Fish -- rich in calcium and iron and higher in protein and lower in fats than most meats -- was a major source of animal protein in China. Dried fish was an important ingredient of southern Chinese cookery.
The 720 fish bones found at Yema-po represent 11 separate species. Most, like those below, probably were obtained by Chinese fishermen in the waters off California's coast or from the fresh water of the Sacramento River. Some, on the other hand, were imported from China. Three of the fish species found at Yema-po have rather interesting stories.
The Yellow Croaker or Yellow Flower fish is native to the South China Sea and must have been imported to Yema-po in dried form. The Yellow Croaker is considered excellent food and is the traditional "sweet-sour" fish of Canton cookery.
An exceptional fish from the coastal waters of California that was enjoyed by the Chinese was the Sheephead. This fish, weighing between 12 and 15 pounds and with massive jaws and remarkable teeth, was taken in great numbers by Chinese fishermen during the 1880s. Although the flesh was rather coarse, the fat forehead was highly esteemed for chowder.
The bones of Puffer fish were an unexpected find in the Yema-po excavation. This highly poisonous fish is considered a dangerous delicacy in Japan, where it is called fugu. The Cantonese normally were not impresed with such exotic dining and Chinese fishermen would summarily kill any Puffer fish that they caught. Even though this was the case in China, the bones of Puffer fish have been found in several overseas Chinese sites in California. Their use at Yema-po is currently a mystery.
Although numerous newpaper stories from the 1870s and 1880s emphasize the excellent trout and bass fishing at Lake Chabot, no bones of these fish were found at Yema-po. This may be due to the Chinese preference for other kinds of fish flesh and/or an actually prohibition against the Chinese fishing in Anthony Chabot's newly stocked lake.