U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
For over 140 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a partner on the American landscape in the conservation and restoration of our nation’s aquatic resources. Since its inception as the United States Commission on Fish and Fisheries, the Service has worked collaboratively with tribes, states, landowners, partners and stakeholders to achieve the goals of healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species and the conservation or restoration of their habitats.
The Service conducts this work to ensure the health of our nation’s aquatic ecosystems and to enable Americans to realize the ecological, recreational and economic benefits provided by these critically important resources.
Spencer Fullerton Baird. Baird was the driving force behind the creation of U.S. Fish Commission. Many of today’s Service fish biologists have a direct academic link to Baird’s first employees. He was the driving force behind the creation of the U.S. Fish Commission.
On February 9, 1871, Congress passed the first legislation recognizing a Federal role in conservation of natural resources—the Joint Resolution for the Protection and Preservation of the Food Fishes of the Coast of the United States. Congressman Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, sponsored the initiative.
The resolution recognized that “the most valuable food fishes of the coast and the lakes of the United States are rapidly diminishing in number, to the public injury, and so as materially to affect the interests of trade and commerce.”
The act gave President Grant authority “to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among the civil officers or employees of the government, one person of proved scientific and practical acquaintance with the fishes of the coast, to be commissioner of fish and fisheries, to serve without additional salary.”
Thus, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was created. President Grant appointed Spencer Fullerton Baird, at the time Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as the first U.S. Fish Commissioner.
The new Fish Commissioner set up an office in his New England home. His initial charge was to assess the condition of fisheries and report remedial measures to Congress. Baird began studies of Atlantic salmon and striped bass. A year later he was given another charge: study and promote fish culture. Toward these ends, Baird worked in partnership with fish commissioners from the States; he advocated State involvement in fisheries, and as a result State fish commissions proliferated during his tenure.
Thus the early Fish Commission presaged the modern Fisheries Program, in which Fishery Resource Offices access the condition of fisheries and coordinate remediation—and the National Fish Hatchery System contributes to the science of fish culture.
Baird’s scientific work influenced a future president. Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “My chief interests were scientific. When I entered college, I was devoted to out-of- doors natural history, and my ambition was to be a scientific man of the Audubon, or Wilson, or Baird, or Coues type—a man like Hart Merriam.”
Fish culture soon took precedence over most of the commission’s activities. In 1872, Baird sought the input of State fish commissions and the American Fish Culture Association, precursor of today’s American Fisheries Society, on ways to carry out the wishes of Congress. As a result of that meeting, Baird directed scientist Livingston Stone to spawn California salmon eggs for distribution elsewhere.
In September 1872, Stone established the first Federal hatchery near the mouth of California’s McCloud River. Stone’s report to Baird read: “We at last discovered a spring stream, flowing a thousand gallons an hour… and on the morning of September 1, 1872, the hatching-works of the first salmon-breeding station of the United States was located on this stream.”
Stone’s hatching-works became the first national fish hatchery and remained in operation until 1937. Today the facility lies entombed in a watery grave below Lake Shasta.
One hundred and forty-five years later, the Fish Commission’s legacy remains within the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Service’s Fisheries Program has evolved as our scientific knowledge has grown, and today, it comprises a network of dedicated professionals engaged in their craft at 72 National Fish Hatcheries, 65 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices, a Historic National Fish Hatchery, 9 Fish Health Centers, 7 Fish Technology Centers, and the Aquatic Animal Drug Approval Partnership. These professionals proudly carry the mantle of 145 years of fisheries conservation— descending from the oldest organized conservation effort in our nation’s history.
Written by Craig Springer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region
This article is directly from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
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