Albany beef was a humorous name for sturgeon in the Hudson River Valley area during the latter 18th through the mid-nineteenth centuries.
During those times, Sturgeon, prized for caviar, was so plentiful in the Hudson River, and the fish so large, that the locals began referring to it as Albany Beef. In fact, in a short description of the sturgeon trade, published in 1856, printer Joell Munsell wrote that Albany citizens were often referred to as having “emigrated from Sturgeondom” or as being “Sturgeonites,” and that they had been brought up on Albany Beef.
Sturgeon was the largest fish in the Hudson River and can weigh up to 800 pounds. Sturgeon up to 8-feet long were not unusual in the New York markets (sturgeon can grow up to 15 feet long and can live up to 60 years). Sturgeon meat, oil, and its eggs were also exported to Europe.
The term Albany beef was so common that it became an accepted part of the sturgeon trade. It even appeared on cans of sturgeon fish. One early sturgeon canner, upon being the first to devise a practical method of preserving and canning sturgeon, even tried to trademark the term Albany beef, seeking only to use it for his canned sturgeon product. The court denied this trade-mark, stating that Albany beef was such and old and commonly accepted name for sturgeon, being not much different than the name sturgeon itself, that the fellow had no right to its exclusive use.
An example of how well-known the name Albany beef was is illustrated by a very famous decorated butter churn made by the Paul Cushman Stoneware Factory. On the bottom of the churn, in cobalt blue, appears the image of a cow sucking on a sturgeon. See images of the Albany beef butter churn.
Sturgeon are no longer so plentiful. In 1998, a forty-year fishing moratorium was declared along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida. Today, the species is in danger, and restoration efforts are underway. Along the Atlantic coast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with several states, is tagging wild sturgeon along the coast and the Gulf of Mexico, in and effort to learn about their migration patterns. When fishermen catch tagged sturgeon, they record and report the tag number to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help the researchers learn more about the fish. Sturgeon are being raised in hatcheries to be released into the wild and effort are being made to reduce pollution, especially in the Chesapeake Bay, to improve the fish’s habitat.