Spencer Fullerton Baird, circa 1867. Founder of the Woods Hole Laboratory and first Commissioner of the U.S. Fish Commission. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC Photo Archives
Mary Jane Rathbun, authority on crabs, at work in her Smithsonian office. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institutuion Archives
Victor Loosanoff, the first Director of the Milford Laboratory. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/George Sennefelder, NEFSC
Paul Galtsoff with instrumentation in his Woods Hole lab, 1924. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Paul Galtsoff, NEFSC Photo Archives
Bill Clapp and Ruth Stoddard weigh fish aboard the Albatross IV. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Robert Brigham, NEFSC Photo Archives
Linda Despres, first female chief scientist of a bottom trawl survey, enters data on a catch of stripers. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Brenda Figuerido, NEFSC
December 22, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki
Some of the Key Figures in NEFSC History
As a new year approaches, we take a moment to recognize some of the men and women in the past who have helped shape the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the fields of marine and environmental sciences.
Spencer Fullerton Baird
Appointed the first Commissioner of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, commonly called the Fish Commission, by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1871, Baird parlayed a one-time assignment into a well-established and flourishing marine science effort that expanded around the U.S. Shortly after his appointment he traveled to Cape Cod and founded the Woods Hole Laboratory, the first federal fisheries laboratory, the nation’s oldest marine research station, and the original laboratory of today’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Baird is also credited with development of the village of Woods Hole as a marine science community. One of the most respected U.S. scientists of his time, Spencer Fullerton Baird was a naturalist, ornithologist, ichthyologist, herpetologist, and first curator at the Smithsonian Institution. He served as Smithsonian Institution's first assistant secretary, appointed at age 27, and later as the second Secretary. He was known for his skills not only as a scientist but as a teacher and mentor, administrator and organizer.
Mary Jane Rathbun
She began as a lab volunteer with a high school education, but Mary Jane Rathbun quickly became a global authority on crustaceans and a prominent name in blue crab taxonomy. Rathbun began working at the Woods Hole Laboratory in 1881 as a summer volunteer scientist’s assistant, attracted to the laboratory by her eldest brother Richard who was pursuing a career in fisheries science for the U.S. Fish Commission working with lab founder and Fish Commission head Spencer Fullerton Baird. Richard Rathbun later curated the marine collection for the new National Museum, later the National Museum of Natural History, at the Smithsonian Institution, where Mary Jane Rathbun spent much of her 50-year career identifying crab species from around the world. She expanded known crustaceans by more than 1,100 species and subspecies, published over 150 scientific papers on crabs from all over the word, including identifying the blue crab, named Callinectes sapidus Rathbun. Learn about this remarkable woman in “Our Lady of Callinectes” on the NEFSC web site.
Established in 1919 on the coast of Long Island Sound with a single federal scientist on site, the Milford Laboratory in Milford, CT is recognized as a global leader in shellfish and aquaculture research. A key figure in that success is Dr. Victor Loosanoff, who was assigned in 1932 to study the biological problems of Connecticut's oyster industry as an aquatic biologist with what was then the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (today the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries). Since then, laboratory scientists have contributed to the understanding of basic shellfish biology and reproduction. Methods were developed for spawning bivalve molluscs nearly year-round and for rearing all life stages (embryonic, larval, and adult). Loosanoff and laboratory colleagues were the first to develop successful methods of rearing oysters through metamorphosis in a hatchery, and the first to rear larvae of the northern quahog, Mercenaria mercenaria. Mixtures of algae suitable to support different life stages were developed and grown in sufficient quantity to support the production of shellfish. Strains of oysters with desirable characteristics, such as fast growth, were developed by geneticists. Techniques developed at Milford Laboratory, often referred to as the Milford Method, are used worldwide by the aquaculture industry. Laboratory scientists continue to work closely with the shellfish and aquaculture industry to help solve problems and increase production. Dr. Loosanoff, considered the father of U.S. shellfish hatcheries, served as Milford Laboratory Director from 1935 to 1962. The laboratory’s 49-foot research vessel bears his name.
An eminent shellfish biologist and author of The American Oyster, a classic in the field, Paul Galtsoff was a rising young scientist in his native Russia and at age 27 was director of the marine biological station at Sebastopol on the Black Sea. The Bolshevik Revolution was not kind to scientists, and he fled his native country in 1921 just hours ahead of what was surely a killing squad. He was allowed onto a British naval vessel and ended up in New York. Although his field of study was in its infancy in the U.S. there was still a need for his skills and he landed on the Albatross I as a naturalist. Eventually, he was instrumental in development of oyster aquaculture in the U.S., along with his colleague Victor Loosanoff, a fellow Russian emigre who also escaped Russia in a hail of gunfire just ahead of the Red Army. Galtsoff recruited Loosanoff to the Milford Lab in 1932. Galtsoff acted as Woods Hole lab director during and after WWII, and was finally appointed to the position in 1948, serving until his retirement in 1957. He saved the Woods Hole Lab from closure and sale in the 1930s, kept research alive at the lab during WWII when it was closed by the US Navy and after the 1944 hurricane, was an invited observer at the Bikini Atoll nuclear test and documented its effects on marine life, and was an early voice in rising concern over marine pollution during the 1960s and 1970s. He wrote most of his great oyster treatise while at the Woods Hole laboratory.
In 1948 Rachel Carson, then a U.S. Bureau of Fisheries employee, was asked to write an article about the work going on at the Woods Hole Laboratory, then part of the Bureau of Fisheries. A year later, Carson and Marie Rodell, her literary agent, made a cruise aboard Albatross III, breaking the barrier for women to go to sea. It took 15 more years for female employees of the Woods Hole Laboratory to go to sea. Ruth Stoddard was the first. She sailed aboard the Albatross IV in 1964, accompanied by Antioch College student Lisbeth Francis on a three-week cruise to Georges Bank. Stoddard started as a clerk at the lab in the late 1950s, became a biology lab technician, and eventually sailed on many cruises aboard Albatross IV before she retired. She was aboard the joint research cruise in 1967 with the Soviet fisheries research vessel Albatros, which had two female scientists aboard.
One of the primary architects of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's bottom trawl survey that started in 1963, Marvin Grosslein made numerous contributions to fisheries science. His stratified random trawl survey design was a radical departure from what were then traditional surveys focused on single-species and areas of known fish concentration. This multispecies approach improved statistical performance, and resulted in comprehensive sampling of all fish species for age, growth, sex maturity, and food habits. Hydrographic data collection was also an integral component of the program. Collectively, these elements composed a pioneering ecosystem monitoring program that was further enhanced by incorporation of systematic plankton sampling. The survey provided a benchmark, allowing declines in fish abundance to be documented. Even before declaration of the 200-mile EEZ in 1983, survey data were used to show stock declines owing to international fleets operating off U.S. territorial waters, and were the foundation of the first multispecies fishery management under the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries that governed international fishing in our region’s waters. The standardization and inter-calibration requirements Grosslein championed for trawl survey execution led to one of the world's longest fishery-independent data streams. This time series has proven invaluable, not only for tracking abundance and life history dynamics of exploited fish but also for ecosystem-based monitoring to track shifts in ecosystem structure and effects of climate change over time. Grosslein, a mentor to many younger scientists during his nearly forty years at the center, also founded the Food Chain Dynamics Investigation and served as its first leader, and led multispecies and ecosystem modeling efforts at the center for many years.
More opportunities followed Ruth Stoddard at the NEFSC for women at sea. In 1968 Judy Penttila, Brenda Byrd, and Jean St. Onge Burns made a cruise together on Albatross IV, meeting the requirement that a three-person female cabin had to be full. In 1976 Linda Despres, who joined the staff of the Woods Hole Laboratory in 1973, became the first female chief scientist during a bottom trawl survey on Albatross IV, which was also the first cruise on which women in the science party outnumbered the men. They were nicknamed the “Magnificant 7+6” and the event made headlines in the local newspaper. Despres spent 972 days (the individual record for days) over 34 years at sea on the Albatross IV, second only to Jerry Prezioso now at the Narragansett Lab who had sailed aboard the vessel over 39 years. Depres was the last chief scientist on the Albatross IV,which was decommissioned and retired from the federal research fleet in 2008. Today women at sea at NOAA and within the wider academic research community are common – they serve in all positions, from the galley and engine room to the deck, as ship’s officers, and as scientists and technicians. Learn more about women at sea aboard the Albatross.
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