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Fisheries Historical Highlights


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

researchers launching skiff 1870s


The Federal government assumes management of the Pribilof Islands fur seal resource.


The United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, formed on February 9th is the first Federal agency concerned with natural resource

The nation's first fisheries laboratory is established at Woods Hole by the U.S. Fish Commission, the forerunner of today's NMFS. The first U.S. Fish Commissioner, Spencer F. Baird, selects Woods Hole for its central location, support facilities, clean water, and good access to offshore fishing sites. A survey of marine life in local waters begins. Others conduct research at Cape Hatteras and on the Great Lakes. Baird personally investigates the alleged decrease of southern New England fisheries, taking testimony from many witnesses.

original fisheries lab Woods Hole First Fisheries Lab, Woods Hole

The Fish Commission is directed by Congress ... to determine whether a diminution of the number of food-fishes of the coast and lakes of the U.S. has taken place; and, if so, to what causes the same is due; and whether any and what protective prohibitory or precautionany measures should be adopted in the premises.... Baird immediately initiates a broad spectrum of ecological research.

Vinal N. Edwards , the first permanent federal employee of the fisheries service is employed as an all-around technician, a position he holds until his death in 1919. Edwards had no scientific background but was often described as an "intuitive" naturalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the ocean processes and marine life in and around Woods Hole.


American Fish Culturists Association appropriates $15,000 for the U.S government to begin fish culture development, adding aquaculture to the Fish Commission's charge.

In March, northern fur seal research on the Pribilof Islands begins when Henry Wood Elliott of the Treasury Department is sent to the islands to supervise fur seal management. Under Baird's direction, Elliott conducts the first seal studies, and his watercolors illustrate every aspect of seal life.

The Commission's summer station is set up at Eastport, Maine, and a special herring study is made.

On August 30th, Livingston Stone makes the first collection and fertilization of salmon eggs at Baird Station on the McCloud River in northern California and ships them to the east coast by rail. He is also appointed Secretary of the American Fish Culturist's Association

On October 23rd, 30,000 chinook salmon eggs are shipped from California to the East Coast; all but 7,000 die in transit. About 200-300 hatch and are raised to fingering size and planted unsuccessfully in the Susquehanna River in March 1873.


The Fish Commission's summer research station in Portland, Maine, is augmented by the loan of an 80-ton steamer from the U.S. Navy. Outer waters between Mount Desert and Cape Cod are also explored with the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Bache

In January Stone plants Great Lakes whitefish into Clear Lake, Calif., the first of many such unsuccessful efforts there.

Stone, with a special railway California Aquarium Car leaves Charlestown, N.H. for the Pacific coast on June 3rd. Approximately 300,000 fish, including catfish, eels, bullheads, perch, bass, trout, and lobsters, are accidentally planted in Nebraska's Elkhorn River when a railroad bridge collapses. Stone and his assistants swim to safety, but three people die in the accident.

On July 2nd, Stone releases 35,000 Hudson River shad into the Sacramento River. Shad transplants continue for several years, and the Atlantic species becomes well established on the Pacific coast.

Baird publishes the first of the annual USFC reports on the Commission's operations and research. The series provides a much-needed outlet for scientific reports on the Nation's fisheries and oceanographic studies. The first edition details Baird's findings on "The Condition of the Sea Fisheries of the South Coast of New England in 1871 and 1872."


"Baggage-masters will allow agents of the U.S. Fish Commission to ride in the baggage-cars and to attend to the tanks which they have charge."--A. J. Cassett, Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

The Baird Hatchery on the McCloud River is recognized as a permanent station of the Fish Commission. From it, fertilized salmon eggs are shipped around the world. The hatchery site now lies under the waters behind Shasta Dam.


The Commission's research work is centered at Noank, Conn., and an attempt is made to introduce shad to European waters.


A combination of federal and private funds make renovation of a shed into a more permanent, two-story lab at Woods Hole complete with a windmill for pumping seawater to research aquaria.


The Fish Commission presents a large exhibit of fish culture methods and aspects of American fisheries at the Philadelphia International Exhibition; carp are first imported from Germany


researchers collecting samples 1870s
"To conductors and Baggage-masters. You will permit his Fish Commission deputy's cans of living fish to be carried in the baggage cars."--Gen'l Superintendent, Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway Co., Cleveland.

The War Department furnished Baird station a military guard this year, which proved to be a very valuable acquisition.--Livingston Stone.

The first successful U.S. east coast sardine cannery is started at Eastport, Maine, 43 years after the world's first sardine cannery began operating in Nantes, France.

Fish Commission investigations resume at Salem, Mass., and later at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Federal carp ponds are established in Washington, D.C.

The Halifax Fishery Commission is charged with settling the amount of compensation to be paid by the United States for the privilege of fishing off the eastern Canadian Provinces and Commissioner Baird is summoned to testity. Baird's assistant, G. Brown Goode, reports that "The information at that time available concerning the fisheries was found to be so slight and imperfect that a plan for systematic investigation of the subject was arranged and partially undertaken." The full study of America's fisheries and their history and status would later be published as part of the Tenth U.S. Census.

The first salmon cannery in Alaska is established at Klawok.

The first major monograph on the menhaden, a prolific and widely useful species, is published by G. Brown Goode, Assistant Fish Commissioner. The menhaden is still one of the Nation's most important fisheries, and research into its ecology and utilization continues today.

J. R. Shotwell, in a letter to Baird, describes the efforts of a New Jersey gas company to remove harmful products from distilled coal waste before dumping in the Delaware River.


The U.S. Fish Commission occupies a permanent station in Gloucester, MA to supplement fish propagation studies ongoing at the Woods Hole Station. This would eventually become the first seafood technology lab in the United States.

The first clam cannery in the United States is established at Pine Point, Maine. Also, crab is first canned at Norfolk, Va.

The breeding of cod and haddock is accomplished at Gloucester, Mass.

The Commission publishes six annual or biannual reports totaling 5,650 pages during 1871-78 and they provide a much needed outlet for fisheries and oceanographic research papers and reports.


Commissioner Baird initiates a landmark study on the composition of fish to determine their food and nutritive values. The research, conducted by W. O. Atwater and Charles Woods, provides important bench- mark data, many of which are still useful today.

The field of fish technology opens with investigations of methods for freezing fish, and in 1882 net preservatives are studied.

The Fish Commission's summer station is located at Provincetown, Mass.

Oyster propagation is accomplished cooperatively with the Maryland Fish Commission and under the direction of Major Ferguson. Distribution of the German carp is also initiated--a move later rued.

One hundred and fifty east coast striped bass are successfully transplanted by Livingston Stone to the Pacific near Martinez, Calif.

RV Fish Hawk Fish Hawk

The Fish Commission, cooperating with the Superintendent of the Tenth U.S. Census, dispatches specialists to all parts of the Nation to study and record the biological, statistical, and practical aspects of all U.S. fisheries. The results are published in 1887 as a huge, comprehensive seven-volume work on The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States.

The Fish Commission's first research vessel, the 156.5-foot U.S.S. Fish Hawk is launched. The coal-burning steamer is built to serve as a floating hatchery in coastal waters for shad, herring, and striped bass production.

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