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Bairds Legacy

Progress and Change: 1947-1971

fisherman with fish on pitchfork

The late 1940's and 1950's brought additional programs, studies, and progress to the Federal fisheries agency. Many new fishing grounds were discovered, and better ways were found to fish them. Healthful benefits of fish oils continued to be discovered, as were pitfalls with such pesticides as DDT—for example, their toxicity to fish and other aquatic life, particularly during early stages of life.

But perhaps the most important facet was international: Fisheries were fast becoming globalized. The United Nations was set up in 1945, as was its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Foreign fishermen found that they could use huge factory trawlers in "international waters" just 3 miles from U.S. coastlines, and two new international fisheries commissions were soon organized: the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). These new developments brought added responsibilities for enforcement.

In addition, U.S. fishermen opened their own distant-water Pacific fisheries, targeting tuna, and the 80th Congress, in 1947, declared a policy of developing and maintaining the enormous fishery resources of the tropical and subtropical Pacific Territories. Thus, the Bureau's Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations unit (POFI) was set up at Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, to explore, investigate, and develop those high-seas fisheries.

Fish promotion and “home extension" type work brought the Bureau added recognition, as its staff home economists created thousands of new fish recipes, put on countless fish cookery demonstrations, and helped large food service groups (schools, hospitals, military units, etc.) learn to use fish. Other technological research initiatives included a major study on freezing fish at sea, work on the still untapped walleye pollock in the Bering Sea, and a new technological research laboratory set up in Boston.

New mobile research laboratories, devised for special on-site investigations, were deployed from the College Park, Md.; Boston; and Seattle Technological Laboratories. Also in 1950, the agency's Pascagoula, Miss., field station was set up for Gulf fishing and gear research. Studies located new brown and pink shrimp fishing grounds, discovered a new royal red shrimp fishery, and helped establish a longline fishery for tuna and swordfish in the Gulf.

fishing boats at sea

Meanwhile, Federal fishery research in the northwest Atlantic in 1951 found commercial quantities of tunas, leading to a new and growing east coast tuna industry. On the opposite coast, the Columbia River Fishery Development Program began, concentrating on fish passage problems at the river's large hydroelectric dams.

The middle 1950's was another period of progress and change. On the east coast, a British vessel, the Fairtry, became the first of the large foreign factory trawlers to fish in then international waters on the Grand Banks in 1954. Its success brought many other high-volume fishing vessels that spurred later declarations of 200-mile zones by northwest Atlantic nations.

That same year, the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act was passed. Under this law, money was earmarked for fishery-product and market research; fisheries development, including development and implementation of voluntary grade standards for fishery products; and other fisheries research.

Protection of North America's Pacific salmon from foreign fishing on the high seas became increasingly critical, particularly since little was known of the salmon’s ocean travels. A major study of salmon distribution in the eastern North Pacific Ocean began in 1955, and within 5 years their general distribution was firmly established and vital protective measures were initiated. Continuing talks with Japan led to an agreement in 1958 that Japan would abstain from catching salmon in the North Pacific east of long. 175deg.W; research continued to determine the proper dividing line to separate stocks of Asian and North American salmon.

In yet another major reorganization, the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 reestablished two Bureaus within a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF), the latter with an Office of the Director, an Office of Loans and Grants, and four Divisions: Administration, Biological Research, Industrial Research and Services, and Resource Management. Thus, the BCF was reformed with most of the types of units and duties of the original Fish Commission and Bureau of Fisheries, except for freshwater fish culture and sport fish research.

The new Fish and Wildlife Act specifically charged the BCF with helping the U.S. fishing industry by locating new fishing grounds, promoting trade and marketing fish, developing new foods and products from fish, assisting with new fishing technologies and vessel financing, and more. The Fisheries Loan Fund, for example, created in 1956, was increased in 1958 from $10 million to $20 million.

BCF work in the late 1950's identified new tuna fishing grounds in the northwest Atlantic, led to more efficient two-trawl rigs for the Gulf shrimping industry, and found new fishing grounds for Pacific ocean perch off Alaska and for shrimp off the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

On the international level, the first U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea was held in Geneva in early 1958. And for the United States, a new interim convention to protect the northern fur seals and a new protocol to further protect sockeye salmon of the Fraser River were also concluded.

Finally, in 1959, the Bureau's long-term management of Alaska's territorial fisheries ended as the new State of Alaska assumed that responsibility. BCF research and law enforcement activities, however, continued, as did its protection and management of the northern fur seal.

By 1960, the Bureau's original Woods Hole Laboratory moved into new buildings. The original structure, occupied in 1885, had served for nearly 75 years. The early 1960's also saw new research laboratories opened at La Jolla, Calif.; Sandy Hook, N.J.; and Milford, Conn. Meanwhile the number of fisheries attachés posted overseas increased to three, and the foreign fishery reporting program received regular fishery reports from about 90 U.S. embassies and consulates.

The 1960's also ushered in an even more aggressive era of foreign factory trawler fishing near U.S. coasts. However, cooperative research between Bureau scientists and those of other nations to assess the fisheries and identify potential problems and solutions also grew.

Salmon culture and research, early mainstays of the Fish Commission and Bureau of Fisheries, remained important, but for different reasons: emphasis swung to restoration and maintenance of runs on the Columbia and other western rivers, and also moved into salmon ranching and net pen culture studies, the latter now an important source of fresh salmon.

In the late 1960's, of course, the Nation's interest in ecology and the environment began to grow. Concern over marine and atmospheric programs led Congress in 1966 to set up the "Stratton Commission," formally termed the “Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources.” This group recommended a new "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency," leading a wholly new era for the BCF.

With President Richard M. Nixon's Executive Order 11564, the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was indeed created in 1970 under the Department of Commerce to use a "unified approach to the problems of the oceans and atmospheres." The BCF was then renamed the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), placed in NOAA along with Interior’s marine sport fish research laboratories, and given a new mandate including the study and conservation of saltwater sport fishes and marine angling.

Primary NMFS functions were assigned to three areas: Resource Research, Resource Utilization, and Resource Management. And NMFS research was soon consolidated under four major units, the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and the Northwest and Alaska Research Centers, each with associated satellite laboratories.

Legacy    1871-1896    1897-1921   1922-1946   1947-1971    1972-1996   Summary   Future

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(File Modified Dec. 07 2017)