NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service 125th Anniversary

The National Marine Fisheries Service celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1996
Note: This page was for the 125th celebration and is not updated.
Please visit for more information.

Fisheries Research 1870's

Fisheries Research 1990's
We've come a long way. Tour the timeline below and see where we've been ....

1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

The word evokes many thoughts and images -- deep-fried shrimp, a tuna sandwich, cod fillets, oysters on the half shell. Or, a salmon tugging on the line, a leaping marlin, or maybe just a slap of the waves and the brisk sea air. But for the nation, fish have always been important, first for food and trade, often for recreation, and even as a key component of national security.

So it should not be too surprising that the Nation's first Federal conservation agency, initiated in 1871, was devoted to the protection, study, management, and restoration of fish. This agency was the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, usually just called the "Fish Commission." Later it was renamed the Bureau of Fisheries, and still later it became the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Today its direct descendant is NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) or just "NOAA Fisheries".

The year 1996 was thus a major milestone for the NMFS--its 125th Anniversary as the Nation's oldest Federal conservation and environmental research agency. Some of its activities have been well known: Fish culture and marine mammal protection and restoration, for example. Less known are the Fish Commission/NMFS roles in initiating and promoting basic and applied oceanographic and marine biological and ecological research, food product development, fishery development, and many other important tasks.

The U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was created by Congress on February 9, 1871, and charged with studying and recommending solutions to an apparent decline in New England's fishes. Its first Commissioner was Spencer Fullerton Baird, Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and an internationally acclaimed scientist. Headquarters were promptly established at Woods Hole, Mass., where he soon began studies of striped bass, blue fish, and other species. In the century that followed, the little village on Cape Cod became a world-famous oceanographic and marine research center. The fisheries has certainly contributed to that reputation.

Baird was already well aware of the New England fishermen's concerns. Most important, though, he recognized that there would be no simple answers to the problems he had been directed to investigate. Except in the areas of sounding and charting of the sea coasts, knowledge of the Nation's seas, and especially its fish and fisheries, was scant.

Keenly aware of those deficiencies, Baird quickly initiated the Nation's first marine ecological studies. As he put it, studying only the fish "would not be complete without a thorough knowledge of their associates in the sea, especially of such as prey upon them or constitute their food". He also sought data on "the temperature of the water taken at different depths, its varying transparency, density, chemical composition, percentage of saline matter, its surface and undercurrents, and other features of its physical condition" because these were "likely to throw more or less light upon the agencies which exercise an influence upon the presence or absence of particular fishes."

In short, Baird sought to explore the "physical, natural, and economical features of the sea" as fully as possible. In so doing, he laid important groundwork for an agency of immense productivity. In sum, the Fish Commission/NMFS has provided 125 years of conservation and environmental leadership while conducting a broad spectrum of basic and applied research into fisheries and marine biology, food science and technology, marine ecosystems, environmental health and contamination, marine mammal science, and much more.

Baird's Legacy Continues....

Historical Photo Archives

(Returns Thumbnail Images)

(Returns Descriptions)

(NOAA Central Library)

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center is in the process of putting it's entire historical photo archives online using an Oracle database. This archive has thousands of photographs from 1870 to present day, mostly New England fishing scenes. In addition the NOAA central library has put up their collection of historical fisheries images.

National Marine Fisheries Service Today....

Visit some NMFS sites and and see what we are doing...

As part of the anniversary celebrations, we co-sponsored two exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum Of Natural History In Washington, DC.";

SCIENCE AT SEA was a special exhibit commemorating 125 years of collaboration between the Smithsonian and NMFS and its predessor agencies. The exhibit, opened to the public on Friday, 23 February, was formally opened by James Baker, NOAA Administrator, and Rolland Schmitten, NMFS Director, on March 5, 1996.

OCEAN PLANET opened on April 22, 1995, and remained at the National Museum of Natural History until July, 1996. The exhibit, which focuses on the human use of oceans, replaced the "Rain Forest" as the major Smithsonian travelling exhibit in the Fall of 1996, and travels to museums around the country until 2001. Stops will include the Presidio Museum in San Francisco, the Columbus Center in Baltimore, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and museums in Dallas, Detroit, Honolulu and San Diego.

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(File Modified Nov. 24 2004)
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(File Modified Nov. 24 2004)