Operation .................. 84
Dependability of Supply. ............. . 94
Comparison with Earnings in Fisheries. ...... . 102


The Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange ......... 108
Packers ..... .............. .... 11
The Sponge and Chamois Institute .......... 123
Distributors . ................ .. 126

V. COMPETITION ...................... ... 145

Imports.. . . .. . . .. . . . 145
Synthetics . . . . . . . . 162
Protection and Subsidies . ........... . 180


VI. CONCLUSIONS ................... ... 18

Supply and Demand . . . . . . . . 184
Distribution Structure. . . . . .... 193
Product Trend ................... 195

VII. RECOMMENDATIONS. .. . . . . . . . 200

Marketing .. ...... . ....... ..... 200
Production . . . . . . . . . .. 209
Adjustments . .. .. . . . . .... 211

APPENDIX A ........................... 2 215

APPENDIX B ........................... 216

BIBLIOGRAPHY ........ ................ 219

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH N........... ....... ... 227



1. Common English, Scientific, and Foreign Names
of Commercial Sponges with Their Sources of
Supply .............. ......... 6

2. Weight, Value, and Average Price Per Pound of
Wool, Yellow, Grass, and Other Sponges Landed
in Florida, 1895-1908 .. .... ......... 30

3. Percentage Distribution of Catch and Value of
Landings by Method of Operation, 1905-1908 ..... 36

4. Indexes of the Number of Craft by Method of
Operation of Total Employment and Investment
in the Florida Sponge Industry for Available
Years, 1880-1963 ................... 38

5. Semi-Annual Operating Expenses of 49 Diving Craft
in Pinellas County, January 1 June 30, 1934 . . 40

6. Fishermen Employed in Comercial Fisheries in
Florida, Selected Years, 1890-1962 . ...... . 42

7. Number of Craft and Employment by Method of
Operation, 1895, 1900, 1903-1908 ........ 43

8. Average Catch Per Hooking Craft, 1895, 1900,
1903-1908 ................... ... 46

9. Average Catch Per Diving Craft, 1905-1908 ...... 47

10. Weight, Value, and Average Price Per Pound of
Wool, Yellow, and Grass Sponges Landed in
Florida, 1913-1963 .... .* ........ .... 51

11. Catch of Wool, Yellow, Grass and Other Sponges
by Hooking Outfits, 1937-1962. .. ... ... . .. 55

12. Catch of Wool, Yellow, Grass, and Other Sponges
by Diving Outfits, 1937-1962 . . . . . .. 56

13. Percentage Distribution of Wool, Yellow, Grass,
and Other Sponges by Method of Operation,
1937-1961 .................. ... 57


14. Number of Craft and Employment by Method of
Operation, 1937-1963 . 61

15. Average Landings Per Diving Craft, 1937-1962 . . 70

16. Average Landings Per Hooking Craft, 1937-1962 .... . 71

17. Percentage Distribution of Landings and Value
of Landings by Method of Operation, 1937-1963 . . 72

18. Average Operating Expenses of Nine Diving Craft,
1963 ............ . .............. 74

19. Quantity and Value of Landings by Commercial
Fisheries in Florida, Selected Years, 1880-1962 . 78

20. Indexes of Quantity and Value of Landings by Com-
mercial Fisheries in Florida, Selected Years,
1895-1963 . . . ..................... . 79

21. Indexes of Production and Average Price Per Pound
of Florida Sponges, Selected Years, 1896-1963 ... 80

22. Florida Landings by Months, 1961-1964 ........ 102

23. Sponge landings by Months, 1961-1964 ........ . 103

24. Average Price Per Pound Received by Sponge Fisher-
men and by Fishermen in the United States, 1946-
1962 ....................... .. 105

25. Total Number of Full-Time and Part-Time Employees
of Eleven Packing Firms in Tarpon Springs, Florida,
and Their Relationship to the Owner ......... 116

26. Packer Sales by Line of Product, 1963 . . . . 118

27. Financial Strength of Eleven Sponge Packers in
Tarpon Springs, Florida, 1963 .. . . . 119

28. Summary of Operating Expenses of One Packing Firm
for 1963 ...................... 121

29. Domestic and Imported Sponges as a Percentage of
Total Supply, 1934-1963 ............... 127

30. Sales in Dollars of Natural Sponges, Synthetic
Sponges, and Chamois at the Distributor Level,
1951-1964 ................. ..... . . 130

31. Distributor Sales of Natural Sponges, Synthetic
Sponges, and Chamois as a Percentage of Total
Sales, 1951-1964 .................. 131

32. Distributor Sales of Natural Sponges by Type of
Customer, 1962-1964 ................ 131

33. Distributor Sales of Natural Sponges to Trade
Customers ..... ....................... .. 132

34. A Comparison of Average Per Pound Prices of
Domestic and Imported Sponges, 1934-1963 ...... 134

35. Financial Strength of Natural Sponge Distributors
Who Are Members of the Sponge and Chamois
Institute, 1964 .................... 136

36. United States Imports of Sponges by Country of
Origin, 1957-1963 .. .. ..................... 146

37. Greek Sponge Production, Total Exports, and
Exports to the United States, Selected Years,
1936-1963 ..................... .. 149

38. Sponge Trade with Greece, 1956-1963 ......... 151

39. Total Available Supplies of Sponges in the United
States from Production and Imports, 1934-1963 * 154

40. Total United States Imports from Cuba and the
Bahamas, Selected Years, 1934-1963 ........ 157

41. United States Imports of Natural Sponges from the
Bahamas, 1956-1963 ............ ... ..** 159

42. United States Imports of Natural Sponges from Cuba,
1956-1962 ..... .. .............. 160

43. Imports of Synthetic Sponges in Dollars, 1956-1963 . 176

44. Marine Sponges: United States Rates of Duty
Existing on January 31, 1965, as Defined in
Sec. 256(4) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 . 177

45. Synthetic Sponges: United States Rates of Duty
Existing on January 31, 1965, as Defined in
Sec. 256(4) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 . 177

46. Federal Government Purchases of Natural and
Synthetic Sponges, Selected Years, 1948-1964 . . 183


17. Cellulose Sponge Sales, 1953-1962 . . . . . 187

48. Annual Percentage Change in Sponge Landings and in
Average Sponge Prices, 1941-1946 . . ..... 188

49. Summation of Sponge Sales in Harrisburg ...... 192

50. Sponge Purchases for 1963 by Eleven Packing Firms
in Tarpon Springs, Florida .. ........ 195

51. Computation of Least Squares Straight-Line Trend
of Natural Sponges ............ .. 199

52. Number of Tourists, Tourist Expenditures, and
Tourist Expenditures for Gifts and Souvenirs,
Selected Years, 1929-1963 ........... 206

53. Number of Souvenir and Gift Shops in Florida . 208



1. Value and Weight of Landings in the Florida Sponge
Fisheries ....................... 29

2. Per Craft Landings and Value of Landings by Method
of Operation in the Florida Sponge Fisheries .... 34

3. Average Sponge Prices and Value of Landings Per
Fisherman by Method of Operation .......... 35

4. Employment by Method of Operation in the Sponge
Fisheries of Florida ................ 44

5. Value and Weight of Landings in the Florida Sponge
Fisheries .......... . . ...*.............. 50

6. Average Landings Per Enterprise Unit in the Sponge
Fisheries of Florida .............. .. 53

7. Number of Hooking and Diving Craft in the Sponge
Fisheries of Florida . . . .... . . . 60

8. Number of Hooking Craft and Landings Per Hooking
Craft in the Sponge Fisheries of Florida .... .. 63

9. Number of Diving Craft and Landings Per Diving
Craft in the Sponge Fisheries of Florida *....... 64

10. An Equilibrium Model for the Sponge Fisheries of
Florida . ... . * *...................... 65

11. Value of Average Landings Per Enterprise Unit in
the Sponge Fisheries of Florida ......... .. 89

12. Value of Average Landings Per Fisherman in the
Sponge Fisheries of Florida .... .. . . . 90

13. Monthly Comparison of Total Florida Landings and
Sponge Landings, 1961 ........ ....... 95

14. Monthly Comparison of Total Florida Landings and
Sponge Landings, 1962 . . . . ......... 96

15. Monthly Comparison of Total Florida Landings and
Sponge Landings, 1963 . * * * * * * * 97


16. Monthly Comparison of Total Florida Landings and
Sponge Landings, 1961 .......... .... 98

17. Sponge Landings by Months, 1961-1964 . . ..... 99

18. A Comparison of Average Per Pound Prices Received
by Fishermen and Sponge Fishermen in the United
States .............. ..... ..... 101

19. A Comparison of Average Per Pound Prices of Domestic
and Imported Sponges ............... *133

20. Relationship of Synthetic Sponge Sales to the Sales
of Chamois * ..................... * 142

21. Least Square Straight-Line Trend of Natural Sponge
Consumption in the United States * *.......... 198




Historical Utilization of Natural Sponges

The natural sponge has been known and traded in the Mediterranean

for thousands of years. Many ancient Greek excavations have uncovered

pictures of sponges. According to Homer, Hepaestus used a sponge to

wash off the grime of the smithy,1 and the housemaids of Penelope and

Odysseus used sponges in cleaning dining tables.2 Aristotle mentions

Greek soldiers padding their greaves and helmets vith sponges they

called "Achileion."3 According to Pliny, Romans used sponges as

paint brushes and maps, and Roman soldiers carried a piece of sponge

rather than a cup for drinking purposes. This early usage is further

verified by the Biblej5 it describes the way in which Roman soldiers

gave Christ vinegar to drink from a sponge while He was on the cross.

1A. T. Murray, The Illiad (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1935), P. 319.

2A. T. Murray, The Odyssey (Cambridge Harvard University Press,
1931), p. 369.

3A. H. Stuart, World Trade in Sponges, U. S. Dept. of Omnerce
Industrial Series No. 2 (Washington U7. S. Government Printing
Office, 1948), p. 4.

4"Sponges," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1963 ed., Vol. XXI.

5Mark 15:36.


In the thirteenth century Arnold of Villa Nova introduced the "burnt

sponge" as a medicine to be taken internally for scrofula, tuberculosis

of the lymphatic glands. Any therapeutic effect can probably be

attributed to a high content of iodine which is present in the "burnt

sponge" in the form of Nal.1

The first sponges used by man were probably those washed ashore

by storms; however, as was pointed out previously, sponge fishing has

been known since the early days of man's civilization. The first

deliberate efforts to obtain sponges were those of naked divers who

dived by using heavy stones as weights in order to reach the depths of

the sponge beds.2 According to legend, numerous divers' lives were

sacrificed in supplying the sponges for the baths of empresses, such

as Messalina and Cleopatra.3

In modern times, besides obvious toilet and household uses,

sponges are used for many purposes, such as the washing of cars, the

manufacture of special surgical and hygienic preparations, the appli-

cation of glaze to fine pottery, leather dressing, and the manufacture

of electric chairs. They are extensively employed by garages, tile

and bricklayers, painters, lithographers, decorators and window

washers, although all of these markets have been constantly shrinking

for reasons to be explained later in this study.4

1"Sponges, Encyclopaedia Britannica.

2Stuart, p. 4.


John F. Storr, Ecology of the Gulf of Mexico Commercial Sponges
and Its Relation to the Fishery, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Special Scientific Report, Fishries No. 466 (Washingtons U. 8.
Government Printing Office, 1964), pp. 63-65.

Description of the Natural Sponge

Although ancient Greeks called the sponge "zoo-phyton, a name

which implies part animal and part vegetable, in the past many people

regarded sponges as vegetable because of their stationary nature. In

1765, John Ellis was the first to discover the animal nature of sponges

by observing the water currents produced by a sponge and noticing the

contractions on the surface of its body.2 Today sponges are considered

to be one of the simplest forms of animal life and are classified as


Persons who have seen sponges displayed in stores would not

recognize the animal as it comes from the sea. The live sponge is an

animal with a solid and fleshy body. Its color varies in a consider-

able range from grayish yellow to brownish black. Its form varies

from cup-shaped to spheroidal and cake-shapedydepending on the species,

age, and subsurface environment.4 The marketed sponge is merely the

skeleton of the living animal. This skeleton is composed of a sub-

stance similar in chemical properties to silk, horn, and chitin which

is the basic material that forms the shells of insects and crabs.

This material is distributed in a fibrous network in sponges, usually

in accordance with a definite general pattern in each species; the

diameters of the fibers, the sizes of the meshes, and the relations

iGeorge Frantzis, Strangers at Ithaca (St. Petersburg, Fla.:
Great Outdoors Publishing Co., 1962), p. 127.
2"Sponge," National Encyclopedia, 1945 ed., Vol. IX.


4Stuart, p. 25.

existing among the various fibers in each species lie within more or

less well-fixed limits. In addition, the main fibers always contain

some foreign matter, such as sand grains and insects.1

An examination of the living sponge shows it to be covered by a

skin raised periodically into blunt little cones over the ends of the

supporting skeletal fibers. Distributed over the surface are sieve-

like membranes, whose small pores lead into cavities lying just below

the skin. From these cavities canals lead into the substance of the

sponge, opening by several minute pores into many small chambers,

which from their opposite ends discharge through larger openings.

The canals gradually increase in diameter until they reach the surface

of the sponge as large conspicuous pores known as "oscula," or, as the

spongers call them, "eyes." The position and distribution of such

oscula depend on the species. Each osculum is surrounded by a smooth

membrane which by expansion or contraction varies the size of the


Through this canal system feeding and respiration are accomplished

by the sponges in the following fashion. The small chambers described

previously are lined with cells, each of which is provided with a

little lash projecting into the chamber and beating in a rhythmical

manner so that a one-directional current is created. Through the

action of these cells, water is sucked through the pores in the surface

of the sponge and into the small chambers and then is forced into the

Stuart, p. 26.

2Paul S. Galtsoff, pone a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fishery leaflet 490 (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office,
1960), p. 2.

larger canals until it is sent out through the oscula. Food is

carried into the sponge by the water stream and waste material is

discharged in the same manner.

Coaercial Kinds of Natural Sponges

Biologists mention the existence of more than 3,000 species of

sponges distributed throughout the world from tropical seas to polar

waters.2 The presence of a hard object to which the sponge can attach

itself and of flowing water for filtering through its canals the

microorganisms on which it feeds are sufficient for the survival and

growth of sponges. From this extravagant variety of sponge species

only thirteen are commercially important. Eight of the thirteen

commercially important sponges which will be identified later are

available in Florida and contiguous waters. Without exception all

coercial sponges grow in warm tropical or semitropical waters. At

present almost all sponge fishing operations are confined to the

Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.3

Table 1 lists the thirteen commercially known sponges in their

camon English, scientific, and foreign names together with their


1Willia M. Stephens, "A Rearkable Anisal-The Sponge," Sea
frontiers, X (February, 1964), 17.

2Stuart, p. 4.

Stephens, Sea FrontiersA X, 20-21.


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Turkey Cup sponge

Turkey Cups are cup-shaped sponges and bring the highest prices;

perfect cups are relatively rare. The oscula are comparatively large

and numerous and are grouped together in the concavity of the cups,

the skeletal partitions separating them being often very thin. The

outer surfaces are perforated by several pores; the narrow skeletal

partitions between the pores are surrounded by slender, soft, fibrous

pencils. The foreign bodies in the fibers are negligible, and the

main fibers themselves are small in number. Such characteristics

make the Turkey Cup the softest, finest, and most elastic sponge on

the market. These sponges are used primarily for applying cosmetics

and for bathing.

This sponge grows solely in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea,

especially around the Syrian coast and the islands of Crete and Cyprus.

The best kinds of Turkey Cups are obtained in the underwater caves and

crevices, where they attain a finer growth than elsewhere.

Turkey Toilet sponge

Turkey Toilets are flatter than the cup sponges and their oscula

are confined to the upper surface. Not as soft, fine and elastic as

the Turkey Cups, toilet sponges can be found throughout the Mediter-

ranean. They are used for leather dressing, surgery, toilet purposes,

and various other uses.2

1Stuart, p. 20.


Zimocca sponge

The Zimocca sponge is distributed throughout the Mediterranean

Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Dardanelles, and the west coast of Asia

Minor. These are massive sponges, broader than high, with their

oscula scattered over the upper surface and arranged in irregular

radial rows. The Zisocca sponges are the harshest of the Mediter-

ranean grades. It is possible to soften them through bleaching,

although bleaching reduces their durability. Both bleached and

unbleached Zimoccas have a relatively dark color. They are used by

potters, leather dressers, and other artisans.1

Honeycomb sponge

Zoologists classify the Honeycomb with the Yellow sponge of the

Florida Keys; but unlike the pineapple-shaped Yellow sponge the Honey-

comb is always broader than high with the oscula unevenly scattered

over the upper surface. This sponge is generally distributed through-

out the Mediterranean. It is a popular bath sponge and is also used

by Jewelers, leather manufacturers, bank tellers, et cetera.2

Elephant Ear sponge

These sponges have the shape of a rolled ear. The oscula are

confined to the inside and are arranged in groups of four to six in

radial or concentric rows. The Elephant Ear is found on the coasts

of North Africa and the Aegean Sea. This sponge equals the Turkey

Toilet in fineness, softness, and durability. It is used for toilet

lbid., p. 22.


purposes, in the medical application of electricity, by potters, fine-

leather workers, Jewelers, and other craftsmen requiring a smooth,

fine, soft, and durable sponge.1

Yellow sponge

There are various kinds of Yellow sponges known in commerce.

These sponges are more elastic than other western hemisphere sponges

with the exception of Sheepswool sponges. They are regular in shape,

attractive in appearance, and grow to a diameter of about 18 inches.

When alive they have a smooth surface and are very dark brown on top,

becoming yellowish on the sides. The oscula are situated on the top

of rounded cones or in the upper surface of the sponge. Yellow

sponges are less durable than the Sheepswool or Velvet sponges, but

they are attractive and inexpensive bath sponges and are used for many

other purposes. The commercial varieties of Yellow sponges are as

follows: Florida Key Yellow, Anclote Yellow, Bahama Yellow, Cuba

Yellow, Honduras Yellow, and Mediterranean Yellow.

The Florida Key Yellow is the best kind of Yellow sponge and comes

from the vicinity of Matecuaba Keys. Oscula are confined to the upper

surface. The Anclote Yellow is harsher and less elastic than the

Florida Key Yellow and, consequently, less valuable for commerce.

Unlike the Florida Key Yellow the oscula are not confined to the upper

surface but occur all through the sponge. The Bahama Yellows are light

brown sponges with oscula scattered over the top surface and sometimes

on the sides. This variety of Yellow sponge is common near Andros

Island. The Cuba Yellow sponge is similar to the Anclote Yellow;

libid., p. 24.

however, it differs in its brighter color, more cavernous structure,

and greater number of oscula. The Bonduras Yellow comes from the

British Honduras and is harsher than the Florida Key Yellow but less
harsh than either the Bahama or Cuba Yellow.

Sheepswool sponge

Sheepvsool sponges are a product of the western Atlantic. They

exhibit wide local variation, are very sensitive to environment, and

when transplanted undergo significant changes in character. The

oscula are large, few in number, and confined to the upper surface.

The living sponge has a black color, becoming brownish at the base.

Sheepswool sponges grow to over 18 inches in diameter and are unex-

celled in softness, absorbency, and durability. They are employed for

general bath purposes and for cleaning cars and other highly polished

surfaces where size, softness, absorbency, and durability are required.

Sheepawool sponges are known under the following market varieties:

Florida Rock Island, Florida Key Wool, Bahama Wool, Cuba Wool,
Mexican Wool, and Honduras Wool.

The Florida Rock Island is the most valuable sponge of North

America. It is found on the west coast of Florida between Johns Pass

and St. Marks. It has a grayish brown color and the specimens found

in deep water are superior to shallow water specimens in texture,

density, and durability. The Florida Key Wool comes from the Key

Grounds of Florida and is next in value to the Rock Island, which it

surpasses in softness but does not equal in strength, durability, and

1Iid., p. 10.

2Ibid., pp. 6-7.


capacity for holding water. The Key Wool sponges have a pale color

and consist of rather weak fibers. The Bahama Wool is inferior to

the two varieties mentioned previously. The best kinds are obtained

from the vicinity of Abaco and Andros Island. The Cuba Wool has the

same characteristics as the Bahama specimens although it is less

desirable than the Bahama. The Mexican Wool grows in shallow water

and is the poorest of the Sheepswool sponges. It lacks softness,

resiliency, and durability. It grows from a narrow base with a

rather high shape and has large oscula on the upper surface. The

Honduras Wool resembles the Mexican Wool variety, but it is of better
quality and is found on the coast of British Honduras.

Velvet sponge

These sponges are found in the straits of Florida, the Caribbean

Sea, the Bahamas, and the waters off the coast of Jamaica. They were

greatly decimated by the 1937 sponge disease and are quite scarce

today. Velvet sponges are generally cake-shaped or spheroidal, broader

than high, and attached by a broad base from which the sides swell out.

The number of oscula varies from one to three on the upper surface.

The color of the skeleton is light brown or dull yellow. Velvet

sponges are very soft to the touch but are less resilient and absorbent

than the Sheepswool. In commerce Velvet sponges are graded as follows:

Florida Velvet, Bahama Velvet, Cuba Velvet, and Jamaica Velvet.2

The Florida Velvet is found in small quantities on the reefs

between Key West and Cape Florida. They are generally rather harsh

lid., p. 7.
21bid., p. 11.

and more or less torn and irregular. Of the Bahama Velvets the best

come from near Abaco. These are soft, moderately strong, and vell-

shaped sponges. The Cuba Velvet resembles the Florida Velvet but is

softer. Of the Honduras Velvet sponges the coast of British Honduras

has produced the best. The Jaaaica Velvet is inferior to all other

Velvet sponges. Unlike other Velvet sponges the Jamaica Velvet has

an upright rather than a spheroidal shape, most specimens being

decidedly columnar.1

Grass sponge

Grass sponges are found commercially in Florida, the Bahamas,

Cuba, Mexico, and British Honduras. They exhibit great diversity of

shape and texture but are inferior in quality, lacking in durability,

usually harsh to the touch, or, if soft, exceedingly tender. Grass

sponges are known under the following grades in the market: Anclote

Grass, Key Grass, Bahama Grass, and Cuba Grass.2

The Anclote Grass is the choicest of the Grass sponges. It is

shaped like a vase with inverted truncated cones deeply hollowed on

the upper surface. The attached base is one-third to one-half

narrower than the upper rim; the sides are almost straight or slightly

convex, and the interior is hollowed out almost to the base. There

are no oscula on the outer surface. The walls are thin at the rim of

the vase and thicker toward the base. The skeletons are of a dirty

brown color, harsh to the touch, and highly elastic. These sponges

are used by manufacturers for cleaning purposes in machine shops


2Ibid., pp. 11-14.

since they are especially useful where there is a great deal of oil,

as greasy matter is more easily washed out of them than any other

sponge. For this reason and because of their stiff surfaces they are

also useful for washing pots and pans in the kitchen. Almost all

current production, however, is sold to curio shops along the sponge

docks in Tarpon Springs. The Anclote Grass is found distributed over

the entire Bay Grounds. The Key Grass is more diverse in appearance,

softer, more elastic, and less durable than the Anclote Grass. The

Bahama Grass is round or cake-shaped with numerous circular oscula

located on the upper surface. The Cuba Grass is the least desirable

variety of Grass sponge because of its extremely weak fiber texture.1

Glove sponge

This species has a very interesting appearance, the sides being

fluted with irregular, vertical paralleled ridges between which lie

one or two rows of round holes from one-sixteenth to three-sixteenths

of an inch in diameter. The base is almost as broad as the body of

the sponge. Glove sponges are found in the Key and Bay Grounds of

Florida and in the Bahamas. The best ones come from Biscayne Bay

which is part of the Key Grounds, while those from the Bay Grounds are

very poor and are rarely brought in by the spongers,who call them

"bread sponges" because of their excessive tenderness. Glove sponges

are very soft and elastic, but due to the weakness of their fibers

they are almost worthless for conerce.2

2id., p. 14.


Reef sponge

These sponges are found in the Bahamas, Cuba, and British

Honduras. Those found in British Honduras are inferior to the rest.

The few Reef sponges taken from the Key Grounds in Florida are not

marketed as a separate species but are included with the Yellow

sponges. Because of their limited durability these sponges bring a

low price.

Hardhead sponge

The Hardheads come from the Bahamas, British Honduras, and Cuba.

Although more durable than Reef sponges, they are very similar to the

Reef sponges from which they are differentiated mainly by their

hardness. This species is used for activities in which great softness

is not necessary, such as applying shoe dressings and moistening

stamps in offices. In general, these sponges are more durable than

Reef sponges.2

Wire sponge

This sponge comes from the vest coast of Florida and is known as

"bastard sheepswool" because of its superficial likeness to the

Sheepswool sponge. In shape it is regular, broader than high, and

attached by a broad base. The oscula are confined to the upper surface

but are smaller and more numerous than in the Sheepsvool sponge. Wire

sponges are seldom brought to market, because they lack resilience,

absorbency, and strength.3

1bid., p. 15.
2bid., p. 17.


Qualities Affecting the Value of Natural Sponges

The main qualities affecting the marketability of sponges are

color, size and shape, softness, fineness, durability, resiliency, and



The color of a sponge is of little importance from a functional

viewpoint, although it exerts a considerable influence on the price

merely for esthetic reasons. In general, the trade prefers the

lighter tones of a yellow color. A pale yellow is the most desirable

color, and in order to obtain this color sponges are frequently

bleached before they are offered to the ultimate user.2

Size and shape

The most desirable size, and to some extent shape, depends upon

the purpose to which the sponges are to be put. For example, users

will prefer a smaller sponge for toilet purposes than for washing a

car. Sponges up to approximately eight inches in diameter are marketed

whole and are called "forms."3 Sponges above an eight-inch diameter

are usually cut into pieces and are known commercially as 'buts."4

In order to be of commercial value a sponge must be regular,

massive, and free from long processes and digitations. The most

Ibid., p. 25.




desirable sponge forms are the spheroidal and cake-shaped. In

applying a glaze to pottery, however, and in other similar ork a smooth

flat surface is desired, and this is generally obtained either by

cutting up the more massive form or by taking pieces from a smooth-

surfaced, cup-shaped sponge.


Other things being equal, the better sponges are always softer.2

The extent of this characteristic depend upon the thicaess and

arrangement of the fibers and the amount of foreign matter included in

then. Sponges in which the fibers are heavily loaded with sand are

invariably harsh and consequently less desirable.


The flneness of the sponge texture differs among the species, the

Mediterranean varieties being superior in fineness over the rest.3

Pineaess also varies within the samn species, depending on the envlro -

meat under vhich the Individual apong is produced.

Durability and toughness

These factors vary with the different species and are influenced

by environmental conditions. In any given species, the looser the

general structure and the larger and aore numerous its canals the more

easily it is torn and the sooner it ears out. Far example the loose

2Ibid., p. 26.


4 Ibid.


open-textured Sheepswool sponge of Biscayne Bay is much less durable

than the denser Rock Island variety.


In general, sponges are more elastic when dry, and they gain in

compressibility when wet. Good resiliency is indicated when a vet

sponge promptly returns to its original shape when compression is

removed. Resiliency depends partly upon the size and composition of

the fibers but mainly upon the thoroughness and manner of cleaning.1

Poorly cleaned sponges contain "gurry" and therefore are sluggish in

returning to shape after compression. Gurry is liquified organic

matter which results from decomposition and is also known as "meat"

or "milk."


Absorbency is a result of a combination of softness, fineness,

and resilience. The quick absorbent sponges have slender fibers and

close textures. The existence of large canals and cavities adversely

affects the amount of water that can be absorbed by a sponge.2 From a

functional point of view this is the most important property upon

which the usefulness of a sponge depends.

lIbd., p. 27.




Geographical Location of Natural Sponges
in the United States

The sponge grounds of the United States extend over the Continental

Shelf from a depth of a few feet to approximately 150 feet, and they

are broadly divided into two separate areas, the Bay Grounds and the

Key Grounds. The exact extent and density of the sponge population is

not known, but it is believed that these two areas cover approximately

9,300 square miles of sponge-yielding bottom. An ocean floor with

firm and clean objects is necessary for sponge growth, since sponges

cannot attach themselves to sand, mud, or grass. Thus, bottom topog-

raphy is an important factor in the determination of the sponge beds.2

Sponge-bearing grounds, or "bars'" as the spongers call them, are

found through the use of a "glass bucket" in shallow waters. In deeper

waters they are located by means of a "sounding lead." This is a soap-

covered device which, when it reaches the bottom, picks up samples of

the sea floor, thus informing the crew of the presence or absence of

sponges. This and other techniques of sponge fishing were observed by

the author during several trips aboard the diving craft Eleni" in the

summer of 1964.

The Bay Grounds

The Bay Grounds are located in the open waters of the Gulf of

Mexico. They begin near Johns Pass, a few miles north of Tampa Bay,

and extend a distance of 160 miles, as far as St. Marks.3 Spongers

Florida, State Board of Conservation, Second Biennial Report,
Biennium Ending June 30, 1936, p. 64.
2Stuart, p. 2.
3stuart, p. 43.


divide this area into regions, such as Rock Island, Pepperfish Key,

New Ground, Withlacoochee Light, St. Martin's Reef, Anclote Key, and

Highlands. The better qualities of United States sponges come from

the Bay Grounds, the area responsible for over 90 per cent of United

States natural sponge fishing.1

The Key Grounds

The Key Grounds consist of the reefs and keys in the inshore

waters around Key West, Florida Bay, and the lower part of Biscayne

Bay. Some sponge bars are also interspersed in the area between

Cape Sable and the mouth of Tampa Bay. Until the discovery of the

Bay Grounds in 1873, the Key Grounds were the only source of supply

for sponges in Florida. These grounds now are comparatively

exhausted, and they make a smaller than 10 per cent contribution to

the total sponge catch. Since sponges taken from the Key Grounds

are found in relatively shallow waters they are inferior in durability

and texture to Bay Ground sponges.

lU. S., Congress, House, House Miscellaneous Reports IV, 81st
Cong., 2d Sess., 1950, H. Rept. 2120, p. 2.

2Stuart, p. 43.


4U. S., Congress, House, House Miscellaneous Reports IV, p. 2.



The purpose of this chapter is to trace the economic developments

in the Florida sponge fisheries from their inception to the present

time. In any fishery natural elements, such as weather, marine dis-

eases, and sheer luck, are important factors in determining levels of

production. The importance and effect of these unmeasurable factors

on sponge fishing is studied through the examination of landing statis-

tics of past years.1

The accuracy of early fishery statistics in the Unitod States is

questionable, and even the most recent fishery statistics are contra-

dictory and lack the accuracy necessary for a precise description of

the situation. In discussing this point, C. P. Idyll deplores the

fact that in reporting landing figures for the State of Florida, the

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Florida reported

widely differing figures.2 Despite their shortcomings, however, such

data are helpful in indicating trends and broad relationships which

can be used to advantage in solving fishery problems and in recom-

mending alternative policies and ways of action.

'Landing figures indicate the aggregate pounds of fishery products
caught by commercial fishermen on an annual basis.

2Clarence P. Idyll, How Can Statistics Increase The CatchT Florida
Board of Conservation Educational Series No. 3 (Coral Gables, Fla.:
Marine Laboratory, University of Miami, 1949), p. 5.



A historical survey of the sponge fisheries would indicate that

the fisheries have experienced some unusual developments since 1937,

as contrasted to their normal behavior since their inception in the

middle 1800's. The year 1937 can be considered as a turning point in

the sponge fisheries it is pertinent to analyze the industry under

two time intervals: (1) the early period covering the years 1895 to

1937, and (2) the later period covering events from 1937 to the present

time.1 Although there is a complete absence of data for the years

1909-1912, it is convenient for purposes of analysis to label the

entire period from 1895 to 1937 as the early period. The year 1895

was selected as a starting point, because prior to that time no

statistical information on the United States sponge fisheries is avail-

able. The historical development of the sponge fisheries will be

discussed in the following section.

Historical Development

The sponge fisheries of the western Atlantic have been commercially

known since the 1840's. It was around that period that New World

sponges were introduced to world markets by a French merchant who had

been shipwrecked in the Bahamas.

In the United States, Key West was the first and for many years

the only sponge center. In all probability the natives of the keys

knew about sponges and their utilization long before they became an

article of commerce, but the first shipment of sponges was sent from

Key West to New York in 1849, where they were sold for ten cents

IStorr, p. 51.

2Stuart, p. 4.


per pound.1 Prior to this time American demand for sponges had been

satisfied through imports from the Mediterranean.2

Beginning in the year 1895, Tarpon Springs exceeded Key West in

the sale of sponges and as time passed became the center of the United

States and later of the world sponge industry. At present it is

estimated that more than 95 per cent of the United States sponge

fishing takes place in Tarpon Springs, Florida. It is interesting to

note that despite this shift in emphasis from Key W est to Tarpon

Springs, the sponge fisheries of the United States are still restricted

to a single state, namely Florida.

The successful sale of Key West sponges in 1849 was followed by

a continuous increase in capital investment and employment in the

sponge fisheries of this locality. These facts were reported in the

Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congressj however,

no specific figures were given on the amount of increase in investment

and employment.4 At first sponges were gathered by merely pulling

them out of shallow water by hand. Later, as it became impossible to

find sponges in sufficiently shallow waters, the practice of wading had

to be abandoned. In order to obtain sponges from deeper waters

spongers invented the sponge hook, a sharp hook attached to a pole of

moderate length. The fisherman would scan the bottom of the ocean from

i4oore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress,
p. 425.


3Interview with Louis Smitzes, President of Tarpon Springs Sponge
Exchange, Tarpon Springs, Fla., April 6, 1964.

4Moore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress,
p. 426.


the bow of his boat and tear sponges loose with the hook as they came

to his attention. Thus, it became possible to reach sponges at

slightly greater depths.

A continuously increasing demand for sponges, coupled with the

exhaustion of the shallow water beds, pushed the sponge operations

into progressively deeper waters.1 It became almost impossible to

scan the bottom of the ocean for sponges as spongers moved into in-

creasingly greater depths. In order to overcome this difficulty the

"glass bucket" was introduced, first about 1870.2 This was a regular

bucket with a glass bottom and is still being used today by many

fishermen. By means of this instrument it became possible to see the

bottom of the ocean up to a depth of 50 feet in clear waters. In the

early days wading and hooking were the only methods used by Key West

spongers. This is easily understood since the methods of the sponging

industry of the United States were virtually copied from those of the

Bahamas, and most of the Key West spongers were brought in from those

islands.3 There is no record of any other changes between the years

1870 and 1905.

In the spring of 1905, a Greek named John Cocoris with the

assistance of John Cheyney, a sponge dealer, decided to try sponging

methods employed in the Mediterranean.4 With this method sponge fish-

ing can be extended to depths up to 150 feet, whereas spongers using

Ibid., p. 509.
2Ibid., p. 437.

3Interview with Louis Smitzes, April, 1964.

4George D. Protos, '"he Sponge Industry of Tarpon Springs"
(unpublished paper in the files of the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida
History, University of Florida, n. d.), p. 28.

the hooking method cannot go beyond a depth of 50 feet under the most

favorable conditions.

John Cocoris brought men and sponging materials from the old

country to Tarpon Springs in order to carry out his experiment,and

made his first trip in April, 1905. This first trip was so successful

that by May, 1906, little more than a year later, there were 50 diving

boats at work and 35 more were waiting for crews to be supplied,

largely from the Greek islands.1

The first diving boats used in Florida were locally built sloops

which had been remodeled to fit the new requirements. It was reported

that these boats were not suitable for the job; however, the author was

unable to ascertain why the earlier sloops were unfit for diving

operations. The immigrants introduced boats styled after vessels in

Greece. The same type boats are used by spongers today, although

several improvements, such as diesel engines and wireless comnanica-

tions, have been incorporated into the contemporary vessels.2

The successful use of the scaphander resulted in considerable

agitation within the sponge industry, especially among Key West

spongers using the hooking method. This is easy to understand since

at that time sponge fishing was the number one industry in Key West,

as is indicated by the following quotation:

1Moore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress,
p. 42. w
2Interview with Louis Smitzes, April, 1964.


The sponge fishery is of more importance to the citizens of
Key West than any other branch of business. The outlay for
supplies and utensils required by the numerous sponge fleet,
amounting to $100 or $200 per vessel each trip, is no incon-
siderable factor in the industrial condition of the place,
while the large cash sums put in circulation by the sponge
buyers constitute the principal source of ready money for a
large proportion of the population.1

Despite the fact that Key West spongers were objecting primarily for

economic reasons,they pretended to be concerned only about the conser-

vation of the sponge beds. For example, Mr. E. J. Arapian, a well-

known Key West sponge dealer, objected to machine diving on the ground

that sponges cease to grow where submarine divers have walked with

their heavy shoes.

In an attempt to lessen the animosity of the users of the hooking

method, Greek divers carried their operations well offshore into depths

of 60 feet and over, but this only made matters worse because the

sponges found in deeper waters were of larger size and better quality

and, consequently, coaianded higher prices in the market.3

The animosity of the Key West spongers was carried to the extent

of burning Greek diving boats and influencing the Florida legislature

in the passage of a law prohibiting the taking of sponges through

diving, either with or without the scaphander, within a three-mile

limit. All such efforts proved to be inadequate in halting the

progress of machine diving. Greek divers showed themselves to be

superior to Key West hookers in gathering sponges, and eventually they

'U. S., Congress, The Fish and Fisheries of the Coastal Waters
of Florida, 54th Cong., 2d Sess., 1897, Doc. 100, p. 37.

21bid., p. 6.

3Moore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress,
p. a441.
4Florida, Statutes (1914), c. 253.659.


practically obtained a monopoly on all methods of sponging used on the

Florida coast.1

H. F. Moore uses the following example to illustrate this fact.

In 1909, the schooner"Fillmore, manned by ten Greeks, was out for 60

days and had fished in depths of 35 to 40 feet, bringing in sponges

that were sold for a total of $2,180.2 A non-Greek schooner with

thirteen of the most skilled hookers and under one of the best captains

sponged for 42 days in depths of less than 30 feet, bringing in a

revenue of $1,180.3 The second vessel yielded $2.16 per man-day,

almost 59 per cent less than the Greek vessel which averaged $3.63 per


In 1908, several sponge dealers took the initiative in establish-

ing the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange. Prior to the establishment of

the Exchange, sponges were sold at the various "crawls" around the

city. A crawl was a shore enclosure about ten feet square, constructed

of stakes driven close together, in which live sponges were exposed to

air and sun in order to accelerate laceration. As there were a number

of crawls at considerable distances from each other, dealers had to

waste much time in traveling from crawl to crawl. In order to obviate

this inconvenience they organized the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange.

This is a non-profit cooperative organization whose shares are owned

by the sponge dealers, and it is financed through a 2 per cent billing

3Wloore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress,
p. 441.

3_bid., p. 442.

4Stuart, p. 35.


on the sales of each boat's merchandise. A more detailed description

of this organization is offered in Chapter IV.

The establishment of the Exchange gave Tarpon Springs a permanent

lead over Key West. At present, all industry statistics are based on

transactions which have taken place in the Tarpon Springs Sponge

Exchange, and it is estimated that such transactions amount to better

than 95 per cent of total industry dealings in the United States.1

Early Period, 1895-1937


In 1895, the sponge fisheries were Florida's most valuable fisher-

ies with 306,120 pounds of landings valued at $368,871. During that

year Florida landings were 37,036,768 pounds at a value of $1,209,725.

The value of sponge landings was approximately one-third of total

landings. The landings of the next four most valuable Florida fisheries

were valued at $555,086. The mullet fisheries were second to sponges

in importance with landings valued at $310,847, followed by red snapper

landings valued at $155,346, oyster landings valued at $61,723, and

sea trout landings with a value of $27,170.2 Table 2 contains the

earliest available production statistics by species for the sponge

fisheries of Florida. Figure 1 indicates landings and value of landings

for the period of 1895 to 1936.

*bid., p. 45.

2Carter C. Osterbind, Florida's Commercial Fisheries: Markets,
Operations, Outlook (State Economic Studies, No. 7; Gainesville, Fla.:
Bureau of Economic & Business Research, University of Florida, 1955),
P. 153.


o o o 8
8 8o o o o

0 0

to oa

S i




Wool Yellov

Prices Prices
Per Per
Pounds Dollars Pound Pounds Dollars Pound Pounds

1895 231,272 363,107 1.57 29,509 11,789 .40 21,387
1896 149,724 248,196 1.66 23,655 9,318 .39 44,617
1897 157,476 240,599 1.53 32,362 13,082 .40 128,622
1898 .. .. .
1899 153,700 332,390 2.16 55,800 16,205 .29 76,900
1900 181,311 483,263 2.67 74,466 44,045 .59 143,112
1901 .. .. .. .. .. ..
1902 so 0
1903 219,334 411,562 1.88 62,001 18,390 .46 83,381
1904 184,645 346,784 1.88 47,213 17,183 .36 51,977
1905 235,561 483,444 2.05 45,070 19,234 .43 67,431
1906 431,214 801,437 1.86 103,938 39,154 .38 46,765
1907 278,334 470,076 1.69 265,662 76,955 .29 158,214
1908 309,681 484,553 1.56 190,714 43,129 .23 109,617

Source: 1895-1899 from Hugh M. Saith, Notes on the Florida
Commission, Vol. XIX for 1899 (Washington: U. S. Government Print-
Florida in 1900, U. 8. Commission of Fish and Fisheries extract
Printing Office, 1903). 1903-1908 from Moore, Proceedings of the




Grass Other Total

Prices Prices Prices
Per Per Per
Dollars Pound Pounds Dollars Pound Pounds Dollars Pound

5,464 .26 23,952 6,502 .27 306,320 386,387 1.26
11,508 .26 18,315 3,990 .22 236,311 273,032 1.16
29,188 .23 13,086 3,171 .24 331,546 286,040 .86

14,319 :19 18,000 5,000 .28 304,400 367,914 1.21
33,263 .23 17,236 7,114 .41 316,546 567,685 1.80

14,794 .18 13,199 2,600 .20 377,915 447,346 1.18
9,541 .18 7,732 2,687 .35 291,546 376,195 1.29
16,166 .24 17,030 3,812 .22 365,092 522,926 1.43
12,409 .27 7,977 1,583 .32 589,894 854,583 1.45
30,711 .19 1,706 408 .24 703,916 571,751 .82
17,230 .16 12,477 3,964 .32 622,489 548,876 .88

ponge Fishery in 1899, House Documents, Bulletin of the U. S. Fish
ing Office, 1901). 1900 from John N. Cobb, The Sponge Fishery of
from U. S. Fish Comission Report for 1902 (Washingtons U. S. Government
Fourth International Fishery Congress.


The supply of sponges and of any type of fishery product depends

on many factors, such as period of operational activity during a given

year, condition or normalcy of the beds during the same period, and

productivity of the fishing fleet during that year. Sponge fishermen

have no power over most of these factors. Bad weather conditions can

greatly influence the amount of time that fishermen can spend produc-

tively in retrieving sponges in any given year. Marine diseases also

have an adverse effect on sponge production, because such epidemics

invariably reduce the amount of sponges available for fishing.

From the inception of the industry until 1905, sponge fishermen

utilized one type of gear, that used in hooking operations. Beginning

in 1905, a new method of operation was introduced to the industry, the

method of retrieving sponges from the bottom of the sea through the

use of submarine divers equipped with a diving suit and helmet.

Machine diving used more capital and proved to be more productive than

the hooking method. After 1905, the level of production in the sponge

industry depended on the productivity of two types of gear, namely

those of hooking and machine diving.

Machine diving has an advantage over hooking in the sense that

fairly rough surface waters cannot prohibit the machine divers'

fishing, while hooking requires a relatively smooth surface; however,

machine divers at times have been unable to locate sponge beds even

under the most serene surface conditions because of poor visibility at

the bottom.

Eachine divers have mentioned "milky bottoms" as a kind of
submarine fog which limits visibility at the bottom of the ocean.

Figure 2 shows that landings per craft between 1905 and 1908 were

considerably higher for diving ships than for booking ships, indicating

the superiority of the newer method of operation. When the comparison

is made on a value of landings basis rather than a weight of landings

basis, diving outfits indicate an even better situation. There are

three reasons for this (1) sponges retrieved by diving bring a

higher price per pound than those obtained by hooking, because deep

water sponges are superior in quality to shallow water sponges; (2) in

addition to harvesting more sponges, historically speaking, diving

outfits have concentrated on the more valuable species, such as the

Sheepswool sponges; (3) sponges obtained by diving are in better

physical condition than those obtained by hooking, since the hook used

in hooking operations often damages the sponges.1 Table 3 shows that

with the exception of the year 1905, which marks the beginning of

machine diving, the catch of diving outfits percentage-wise has con-

sistently exceeded that of hooking outfits. Figure 3 indicates that

average prices received by diving outfits, although volatile, were

always higher than those received by hooking outfits.

The production of sponges for the years 1895 and 1908 is shown in

Figure 2. It can be seen that the introduction of machine diving gave

considerable impetus to the quantity of sponges gathered. Between the

years 1904 and 1907 sponge landings increased by 141 per cent, and the

value of such landings went up by 52 per cent. Although sponge prices

are determined by all of the conditions of supply and demand, one

cannot overlook the importance of specific factors, such as seasonality,

stuart, p. 29.


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Year Catch Value of Catch

Hooking Diving Total Hooking Diving Total

1905 97.29 2.73 100.00 90.87 9.13 100.00

1906 39.25 60.75 100.00 25.25 74.75 100.00

1907 39.20 60.80 100.00 31.37 68.63 100.00

1908 36.47 63.53 loo.oo 33.06 66.94 100.oo

Source: Moore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery

substitute products, existence of large buyers, and quality, in the

determination of market prices. Other factors, such as profit and

cost considerations, competitor practices, product replacement rate,

stability of industry price structure, credit terms, trade discount

policies, promotional activities, and government regulations, may also

influence prices; however, there is a complete absence of information

on such factors for the early years of the sponge industry. Average

sponge prices declined by 36 per cent between 1904 and 1907. This

could have been the result of an excess in the quantity produced by

the prolific machine diving method of operation, the result of

gathering sponges of inferior quality, or some other factor not known

at present. As was pointed out previously, the supply of sponges

depends on many natural factors over which the producers have little

or no control. The same is true, although to a lesser extent, for


the quality of sponges. Spongers rely on luck in locating sponge beds

of a given quality, although experience does play a small role. In

addition, the quality of any sponge bed hinges on natural factors,

such as the direction of underwater currents and the existence or

absence of micro-organisms, which cannot be controlled by man. Since

it is a non-perishable commodity, it is possible to hold sponge supplies

until market conditions become favorable. Because of their limited

resources, most fishermen are unable to exercise such market power,

although some sponge packers have been known to engage in such

practices.1 The exercise of market power by a minority of packers is

against the interests of the majority of these firms; however, at

present their cooperative, the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange, has no

provision to take care of this problem.


With the exception of a survey conducted in 1932 by Pinellas

County,2 there are no statistics available on investment in the sponge

fisheries after 1908.

Table 4 indicates investment in the sponge fisheries of Florida

for available years from 1880 to 1963. The decline of total dollars

invested has not been as spectacular as the decline in the size of the

fleet used in sponge fishing, due to the constant decline in the value

of the dollar.

1Interview with Nick Gialourakis, owner of Nick Gialourakis
Packing Firm, Tarpon Springs, Fla., May 12, 1964.

2Fred K. Sage, "Sponge Industry Sumaary Report," Pinellas County,
Fla., C. W. A. Project 52-89. (Mimeographed.)



YEARS, 1880-1963

Investment in Hooking Craft Diving Craft Total Employment
Year Current Dollars Index Index Index

1880 $162,050 .
1900 494,866 ..
1903 502,669 ..
1904 417,591
1905 459,871 100 100 100.00
1906 447,033
1907 479,064
1908 555,267 68 1025 164.00
1932 270,000
1937 .. 76 600 67.00
1940 .. 52 558 51.00
1950 .. 8 50 .60
1955 .. 12 117 1.10
1960 .. 7 100 .90
1961 .. 25 100 1.60
1962 411,300 24 150 1.08
1963 325,000 22 108 ..

Source: 1880, 1900, 1903-1908 from Moore, Proceedings of the
Fourth International Fishery Congress. 1932 from "A Survey of the
Sponge Industry," F. E. R. A. Project No. 52-7-31. (Typewritten.)
1962-1963 based on estimates by the President of the Tarpon Springs
Sponge Exchange and boat captains. Index numbers based on Table 8
and Table 15.

aIn 1932 there were 51 diving craft and 15 hooking craft in the
sponge fisheries of Florida. Each diving craft had a market value of
$5,000 and each hooking craft a market value of $500. In 1962 the
fisheries had 18 diving craft and 81 hooking craft. Each of the former
had a market value of $17,000, and each of the latter was valued at
$1,300. By 1963 the number of diving craft had declined to 13 and
that of hooking craft to 80 with no change in estimated market values
from 1962.

Between the years 1880 and 1903 investment in the sponge fish-

eries increased steadily and became relatively stable between 1903 and

1908. In 1908, the level of investment in the sponge fisheries

reached its peak, probably because of a tremendous increase in the

size of the diving fleet during that year. Although statistics con-

cerning investment in the industry are scant, from available informa-

tion one can deduce that the level of investment in the sponge fish-

eries declined rapidly during the depression of the 1930's and has been

rather unstable since 1962. Table 4 dramatizes this situation by the

use of index numbers. Taking the year 1905 as a base year, total

physical investment in the hooking fleet in 1963, measured in numbers

of craft, had declined by 78 per cent. By using the same base year one

gets an index of 108 for the diving fleet, meaning that between the

years 1905 and 1963 the diving fleet increased by 8 per cent. However,

one should not overlook the fact that 1905 was the year in which

machine diving was first introduced to the shores of the western

Atlantic and that, taking 1905 as a base, the boat-number index stood

at 1025 in 1908, only three years later (again see Table 4).


With the exception of the Pinellas County survey made in 1934,

there are no statistics available on operating costs in the sponge

fisheries. This survey gives the operating costs of 49 diving craft

for the first six months of 1934. The total operating costs for the

fleet are shown to be $104,136 with an average figure of $2,123 per





Item Amount Average

Gas and Oil $35,731.00 $729

Food and Supplies 41,512.89 847

Diving Suits 6,050.00 123

Interest for Trip 6,145.00 125

Boat and Engine Repairs 11,052.26 225

Exchange Fees 3,644.85 74

Total $104,136.00 $2,123

Source: Pinellas County, Fla., F. E. R. A. Project No. 52-F2-31.

If it is assumed that the next six months were similar to the

preceding six months, the annual operating expenses were $208,272 for

the fleet, and each of the 49 boats had an average of $4,246 as oper-

ating costs* This figure is only $88 lower than the present average

operating expenses of each diving craft. The market value of a boat

more than tripled between 1934 and 1963, and in view of this fact and

the substantial increase in the average price level between 1934 and

the present, the validity of the $4,246 figure looks very questionable,

although one must always bear in mind that averages, unless adequately

explained, are full of pitfalls. The per-craft operating expenses

figure for 1934 was reached by dividing total operating expenses by

the number of boats in operation at that particular time. In 1934,

the fleet contained large boats, each with six or more divers who

harvested sponges in depths up to 150 feet.1 By contrast, all craft

in the present fleet are considerably smaller and have a maximum of

two divers who never go below 60 feet.2 It is obvious that such

large boats would have had substantially higher operating expenses.

The existence of such extreme values might have influenced averages,

giving the above-mentioned unrealistic picture of costs. To be sure,

the above treatment of costs is based on fragmentary information and

may be only of historical value; however, historical data are fre-

quently important in comprehending current events. By relating past

and present information, it is often possible to give meaning to

present occurrences and to understand the forces that brought such

phenomena into existence.


According to a survey of Florida fisheries made by Professor

Carter C. Osterbind in 1953, the number of fishermen in Florida has

not tended to increase over the past half century but has fluctuated

around the number employed in the industry at the beginning of the

century (see Table 6). Table 7 indicates total employment and employ-

ment by method of operation in the sponge fisheries for the years 1895

to 1908. While fishery employment has remained relatively stable in

Florida, employment in the sponge fisheries has declined precipitously.

Between 1895 and 1905 employment in the sponge fisheries increased by

1Interview with John Samarkos, Captain of the diving craft"Eleni,"
Tarpon Springs, Fla., May 11, 1964.



Year Number of Fishermen

1890 ................... 5,472

1895 ................... 6,154

1897 ................... 6,143

1902 .................. 9,114

1908 .................. 9,212

1918 .......... ........ 8,491

1923 ............. ...... 7,661

197 . . . . . . . . . 8,275

1928 .................. 8,870

1930 ................... 7,878

1940 ................... 8 8,937

1945 ................... 6,104a

1950 ....... ............ 10,281

1955 .... ................ 14,332

1960 .............. .... 10,520

1961 ................... .. 10,156

1962 ................... 10,589

Source: 1890-1950 from Osterbind. 1955-1962 from U. S., Fish
and Wildlife Service, U. S. Fishery Statistics.

west Coast only.


OPERATION, 1895, 1900, 1903-1908

Hooking Diving Total
Year Craft Fishermen Craft Fishermen Employment

1895 282 1,419 .. .. 1,419

1900 384 2,113 .. 2,113

1903 383 2,085 .. .. 2,085

1904 338 1,777 .. 1,777

1905 337 1,743 12 166 1,909

1906 244 1,272 69 942 2,214

1907 255 999 78 1,089 2,088

1908 228 978 123 1,342 2,320

Source: 1895 from U. S., Congress, The Fish and Fisheries of
the Coastal Waters of Florida. 1900 from Cobb. 1903-1908 from Moore,
Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress.

34 per cent. Sponge fishery employment reached a peak of 2,320 only

three years later in 1908. Although no employment statistics are

available after 1908, by 1937 employment in the sponge fisheries had

declined by one-third as compared to its 1905 level. Twenty-five

years later, in 1962, sponge fishery employment had declined by almost

99 per cent as compared to employment figures in 1905.

From Figure 4 one can see that employment in hooking started its

decline in 1905 with the introduction of machine diving. By 1907,

employment in the diving fleet exceeded employment in hooking, and

this situation was not reversed until 1950.


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Other things, such as working conditions, ease of entrance and

training, opportunities for advancement, and degree of occupational

hazard, being equal, the level of employment in an industry depends upon

the level of wages. Wages, on the other hand, depend on the level of

productivity, since a higher productivity indicates ability to pay

higher wages.1 This condition, however, may not materialize. Labor

productivity in the sponge fisheries can be measured in terms of the

value of average catch per fisherman. The value of average catch per

fisherman is derived by dividing total landings by the total number of

fishermen employed, and it depends on two factors: (1) the weight and

quality of the landed species and (2) the market price that such

species will command.

A comparison of Table 8 with Table 9 shows that the value of

average catch per fisherman from the very beginning was considerably

higher in machine diving. This was so because diving craft not only

landed more sponges per enterprise unit but also were able to market

their product at higher prices per pound. The columns showing the

average price per pound of sponges in Table 8 and Table 9 show this

relationship to be true for every year. This higher productivity,

coupled with better earnings in machine diving, appears to have caused

employment to decline in hooking operations. Also, the introduction of

machine diving had a secondary adverse effect on employment in the

sponge fisheries. One might say that machine diving, in addition to

being more productive, was also a labor-saving method of operation.

Like any other capital intensive method of production, machine diving

1Abraham L. Gitlow, Labor Economics and Industrial Relations
(Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, 1957), p. 424.


1895, 1900, 1903-1908

Value of Value of Average
Catch Per Average Catch Average Catch Price
Craft in Per Craft Per Fisherman Per Pound
Year Pounds in Dollars in Dollars in Dollars

1895 1,806 1,379 272 1.26

1900 823 1,478 269 1.80

1903 987 1,168 215 1.18

1904 863 1,113 212 1.29

1905 1,054 1,412 273 1.34

1906 781 885 170 1.13

1907 1,008 735 180 .70

1908 1,023 796 186 .78

Source: 1895 from U. S., Congress, The Fish and Fisheries of the
Coastal Waters of Florida. 1900 from Cobb. 1903-1908 from Moore,
Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery Congress.

tends to use less labor and more capital. This fact, later coupled

with shrinking markets because of substitute competition from synthetics

and diseases in the sponge beds, resulted in a precipitous decline in

total employment in the sponge fisheries as indicated in Table 4.

As was mentioned previously the value of average catch per

fisherman concept is by no means an indication of the actual wages

received by fishermen. It is only a measure of labor productivity.

The actual wages received by fishermen depend on many additional

factors, such as employer bargaining power, degree of intra-industry



Value of Value of Average
Catch Per Average Catch Average Catch Price
Craft in Per Craft Per Fisherman Per Pound
Year Pounds in Dollars in Dollars in Dollars

1905 833 3,980 288 4.78

1906 5,803 9,257 678 1.60

1907 5,113 5,031 360 .98

1908 3,164 2,987 274 .94

Source Moore, Proceedings of the Fourth International Fishery

competition, and fishermen's ability to find employment in other

fisheries or fields of employment.

There are no actual earnings figures available for fishermen in

the sponge industry, with the exception of the Pinellas County survey.

According to this report,earnings in the sponge fisheries for the

first six months of 1934 were as follows

Average earnings for divers $612.50
Average earnings for engineers 382.00
Average earnings for life line tenders 300.00
Average earnings for crew members 215.00

A more detailed description of earnings will be given in the next

chapter, although at this stage it might be pertinent to mention that

labor remuneration in the sponge fisheries is not a set amount of

wages but consists of a sharing system after the subtraction of

certain costs from total receipts.


The Period from 1937 to 1964

The ye:irs following 1937 were full of unprecedented disturbances

for the Florida sponge industry. Factors, such as the 1937 disease of

the sponge beds, World War II, competition from synthetics, the

disease of 1947 (the red tide), and an acute shortage of labor,

caused the sponge industry to undergo drastic changes. The effects of

these events by themselves and through interaction with each other

appear to have shaped the future of the sponge industry in an unalter-

able manner.


The year 1937 marks the beginning of a secular decline in the

sponge fisheries, for it was in 1937 that a destructive marine

microorganism invaded all the known sponge beds in the western

Atlantic, resulting in a drastic decline in sponge landings. The

velvet sponges were hardest hit by this disease and were almost com-

pletely wiped out. Despite this decline in the weight of landings,

however, the number of hooking craft between 1937 and 1939 increased

from 256 to 301 and the number of diving craft from 72 to 89 (see

Table 14).

The decline in the productivity of the sponge beds, coupled with

an increased number of craft, resulted in lower landings per craft.

For example, between 1937 and 1940 landings per diving craft declined

from 6,551 pounds to 3,027 pounds. In the meantime, the value of

average landings per diving craft declined only slightly between 1937

and 1940, from $13,259 to $11,445 because of higher prices received

(see Tables 15 and 16).


As can be seen in Figure 5 the decline in landings was accom-

panied by a tremendous increase in the value of landings. This

increase was caused primarily by the entrance of the Federal Government

in the market as an active sponge buyer. During the war years the

United States Government bought practically all the sponges landed.1

The existence of such a large-scale buyer caused sponge prices to sky-

rocket within a very short period of time. For example, average

sponge prices at the producers' level rose from $2.49 per pound in

1939 to $15.99 a pound in 1946 (see Table 10). It was such price

increases that lured additional investment into the sponge fisheries

at a time when the productivity of the sponge beds was declining

because of a marine disease. Although no official statistics are

available on the number of craft in the sponge fisheries during the

war years, in conversations with fishermen in Tarpon Springs the

author was told that more than 90 diving craft were in operation

during World War II.

The interaction of the 1937 disease and World War II set the

stage for the final collapse which took place in 1949. There were two

reasons for the collapse. First, heavy government purchasing during

the war years dislocated many established trade relationships.

Unable to compete with the government many natural sponge users had

to use substitute products during the war years when sponges were

scarce. It was impossible to recapture such users after the war, and

the majority of them, including the American housewife, were lost

permanently to synthetics.2 Second, an increase in the number of

l"Sponges for War," Business Week, April 10, 1943, p. 30.
2Interview with Edward Riley, President of American Sponge and
Chamois Co., Long Island City, N. Y., November 19, 1964.








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craft at a time when sponge beds were hit by an epidemic meant that

the beds were being fished to the point of depletion. Figure 6

indicates how rapidly catch per craft declined after 1937. This

should have aroused some concern about conservation of the sponge

beds, but instead higher prices caused practices which led to an

almost complete exhaustion of the beds.

After the exit of the United States Government from the market as

an active buyer of sponges, average per pound prices fell from the

$15.99 peak in 1946 to $6.26 in 1948. Average catch per diving craft

stood at 1,458 pounds in 1949. This decline in catch per craft along

with greatly weakened prices caused the number of diving craft to be

reduced to 40 in 1949, a decline of almost 50 per cent in three years.

The final blow to the industry came when the already exhausted sponge

beds were struck by another disease in 1949.2

After having reached a peak of $2,716,000 in 1945 (again see

Table 10), sponge landings dropped to $110,755 by 1951, a period of

six years. The diving fleet, which had consisted of over 90 craft

during the war, contained only two outfits in 1952 (again see Table 14).

This fluctuation in the number of craft can be explained in terms of

opportunity costs. In economics the concept of opportunity cost

denotes the most favorable price that can be commanded by a factor of

production, which thus tends to become the minimum coat at which that

factor can be had by any user.3 Although sponge outfits are a

1Storr, p. 51.

2Ibid., p. 48.

3Harold S. Sloan and Arnold J. Zurcher, A Dictionary of Economics
(New York: Barnes & Noble, 1958), p. 234.


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specialized type of fishing craft, when yields in sponging fall too

low it becomes necessary for some outfits to convert to other types of

fishing. For example, after 1952 many diving craft converted to

shrimp boats.l This exodus of outfits came to an end vhen the

remaining craft could earn a satisfactory return, that is, when the

earnings in the sponge fisheries were equal to earnings in the next

easiest accessible type of fishery.

The reduction of the fleet also had a beneficial effect on the

productivity of sponge beds; with fewer fishing outfits in existence

sponge beds could be fished less extensively. This reduction in

fishing effort gave the almost depleted sponge beds an opportunity to

recuperate. As the sponge beds recuperated catch per craft improved.

Assuming that there is no change in the price level, increasing

catch per craft means higher earnings. Higher earnings in turn attract

more investment into the fisheries, and this condition continues until

the last craft attracted to the sponge fisheries earns an amount equal

to what it would have earned in some other type of fishing activity.

A practical application of the afore-mentioned relationship can be

observed in the anticipated earnings behavior of the shrimp fisheries

during 1953 and 1957. In the shrimp fisheries these years were

characterized by very high landings per craft, and each of these years

was followed by a large increase in the size of the fishing fleet in

the shrimp fisheries.2 Of course, such conditions will be met only

under the postulate of labor and capital mobility. To the extent that

1Interview with Louis Smitzes, May, 1964.
2Carter C. Osterbind and Robert A. Pantier, Economic Study of the
Shrimp Industry in the Gulf and South Atlantic States (Gainesville, Fla
Bureau of Economic & Business Research, University of Florida, 1965) p 23.

factors of production are immobile,the production of a particular

economic good will not respond readily to changes in the level of


The degree of mobility is not the same for hooking and machine

diving. As can be seen in Figure 7 hooking craft enter into and exit

from sponge fishing more readily than diving craft. This is due to

the fact that diving, as compared to hooking, is a more specialized

operation. It takes more effort to convert diving outfits into other

types of fishing boats, whereas hooking outfits can be easily adapted

to other types of fishing. Also, unlike hooking, machine diving is a

highly skilled operation, and such skills cannot be easily transferred

to other types of fishing at the same level of earnings. In other

words, diving craft personnel may be as mobile as other fishermen in

obtaining less skilled Jobs, but they have less horizontal mobility

since no other type of fishing operation has use for submarine divers.


Based on current market values expert opinion has estimated 1963

investment in the sponge fisheries to be approximately $325,000 (again

see Table 4). This figure is restricted to investment in the fleet

alone and does not include money invested in shore facilities, such as

the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange, or other auxiliary activities, such

as investment in the packing establishments.

Figure 7 shows fluctuations of physical investment measured in

number of craft in the sponge fishery. It can be observed from the

chart that the number of hooking outfits has fluctuated more widely

1Kenneth E. Boulding, Economic Analysis (3rd ed.; New York:
Harper & Bros., 1955), p. 21.--








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Hooking Diving

Tear Fishermen Fishermen Total
raft Craft ment
Regular Casual Total Regular Casual Total







* a
















S 634

6 72
12 78
12 54
5 58
6 62
12 72
12 72



Source: U. S., Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Fishery Statistics.


than the number of diving outfits. The reasons for this pattern will

be explained in the following section. Although diving outfits have

always been fever in number than hooking outfits, with the exception

of a few years, they have always landed a larger percentage of the

total catch (see Table 17). The same table also indicates that for

each year the percentage value of landings credited to diving craft

has always exceeded their percentage contribution to physical landings,

thus showing that throughout history the diving fleet has maintained

its ability to command better prices for its products.

As can be seen from Figure 6 productivity per enterprise unit has

always been highest for diving craft. This has been true without

exception, even for years when the entire diving fleet has landed

fewer sponges than the entire hooking fleet. The recent upsurge in

the number of hooking craft is not of great significance, since a

majority of such outfits do their fishing as a sideline or on a part-

time basis. The number of diving craft seems to have stabilized

during the last few years, mainly due to a shortage of qualified


Figure 8 and Figure 9 show the relationship between the number

of craft (physical investment) and catch per craft for hooking and

diving outfits respectively. One can readily deduce that as the

number of craft decreases the productivity per enterprise unit tends

to go up, but this increase in productivity per craft assuming no

drastic decline in sponge prices will attract outfits that had

previously left sponging for more lucrative fishing activities.

Figure 10 illustrates the concept of stable equilibrium in the sponge

fisheries; however, the relationships pictured in Figure 10 will occur


0 0 0 0
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o o o,
0 W

04, Ha a)
a) ILI

0 0 0
0 0 0 0



ca t
-ri 0~

co \ rl

,W 4-34

aO ca

4-4 cis
0 4-4 E-
43 0 4 Sic


o o o o

0 H 0 0
Hm 0

CH 0~

01\ co


S 0
rdm M

o 0 0 0
o 0 0 0
S 0 0 0
0c ON


re rd
SC C k
"" iSC\
a 0
0 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
Ln y"


Figure 10. An Equilibrium Model for the Sponge Fisheries of

Cost of Fishing Effort

xl x
Physical Investment


only if certain assumptions implied in the description hold true. A

change in user tastes or preferences may change the market demand to

such an extent that any fleet size based on a biological equilibrium

may have no economic meaning. For example, if most current users of

natural sponges decide to shift to synthetics, intensity of fishing

effort as determined by fleet size and level of sponge population

would be of limited economic significance. Also, a change in the

relative importance of imports could sharply alter the market share

and subsequently create unforeseen disturbances among the operators

of sponge craft. It is obvious that the existence of such conditions

could preclude the orderly adjustment described in the following


Sponge landings and cost of fishing effort are measured along

the OY axis; the OX axis measures physical investment or the number of

craft in the sponge fisheries. The curve labeled L1 is a landings

function, and it has a steadily diminishing slope because of the law

of diminishing returns; that is, as successive units of fishing craft

are applied to a fixed amount of sponges, the amount of average landings

per fishing craft, after a certain point has been reached, will decline.

Any short run shifts in this curve would depend on uncontrollable

natural elements, such as the diseases which hit the sponge beds in

1937 and 1949, and on the intensity of fishing effort as determined

by the number of craft in the sponge fleet. Curve N is a cost function,

and its slope represents the assumption that additional fishing effort

will have no inflationary effect on the prices of factors of production.

1Boulding, p. 589.


This is a reasonable assumption in view of the fact that currently

there are about seven former diving craft that could readily be made

operational were it not for the current labor shortage. Also, any

new craft constructed for the sponge fisheries would constitute such a

small percentage of total ship construction that any inflationary

effect on the prices of factors of production would be negligible.

Curve N also includes a normal return on investment which the owner of

the fishing outfit could have earned in some other type of fishing


Point E in the diagram represents an equilibrium position. At E

productive factors used in sponge fisheries have been placed in their

highest paying employment, and there is no incentive for the owners

of these productive factors to move their resources from sponge fish-

ing to another type of fishing activity.1 Since E represents an

equilibrium position, at E, ox number of craft are landing oy amount

of sponges with all enterprise units making a normal return on their

investment.2 Suppose that a marine disease were to hit the sponge

beds, greatly reducing the amount of sponges available for fishing.

This would mean a downward shift of the landings function from L to

I2. A drastic decline in the amount of sponges available for fishing

will have an adverse effect on the productivity of each craft; that is,

when the same number of craft have to share a smaller quantity of

sponges, catch per craft will decline. Assuming that there is no

change in market demand, this will make sponge fishing less attractive,

and there will be a tendency for some craft to leave the fleet. The

1Ibid., p. 566.


rate of exit will depend on the intensity of the disease plus fishing

conditions in other types of fisheries.

A reduction in the size of the domestic sponge fleet may also

occur as a result of a change in the relative importance of imports.

In 1957, 238,550 pounds of natural sponges valued at 1,415,571 were

imported. Imports have declined steadily since then and in 1963

were 83,888 pounds valued at $805,103 (see Table 39). This drop in

the relative share of imports was caused primarily by the narrowing

of the price differential between domestic and imported sponges. The

substantial price advantage enjoyed by foreign producers has tended

to diminish since 1961 (see Table 34), primarily because of supply

shortages encountered by the principal foreign producers. The increase

in domestic sponge production and in the size of the sponge fleet

since 1961 may be attributable to developments in foreign lands over

which the fisherman has no control, rather than to any fluctuations

in the domestic sponge population and/or changes in the cost of

fishing. By the same token, should foreign countries be able to solve

their supply problems, in the future the relative importance of

imports may improve. Such a situation is likely to create excess

capacity in the domestic sponge fisheries regardless of the condition

of the domestic sponge beds; however, in either case an adjustment in

the size of the fleet will take place eventually.

El in the diagram represents the new equilibrium position, and

it was reached after x1x number of craft left the sponge fisheries.

At El, oxl number of craft are landing oyl amount of sponges. In the

absence of additional domestic or foreign natural disasters this

reduction of fishing effort due to the reduction in the number of


craft, coupled with proper conservation practices, will tend to

increase the sponge population, thus pushing the landings function

upward.1 In addition to the sponge population and intensity of

fishing, the level of equilibrium landings will also depend on con-

servation laws. By placing legal limits on the size of sponges that

can be harvested, conservation authorities can move the level of

equilibrium either to the right or left of the above diagram.

Currently, both Florida and U. S. laws prohibit the harvesting of

sponges with a diameter of less than five inces when vet. This is

done in order to give young sponges a chance to propagate themselves,

since three to four years need to elapse before a sponge larva can

reach the legal fishing size.2

To be sure, the equilibrium positions described in the above

paragraphs may never materialize in actuality. The concept of

equilibrium indicates a position which provides no incentive or

opportunity to move. An enterprise unit which is in equilibrium is

obtaining the highest possible return on its factors of production

and is maximizing its profits. Any changes from this equilibrium

position will cause a decline in profits. Changes in market demand,

in costs of production, and in the state of technology may constantly

shift the equilibrium position, because the enterprise unit facing

such changes will have to readjust the employment of its factors of

production if they are to be utilized at their highest paying

capacity. Since firms in disequilibrium will tend to move toward a

IStorr, p. 67.

2Ibid., p. 17.




Catch Value Value of Average Price
Per Craft of Average Average Catch Per Pound
Year in Catch in Per Fisherman in
Pounds Dollars in Dollars Dollars

1937 6,551 13,259 1,678 2.02
1938 6,694 11,916 1,686 1.78
1939 4,264 10,564 1,485 2.48
1940 3,027 11,445 1,698 3.78
1941 .. ...
1942 .. ..
1943 .. ..
1944 ...
1945 .. .. 14.33
1946 .
1947 ....
1948 ..
1949 1,458 10,307 1,849 7.07
1950 1,517 9,280 1,547 6.12
1951 2,133 14,961 3,740 7.01
1952 6,900 39,400 6,567 5.71
1953 2,375 18,825 2,689 7.93
1954 1,011 8,310 1,385 8.22
1955 1,129 8,221 1,599 7.28
1956 1,194 10,018 2,182 8.38
1957 877 5,256 1,265 5.99
1958 1,380 13,519 2,661 9.80
1959 2,663 29,605 3,820 11.12
1960 2,583 21,966 3,661 8.50
1961 2,583 26,712 4,452 10.34
1962 2,111 19,278 3,213 9.13

Source: U. S., Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Fishery Statistics.



Catch Value Value of Average Price
Per Craft of Average Average Catch Per Pound
Year in Catch in Per Fisherman in
Pounds Dollars in Dollars Dollars

1937 624 1,035 700 1.66
1938 428 1,018 519 1.72
1939 349 737 453 2.11
1940 229 700 439 3.05
1941 .....
1942 ..
1945 ... 4.55
1947 .
1949 371 2,090 1,027 5.63
1950 461 2,653 1,263 5.80
1951 338 2,278 1,101 6.74
1952 243 1,376 659 5.65
1953 289 1,949 585 6.75
1954 125 946 493 7.56
1955 485 3,501 1,517 7.22
1956 207 1,598 757 7.72
1957 566 3,007 1,386 5.31
1958 388 1,970 928 5.08
1959 162 1,425 722 8.78
1960 470 1,981 786 4.22
1961 70 549 305 7.81
1962 123 852 692 6.90

Source: U. S., Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Fishery Statistics.




Catch Value of Catch

Hooking Diving Total Hooking Diving Total

1937 25.29 74.71 100.00 21.73 27.27 100.00
1938 20.46 79.53 100.00 19.88 80.12 100.00
1939 21.66 78.34 100.00 19.08 80.92 100.00
1940 16.51 83.49 100.00 13.79 86.21 100.00
1941 I .. . .. .
1942 . . .. .. ..
1943 .. .. *
1944 .. .
1945 23.71 76.29 100.00 8.97 91.03 100.00
1946 .. .. o .. ..
1947 .. .. .... .
1948 .
1949 15.14 84.86 100.00 12.43 87.57 100.00
1950 58.64 41.36 100.00 57.33 42.67 100.00
1951 60.49 39.51 100.00 59.55 40.45 100.00
1952 44.80 55.20 100.00 4.55 55.45 100.00
1953 45.09 54.91 100.00 41.13 58.87 100.00
1954 39.74 60.26 100.00 37.77 62.23 100.00
1955 54.47 45.53 100oo.oo 54.26 45.74 100.00
1956 31.42 68.58 100.00 29.69 70.31 100.00
1957 74.55 25.45 100.00 72.20 27.80 100.00
1958 53.54 46.46 100.00 37.40 62.60 100.00
1959 21.98 78.02 100.00 18.20 81.80 100.00
1960 25.84 74.16 100.00 14.74 85.26 100.00
1961 15.99 84.01 100.00 12.57 87.43 100.00
1962 20.89 79.11 100.00 16.47 83.53 100.00

Source: U. S., Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Fishery Statistics.

new equilibrium, the significance of this concept lies in the fact

that it indicates the direction in which economic changes can be

expected to move.


In an attempt to obtain current operating statistics for the

diving fleet in the summer of 1964, the author interviewed nine

diving craft captains in Tarpon Springs, Florida, by using the inter-

view guide appended to this study (see Appendix A). At the time the

survey was conducted only eleven diving craft were in operation in

the sponge fisheries, and the findings of this survey as shown in

Table 18 can be considered as representative of the total population.

Taking the operating expenses in Table 18 and multiplying thea by the

number of craft in diving gives $56,342 as the total operating costs

of the diving fleet. This is considerably lower than the available

total operating costs figure of $208,272 in 1934, mainly due to the

fact that the number of craft has declined by 74 per cent between

1934 and 1963. The reasons for cost differences between 1934 and 1963

were explained in the preceding discussion of the early period (see

pages 39-41).

Either because of their ignorance of the subject or their unvill-

ingness to cooperate it was not possible to obtain cost data from

sponge hookers. Personal observation by the author, coupled with

opinions of fishermen in Tarpon Springs, revealed that operating

expenses do not constitute an important factor in sponge hooking.




Item Dollars

Fuel and Oil ............ $ 984

Painting and Overhaul . ........... 497

Food and Supplies .. * * 1,367

Engine Repair ....... . ........... 426

Diving Suits .. ... . .. 300

Interest on $4,000 Working Capital . . . 320

Exchange Dues ... ....... ........ 440

Total .................. .... $4,334

Average Deviation ....... .. 136

Source: Survey of boat captains in Tarpon Springs, Fla., by the
author, May, 1964.

As can be seen in Figure 4 employment in the sponge fisheries

has been declining steadily since 1939. Up to 1950, employment in

machine diving exceeded that in hooking, but beginning in 1950, employ-

ment in hooking has exceeded employment in diving. The hooking fleet

can be credited with having a better employment record since 1950,

because there are more casual fishermen1 in this type of sponge

fishing. For example, during 1961, 56 per cent of the fishermen

employed in hooking were casual workers. Very little capital invest-

ment is needed for hooking, since all that is required is a glass

iCasual fishermen are defined by the U. S. Bureau of the Census
as fishermen who receive less than half their annual income from fishing.

bucket, a pole approximately 20 feet long with a hook attached to

the end, and any boat that can be manned by two people. It is

estimated that not more than $1,300 is needed to equip such an

operation. Although detaching a sponge with a 20-foot pole requires

some skill, such skill can be acquired with relatively little training

and is not comparable to the elaborate skills needed in machine

diving. Consequently, many aged fishermen and persons who have other

occupations in Tarpon Springs and Key Wast have found the hooking

type of sponge fishing to be a profitable side line.1 Table 16

indicates the value of average catch per fisherman in hooking opera-

tions. The productivity of such fishermen is very low when the

figures are compared with the value of average catch per fisherman for

diving operations in Table 15. In calculating the value of average

catch per fisherman the value of total landings was divided by the

total number of fishermen, including casual fishermen. This has

deflated the productivity figures for regular fishermen in hooking

and machine diving, but in no way has it disguised the productivity

relationship between fishermen in hooking and machine diving.

Employment in diving has been relatively stable between 1960 and

1963. This is due mainly to the fact that it has been impossible to

attract younger men into this occupation.2 With the exception of one,

all 26 divers employed by the diving fleet today are divers of Greek

descent who migrated to this country before World War II. The median

age of these divers as of August, 1964, was 59 years. Any expansion

in employment that has taken place during the last decade has almost

iInterview with Louis Smitzes, May, 1964.


exclusively come from the ranks of ex-divers who took shore jobs after

the 1949 sponge disease. Professor John F. Storr of the State

University of New York conducted a study of the Gulf of Mexico comaer-

cial sponges in which he found that the diving craft with the youngest

diver (all over 40 years of age) had a catch over 50 per cent greater

than any other craft in the fleet in 1957.1 This does not strike one

as something unexpected, since in a type of activity, such as diving,

in which physical fitness is important, one would expect to find a

positive relationship between physical fitness and productivity.

Younger divers, in addition to being able to spend more time under

water, are capable of operating at greater depths. These two factors

make it possible for them to explore new areas and harvest sponges

which command higher market prices.

As can be observed from Table 15 average productivity figures per

fisherman have been steadily increasing during the last six years.

This improvement in productivity is primarily due to two factors:

(1) a general recoveryof sponge beds from the disease of 1949, and

(2) a scarcity of diving craft despite this recovery, due to a shortage

of qualified machine divers. The sponge industry has tried to solve

this manpower shortage by importing divers from the Mediterranean, but

such efforts have proved fruitless thus far.2 After entering the

United States imported divers often leave diving for more remunerative

employment in Detroit or other industrial centers of the North.3

1Storr, p. 55.

2Interview with Louis Smitzes, April, 1964.



Attempts are being made by the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange to

bring divers over 45 years of age from the Mediterranean. The Tarpon

Springs Sponge Exchange Board of Directors reached this decision on

the hypothesis that it would be difficult for divers of this age to

find alternative employment opportunities.1 This may be an expedient

solution to the acute shortage of divers in the short run, but in the

long run any industry's survival depends on its ability to attract

labor and capital. Employing older divers will affect the average

productivity of fishermen, but this may not prove to be very important

since it has been pointed out previously that such productivity

depends largely on the condition of the sponge beds rather than any

effort exerted by man. The important thing is to find divers who

can function even if their performance is somewhat hampered by age.

Importance of the Sponge Industry
to Florida and the United States

The past and present economic significance of the sponge fisheries

can be measured in terms of past and present performance in areas such

as production and employment. In 1963, Florida fisheries landed

172,319,000 pounds of sea products at a value of $27,718,000 (see

Table 19). The contribution of the sponge fisheries was only $387,261,

a very small percentage of the total value.

In 1895, the sponge fisheries were Florida's most valuable fish-

eries, credited with one-third of the total landings for that

particular year. A comparison of Table 20 with Table 21 shows that

while other types of fisheries have been enjoying economic gains





Year Poundsb Dollarsb

1880 10,663 643
1895 37,037 1,210
1908 74,087 3,389
1918 135,965 5,167
1928 131,839 6,250
1934 118,801 3,645
1940 187,492 5,005
1945 243,846 18,836
1950 118,418 15,985
1953 206,887 31,523
1962 170,850 30,889
1963 172,319 27,718

Source : 1880-1953 from Osterbind, Florida's Commercial Fisheries.
1962 from U. S., Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, United States
Fisheries, 1962, C. F. S. No. 3471, Annual Summary 1963 from U. S.,
Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Florida Landings.

value in current dollars.
bounds and dollars in thousands.

sponge fisheries until very recently have been experiencing nothing

but deterioration. Taking the year 1895 as a base year, between 1895

and 1963 the index indicating the quantity of Florida landings increased

to 503 while the index showing their value went from 100 to 2291. In

the sponge fisheries landings between 1896 and 1962 declined by 80 per

cent while their value went up by only 52 per cent. It is obvious

that the sponge industry has not kept pace with the growth of other

fishing industries. The contribution of the sponge fisheries in the

provision of employment has been unimpressive. While employment in




Quantity Value
Year Index in Pounds Index in Dollars

1895 100 1oo
1908 200 280
1918 367 427
1928 356 517
1934 321 300
1940 505 414
1945 658 1557
1950 320 1321
1953 559 2605
1962 505 2553
1963 503 2291

Source: Based on Table 19.

fisheries has slightly increased since the early 1900's, employment in

the sponge fisheries has declined by almost 100 per cent (again see

Table 4).

Although the sponge fisheries served the nation vell during

World War II, measured in monetary terms the contribution of the

Florida sponge fisheries to the total Gross National Product in 1963

was $387,261, which can be considered as even less than a drop in a


Viewed in this light one may conclude that the sponge fisheries of

Florida are of little economic value to Florida and the United States.

This, of course, is a very limited interpretation. It has been men-

tioned previously that the sponge fisheries of Florida are a unique




Catch Value of Average Price
Year Index Catch Index Per Pound Index

1896 100 100 100
1906 250 313 125
1926 178 244 160
1931 158 224 141
1936 261 377 144
1941 85 500 585
1946 69 949 1378
1951 7 41 603
1956 13 88 703
1951 16 134 857
1962 20 152 747
1963 23 142 600

Source: Based on Table 2 and Table 10.

product of the state of Florida, and in terms of tourist attraction

they rank favorably with other Florida landmarks.1 Judging by the

number of tourists seen daily on the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs,

one may speculate that indirectly through tourist expenditures the

sponge fisheries add equal or perhaps more value to the economy of

Florida than they do through their landings of sponges. A great

number of retail outlets selling curios and providing sea food in

Tarpon Springs capitalize on the sponge fisheries in their efforts to

attract tourists.

1Interview with Louis Saitzes, May, 1964.



Sponge Fishing Methods and Auxiliary Procedures

In Chapter II attention was given to economic developments in

the United States sponge fisheries. Some of the production factors

were dealt with in terms of the economic significance that such

activities had on the development of the fisheries. This chapter

discusses production from a microeconomic viewpoint. The various

productive activities which were viewed from an aggregate viewpoint

in the previous chapter are now analyzed from an operational per-

spective. The following paragraphs examine the organization of firms

in the sponge fisheries, their operating procedures, and distribution

of earnings. An attempt is also made to discover the extent to which

such factors affect supply and employment dependability in the


Commercial sponges are harvested by wading, nude diving, fernezen

diving, dredging, hooking and machine diving. The market value of a

sponge often depends on the method by which it has been obtained,

since sponges taken from deep waters have qualities superior to

those harvested in shallow waters.

Curing the sponge

When the living sponges are brought to the boat they are at first
squeezed by the crew to initiate the maceration of the living material.

The next step is to place the sponges on the deck with the root down

to facilitate the draining out of the gurry. In order to expedite

the death of the living matter in the sponges the crew often trods on

them with their bare feet. In order to avoid the drying of the

sponges during this decomposition of the soft tissue they are covered

by a wet burlap sack. To assure uniform decaying sponges are turned

several times since uneven or excessive decomposition reduces the

market value of the product.

Under sunny skies this process of decaying will usually last no

longer than one day, and the following day the sponges are ready for

their final cleaning. Final cleaning starts by washing the sponges

several times with sea water, since washing them with fresh water

tends to make sponges look darker. After the final rinsing the sponges

are thrown forcibly against the deck to knock out the dead shrimp and

other foreign material that may have lived in the larger canals of the

sponges. Then the outer surfaces of the sponges are scraped with

short-bladed knives to remove the last traces of the skin. Finally,

the clean sponges are strung on rope yarns, technically known as

"stefani," and tied to the rails of the boat for drying. After

drying the stefani, each consisting of 150 sponges, are stored in the

forward hold of the boat.1

The selling of sponges by fishermen

The information presented in this section is based primarily on

the author's personal observation and information collected from

residents of Tarpon Springs in the summer of 1964.

1Interview with JohnSamarkos, June, 1964.


After the fishermen return to shore the sponges are stored in the

Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange. At the Sponge Exchange there are about

one hundred jail-like cells. Each captain occupies one or more cells

depending on the amount of his catch, and he deposits and keeps his

sponges in the cells until the day of selling. Prior to the sale the

boat crew strings the sponges on yarn 5 feet long, known in the trade

as bunches. The number of sponges on each bunch depends on the size

of the strung sponges.

Whenever sponges are available for sale the buying and selling

takes place twice a week on Tuesday and Friday at 9:30 A. M., but not

on Good Friday. If on the market day there is more than one captain

desiring to sell his catch, then the selling order is determined by

drawing a ballot.

The Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange bills the captain far 2 per

cent of his sales for the services of protection, storage, and

auctioning that it provides. If the captain is a member of the local

Greek Orthodox Church another 0.5 per cent is withheld and donated to

the church of St. Nicholas in Tarpon Springs.

The sponges are sold to the packers at auction. A sponge auction

is carried on in a silent manner with the packers carefully examining

the sponges, while at the same time marking their bids on pieces of

paper. The packers are experienced buyers, and their offers are

based on the size and quality of sponges, this being established

through a visual examination.

The auctioneer awards the sponges to the highest bidder, provided

the seller considers the amount adequate. The seller is permitted to

refuse an offer if he believes that the price is too low. Bids often


differ by a few dollars, and the prices paid for any variety of sponge

depend to a large extent on their size and other qualities as described

in Chapter I.

Units of Operation

Of all the possible operational methods only hooking and machine

diving are being practiced today by sponge fishermen in the United

States. Although the analysis of the fisheries in the previous

chapter was undertaken in terms of a sponge fleet, one must not for-

get that this term in no way implies any comon ownership or central-

ized direction of activities. As a matter of fact, of the thirteen

diving outfits in operation in 1963, none had more than one owner.

The same is true for hooking operators.

It will be convenient to think of each craft in the sponge

fisheries in terms of a separate enterprise. The objective of each

enterprise unit is to maximize its landings. The combination of the

three factors of production, that is, capital, management, and labor,

in an effort to achieve the enterprise objective will depend primarily

on the size and complexity of the operation. For example, in hooking

operations it is not uncommon for the owner capitalist to be also

the manager and captain and to provide at least half of the labor

requirements of the enterprise. On the other hand, one often finds

separation of ownership and management in diving operations. Of the

thirteen diving outfits operating in 1963, four or approximately 31

per cent were characterized by absentee ownership.2 Generally

1Survey of nine diving craft captains by the author in Tarpon
Springs, Fla., May, 1964.


speaking, in sponge fishing as in many other forms of production, as

the size and complexity of the enterprise increases so does the

division of labor. Such increased specialization increases the

number of people engaged in the supply of the productive factors

necessary to discharge the enterprise objectives.

In 1963, there were thirteen diving outfits in the sponge fish-

eries of Florida. Between 1962 and 1963, the number of craft in the

sponge fleet was reduced by five, largely due to an absence of quali-

fied divers. The median length of a diving craft was 47 feet. The

median age for each diving outfit was 31 years. The newest craft was

22 years of age, while the oldest craft was constructed 47 years ago.

These diving outfits had an average market value of $17,000, which by

fishery standards is considered to be a substantial investment.1

Due to their small size, intermittent nature of operations, and

widely scattered locations, it was not possible to determine the

precise number of hooking craft for the year 1963. According to the

statistics released by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, there were

81 hooking outfits in 1962. Although the Bureau publishes statistics

on casual workers, no such distinction is made for casual employment

of capital. Informed sources in the sponge fisheries are of the

opinion that most hooking craft harvest sponges on a part-time basis.2

The same sources estimate the number of hooking craft to have been

around 80 in 1963. Such craft usually have a length of about 15 feet.

Most of them are propelled by a motor; however, there are some that



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