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Fisheries Historical Highlights: 1880s

1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Collecting, Trip Little Harbor, Woods Hole


The Fish Commission's summer station is at Newport, R.I., where the Fish Hawk operates for the season. Over 50 Commission investigators are in the field.

Spencer Baird receives the first-honor prize at the Berlin Exposition from the Emperor of Germany, not only for the excellence of the Commission's fisheries display, but also owing to the international regard of Baird who was widely seen as the preeminent fish culturist for his successful promotion of fish culture and fish acclimatization--exchanging fish and fish ova throughout the world.

Prof. Addison E. Verrill estimates that in just 10 years, research, mainly by the Commission, has added 1,000 new species to the list of known marine creatures in New England waters--not including finfishes. About 100 newly discovered finfishes were added during the same period on the Atlantic coast.

Despite having a very stylish Washington address (1445 Massachusetts Ave.) Baird is characterized in an article "Celebrities at Home", as dressing in the plain and slightly old-fashioned style of a well-to-do country English farmer.

"This is ... a most wonderful fauna, vastly exceeding in richness and extent on anything known to science."--S. F Baird, on results of explorations of the Gulfstream slope 80 miles south of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

More than 260,000 fertilized rainbow trout ova are shipped east from California for distribution to state fish commissions.


The lab receives its first presidential visit, from Chester A. Arthur. Arthur is taken for a collecting cruise off Woods Hole in the Commission steamer Despatch.

In April vessels report countless dead tilefish floating in an area from Georges Banks to Cape May. A conservative estimate made by Capt. J.W.Collins of the RV Grampus placed the number of dead fish at upwards of 1,438,720,000 (That's 1.43 billion fish!). Allowing 10 pounds for each fish he estimated this amounted to 288 pounds for every man, woman and child in the U.S. at the time. The mystery was never explained, but a plausable explanation for the deaths seemed to be a sudden chilling of the deeper waters along this stretch of ocean. No catch of tilefish was reported again for 15 years.

RV Albatross 1

In March, the 234-foot U.S.S. Albatross, the first U.S. research vessel built exclusively for fisheries and oceanographic research, is launched. The ironhull, twin-screw vessel was designed to conduct its marine investigations in any part of the world's seas

Volume 1, for 1881, of the Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission is published "... for the purpose of utilizing and of promptly publishing the large amount of interesting correspondence of the Fish Commission in reference to matters pertaining to fish culture and to the apparatus, methods, and results of the fisheries.... Parts of the text were distributed signature by signature, the remainder in bound annual volumes." Now the quarterly, peer-reviewed journal Fishery Bulletin, this series has been in continuous publication for 115 years.


Woods Hole, Mass., property is deeded to the U.S. Government for the construction of the Commission's first full-time research laboratory.

Baird suggests that purer forms of salt be used to solve the problem of red cod a discoloration found in cured cod.


Construction of the laboratory building at Woods Hole begins.


The first permanent lab is completed, built on land given for the purpose by a local resident (Joseph Story Fay) with a combination of federal and private funds. The building remains useful until 1958. Because of the permanent facility, the Commission's research vessels Fish Hawk and the world-renowned Albatross begin to use Woods Hole as a base.

In summer, Atlantic shad are transported in a railroad car to the Pacific coast and planted in Washington Territory and Oregon waters. On return, clams, Tapes staminea, are collected and brought back to Woods Hole

Baird writes excitedly about acquisition of female and male pygmy sperm whales taken from Atlantic waters. These whales had been known to exist only in the Pacific Ocean,


RV Grampus

The Grampus, another Commission research ship, is completed, providing a revolutionary new fishing vessel design.


On August 19th, Spencer F. Baird, first Commissioner of Fisheries, dies at Wood Hole, Mass. Confined to a wheelchair in his latter days, he reportedly requested that he be wheeled around the station for final contact with his handiwork. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington,

"... There rises again the thought that kept recurring then, that the sea is very ancient, that it ebbed and flowed before man appeared on the planet, and will ebb and flow after he and his words have dis- ppeared; and a singular, indefinite impression, as if something had passed that was, in some fashion, great and mysterious, and ancient like the sea itself."-- Edwin Linton, speaking of the day of Baird's death

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), private research facility, is established at Woods Hole, and staff are given free access to Commission Facilities

Rainbow trout, a western species, is doing so well in eastern U.S. fish culture stations that shipments of them from the west are discontinued.

G.B. Goode historical photo

In September, George Brown Goode temporarily succeeds Baird, but he resigns atter 6 months to devote full time to his duties as Director of the U.S. National Museum.

The huge and extensive five-section, seven-volume review of the history and conditions of U.S. fisheries is published by the Commission. Edited by George Brown Goode, it is titled "The Fisheries and Fishery of the United States".


On January 20th, Congress establishes the U.S. Fish Commission as an independent agency of the Federal government and terminates its administrative relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. Marshall McDonald is appointed Commissioner at a salary of $5,000 per year

The Albatross sails to the Pacific Ocean where it is used for fisheries and oceanographic research and for marine mammal (fur seal) law enforcement patrols until 1914

On July 4th the first Federal efforts in fishery studies along the North Pacific coast begin as the Albatross leaves San Francisco to collect marine samples and observe fish and other aquatic life. It con- ducts fisheries investigations off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska

W. O. Atwater publishes the 200-page report on the nutritive values of various fishes in the Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries for 1888-1889.- It provides a basic reference on proximate composition of fish and shellfish and remains valuable today for comparison of composition ranges in relation to species size and distribution

The Pacific halibut fishery is inaugurated as a sailing schooner returns to Seattle with its catch.


H.V.P. Wilson publishes his classic fish embryology paper on sea bass, based on his work at the Fish Commission lab.

Pacific halibut is shipped to the east coast by rail, and as the market develops and demand grows, the fishery gradually extends farther offshore.

The Albatross is ordered to escort the Dawes Commission along the Pacific coast.

Livingston Stone likens the Pacific salmon of Alaska to the buffalo and calls for the formation of a National Salmon Park.

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