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Bairds Legacy

Summary

Man holding large fish Over the past 125 years, the NMFS and its predecessor agencies have played a crucial role in the development, use, and protection of the Nation's marine resources:

Its early work fostered and advanced the Nation's now huge aquaculture industry.

Its research into fish biology and ecology has greatly improved the assessment of fish populations and the ways to protect, manage, and restore them.

It promoted the establishment of many state fish commissions and their fish cultural work, research, and management.

Its assessment of the nutritional and healthful values of fish and fish oils have materially contributed to the Nation's food supply and health.

Its work has greatly advanced the safety and preservation of fishery products through research to prevent botulism, detect and prevent red tide problems, and more.

Its research into pollution and pesticide problems helped generate environmental awareness and protective measures.

When Spencer Baird set up the U.S. Fish Commission in 1871, the U.S. fishing industry was locally important, and fish harvests, preservation, transportation, and sales were limited. Lack of ice, cold-storage facilities, and rapid transit limited fresh fish sales to nearshore cities and local markets. Canned, dried, and pickled fish sales remained small. Most of the products we see now in our fish markets were nonexistent.

But the Nation's fishery potential was huge, awaiting research and development to unlock it. Progress in fishery development began to accelerate after 1900 and moved far faster after World War II. The U.S. tuna industry is just one example.

Serious tuna fishing began in 1903 in southern California when albacore was successfully canned for the first time. Eventually, U.S. tuna vessels would roam farther and farther south during the 1920's and 1930's, finding the tropical tunas, yellowfin and skipjack, in great abundance, and by the 1930's, tunas were a major source of food. In addition, Atlantic Ocean tuna fishing became important.

Development of the U.S. tuna and other important fisheries has required exploration for new fishing grounds, creation of new fish products and markets, assistance in coping with foreign competition, finding better ways of chilling, freezing, holding, and packaging fish, and more. In addition, Bureau and NMFS scientists studied the oceanographic processes that affect the fishes as well as fish biology and behavior—gaining information needed by commercial fishermen and for fishery management programs.

Today, American consumers are no longer limited to a few fish or fish products. Owing to NMFS research, our own U.S. fish products are sold around the world in many forms, and our fish markets provide a broad variety of fresh, frozen, and prepared food products from species from around the globe.

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

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