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the story of the bureau of commercial fisheries biological laboratory woods hole, massachusetts

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The headquarters of the shellfishery investigation at College Park, Md., were closed in 1950 and Galtsoff, former chief of the section, was permanently assigned to the Woods Hole Laboratory to conduct research necessary for the preparation of a comprehensive treatise on oyster biology. The Woods Hole Laboratory was also used in the preparation of a comprehensive book about the origin, waters and marine life of the Gulf of Mexico. In connection with this undertaking, a large bibliography comprising several thousand cards was prepared and is now kept in the library of the Fisheries Biological Laboratory and in the library of the MBL at Woods Hole. Additional copies were distributed among the participating institutions of the Gulf area.

III. Woods Hole Laboratory, Center for International Fisheries Research

In 1951, Herbert W. Graham replaced Royce as Chief of North Atlantic Fishery Investigations and Director of the Laboratory. This year marks the beginning of new work for the Fisheries Laboratory at Woods Hole. In addition to its function as a fishery research center for the North Atlantic area, it became the center of American research activities in relation to the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF). The International Commission originated with the convention of 11 countries in Washington, D.C., in January 1949. They entered into an agreement which was ratified on July 3, 1950, by four signatory governments namely, Canada, Iceland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. At present (1962) 12 participating governments comprise the Commission.

The activities of ICNAF extend over a huge area, nearly two million square miles, of the ocean west of longitude 42W. And north of latitude 39 N. Along the west coast of Greenland the are covers about one-half of the width of Davis Strait and extends in a northwesterly direction into Baffin Bay where it terminates at the point of latitude 78 10"N. And longitude 73 30" W. the entire area is subdivided into five subareas. In order to carry out the Commissioner's objectives for the investigation, protection and conservation of fisheries, a panel has been established for each subarea. The representation of governments on each panel is reviewed annually by the Commission on the basis of "Current substantial exploitation in the sub-area concerned with fishes of the cod group (Gadiformes), of flat fishes (Pleuronectiformes), and of rosefish (genus Sebastes) except that each contracting government with coast line adjacent to a sub-area shall have the right of representation of the panel of sub-area" ( Article IV, International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, Report No. 1, 1951 ). The United States is primarily concerned with sub-areas four and five, and has membership in panels three, four, and five. Subarea five, in which the U.S. Government conducts extensive studies on haddock and sea scallop, covers the entire area of Georges Bank. Since the organization of ICNAF, the Fisheries Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole entered into a new phase of activities as research agency for the international organization concerned with the management of oceanic food resources.

The Commission is a voluntary international organization, and no government is compelled to join or to abide by its regulations. The participating governments are honor-bound to respect the conservation measures that may be designed by the Commission, to provide the statistical data requested, and to participate in the program of research activities agreed upon at the annual meetings of the convention. It is understood that the participating governments share substantial interest in the conservation and in maintenance of a sustained catch from these fisheries. Its success is an outstanding example of the benefits derived from international cooperation.

As the work of ICNAF was organized, additional projects were added to the program outlined during the first ICNAF meeting. Correspondingly, the staff of the Laboratory was increased. In 1952, 19 service biologists (including the Director) and laboratory or fishery aids were on the Federal payroll at the Station. By 1962 the number of biologists and aids increased to 37.

After the first meeting of ICNAF in Washington, the Canadian and American advisers met at Woods Hole in 1952 to formulate a program of research which included the study of: the quantity of small haddock destroyed at sea; mortality rates (fishing, natural and total) of fish before and after regulation; total contributions (in pounds) of year classes of groundfish species of known abundance before and after regulation; growth rates of young fish before and after regulation. It was decided also to undertake the following studies: determination of a mesh size which would permit escapement of small fish which are destroyed by small mesh nets; and preparation of regulatory measures for the consideration of the Commissioner.

The use of Albatross III made it feasible to resume the observations necessary for various research projects. Since March 3, 1953, cruises have been devoted to the collection of redfish, surveying the distribution of haddock and cod eggs and larvae, taking groundfish censuses, and conducting experiments in mesh selectivity.

Haddock research reached the stage at which it was possible to predict the relative abundance of each year class of fish with a high degree of accuracy, although the causes of the fluctuations in the abundance of fish of each year class of research data, an international mesh regulation was adopted. After it became effective in this country on June 1, 1952, the fishing for haddock on Georges Bank or in the Gulf of Maine with a net having meshes less than 44-1/2 inches (inside diameter) was illegal (Graham, 1952).

A new project concerned with the whiting fishery was initiated with the view of determining the species involved and developing the technique of age determination.

In 1950-53 the Station's chemical laboratory and part of the general laboratory on the second floor were occupied by the Public Health unit for the study of bacteriological aspects of shellfish sanitation. Also, an office was provided for the use of George A. Rounsefell, in charge of the editorial services of the Branch.

In the shellfish laboratory, studies were made of the movements of drills and conches in search of food; and the spawning and setting of oysters in Onset and Chatham Bays. A survey of tidal waters of Cape Cod was made with reference to determining the extent of setting of oysters in the estuaries; results showed that oysters set prolifically in almost all protected bays and ponds. Because of the lack of interest and jurisdictional policies exercised by local communities over shellfish grounds, this latent oyster resource is not utilized.

During the summer of 1952, 10 independent investigators spent several weeks each in special studies of various physiological problems, the aquarium and other exhibits, prepared in cooperation with WHOI, were opened to the public during the summer months. The research vessel Albatross III was loaned to WHOI for the year.

The Laboratory continued to attract scientists from foreign countries. The list of visitors includes marine biologists from Canada, England, Scotland, Thailand, Peru, Norway, Iceland, and India. Nine independent investigators used the facilities of the Laboratory to conduct research on problems of physiology of marine organisms. Six of these received accommodations through an agreement with the MBL for the exchange of facilities of the two institutions.

On August 31, 1954, hurricane "Carol", the third since 1938, struck Woods Hole and caused extensive damages to the Fisheries grounds and buildings. Albatross III, which was moored to the dock when the hurricane struck, was fortunately saved by determined members of the Laboratory staff. The salt-water system, already deteriorated by previous hurricanes, was badly damaged again, no funds were available for a complete rehabilitation of the salt-water pipes and pumps. The aquarium was closed and not reopened until the new one was constructed a few years later.

The new project undertaken in connection with the study of oceanic fisheries was the investigation of sea scallop, supported by Saltonstall-Kennedy funds. The rapidly expanding scallop fishery reached such proportions that it is now one of the major fish industries in New England. Extensive population studies of sea scallop were instituted under the direction of J.A. Posgay.

Plankton surveys of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank were continued by J. Colton and R. Marak with the view of determining the drift of eggs and larvae in the area studied (Colton and Temple, 1961). These observations were supplemented by the release of drift bottles and their returns. To learn about the food habits of haddock, the contents of stomachs of 2,000 fishes taken from 41 locations were studied.

The haddock investigation was particularly concerned with determining the type of tag most suitable for marking fish and with determining the percent escapement of each size through the net. To improve the observation technique, an underwater camera of special design was constructed and tested. Also several biologists of the Laboratory took training ain sustained underwater swimming with the aqualung.

In the shellfish program, studies were made of the structure and elastic properties of shell ligament and on the rate of deposition of shell materials during different seasons. The electron microscope available at the MBL was used for these studies.

In the following years, 1955-57, the program of groundfish investigations was continued for the purpose of suggesting to ICNAF further regulations. The following research projects were conducted: mesh regulation for haddock fishery; population biology for haddock (Taylor, 1958); redfish (Kelly, et al., 1959 1961a, 1961b), whiting, yellowtail flounder, industrial fish, and sea scallop; fisheries of Delaware Bay; and plankton ecology with reference to the abundance and dispersal of haddock eggs and larvae. Study of bottom organisms over the Georges Bank was undertaken in order to determine the relationship between the distribution of fish to the availability of the food supply. Various types of gear, such as scoops, dredges, and a ring net mounted on a sled were used to collect animals attached to, or burrowing in the bottom and those which live in water close to the bottom. Tools of research were augmented by the use of an underwater television camera, the specifications for which were drawn up by the electronics equipment specialist who was added to the Laboratory staff.

For the preparation of a treatise on oyster biology, several physiological and histological studies were made regarding the structure and function of the mantle, labial palps, and gills. On the basis of physiological and ecological investigations, a method was advanced for a quantitative evaluation of oyster bottoms. With the cooperation of the West Chatham, Mass. Oystermen, an experimental study of raft culture of oysters was undertaken in Oyster Pond River near Chatham, Mass. This project demonstrated that oysters suspended from a raft may reach marketable size in 2-1/2 years instead of the usual 4 or 5 years, and that their mortality due to drills and other enemies may be reduced to a minimum. The method is particularly suitable to the inshore waters of Cape Cod which are well protected from storms and surf.

Efforts for complete rehabilitation of the Station initiated after the hurricane of 1944 by the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, A.M. Day, and continued by his successor John L. Farley brought results in 1955 when Congress voted $930,000 for the replacement of the old buildings with a modern laboratory and aquarium. The reconstruction of the breakwater and rebuilding of docks had been made possible by a separate appropriation of $160,000; the Dane Construction Company of Sommerville, Mass. Was awarded the contract for this work. In 1957 the Director's residence (former Coast Guard bungalow) was moved to a new site and the barrack-type frame building (former WAVES quarters) was given to the MBL and moved away. On December 27, 1957, the Government entered into a contract with Mishara Construction Company, Inc., of Brighton, Mass. For the razing of the old laboratory, residence building, and maintenance shop and for the construction of a three-story 44 feet x 190 feet masonry building. The old buildings were vacated, and the Laboratory personnel occupied temporary quarters in a private estate midway between Falmouth and Woods Hole. The shellfish investigations were conducted in a laboratory at the MBL.

Early in 1958 the old buildings were demolished. The staff of the Laboratory consisted at this time of Director, Herbert W. Graham, Assistant Director, the late Clyde C. Taylor, 21 fishery research biologists, 21 fishery aids, 6 technical assistants, and 16 persons employed in administration and maintenance. The Albatross III, with a crew of 24 officers and men, was attached to the Laboratory.

New and important changes in the research program and administrative functions of the Laboratory, which became effective since 1950, resulted from the reorganization of the Fish and Wildlife Service. As previously mentioned, under the authority of the President's Reorganization Plan II, the Bureau of Fisheries was merged with the Bureau of Biological Survey to form the Fish and Wildlife Service under the U.S. Department of the Interior. A new Fish and Wildlife Act was passed during the second session of the 14th Congress and on August 8, 1956, was approved by President Eisenhower. The "Declaration of Policy" of the Act states that "Congress hereby declares that the fish, shellfish, and wildlife resources of the Nation make a material contribution to our natural economy and food supply, as well as a material contribution to the health, recreation, and well-being of our citizens" (Sater, 1960). The law established the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife as two independent components of the new Service. The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries under a Director (the position at present is occupied by Donald L. McKernan) consists of four divisions: Biological Research, Industrial Research, Resources Development, and Administration. At the same time the Bureau's field activities, formerly under the direct supervision of the central office in Washington, have been decentralized by establishing five regional offices, and two area offices, each headed by a Regional Director and assisted by an administrative staff. In accordance with the new plan, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole and other Bureau laboratories in the area, are under the administrative supervision of the Director of Region 3, with headquarters at Gloucester, Mass. John Gharett is Regional Director of Region 3 which extends over the New England area and southward including the states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Under the new administrative scheme, the general term "field station" applies to any field office of the Bureau other than Regional or area offices, and the term "Biological Laboratory" is used to designate a major research center engaged in biological investigations. The official full title of the Woods Hole Laboratory according to Amendment Two of Reorganization Memorandum No. 10 of November 18, 1958, is as follows: Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The major activities of a laboratory are called programs each headed by a program leader. The Laboratory Director has supervision of all the functions of the Laboratory.

On March 1, 1960, when Laboratory personnel moved back to Woods Hole and occupied the new laboratory building, the staff comprised H.W. Graham, Director; Robert L. Edwards, acting Assistant Laboratory Director (now Assistant Director); and the following program leaders: Cod- J.P. Wise; Flounder- F.E. Lux; Haddoc- J.R. Clark; Hake- R.L. Fritz; Industrial Fishery-R.L. Edwards; Redfish (formerly called rosefish)-G.F. Kelly; Sea Scallops- J.A. Posgay; Benthic Ecology-R.L. Wigley; Fish Behavior- R. Livingstone; Plankton Ecology-R.R. Marak; Aquarium and Experimental Studies- C.L. Wheeler; Instrumentation and Underwater Television- J.M. Crossen; Port Samples Pool (to obtain data on the commercial landing of fish)- L.H. Couture. The work on estuarine ecology conducted in the past years has been discontinued, and the activities of the Laboratory focused on oceanic fisheries and development of practical measures of management in relation to the U.S. responsibilities to ICNAF.

IV. The Aquarium

The aquarium has always been a vital part of Woods Hole as a scientific and educational center. It was organized by Baird, who strongly believed in the necessity of popularizing marine biology and explaining to the general public the aims and achievements of government research in conservation. No appropriations were made, however, for the operation of the aquarium. It was assumed that this work would be performed voluntarily and jointly by the Director and Superintendent of the Station. For many years R.A. Goffin, collector for the Laboratory and later its Superintendent until 1941, took care of the aquarium to the best of his ability and with limited funds. In arranging the aquarium material, emphasis was placed on New England food fishes and on invertebrates commonly found along the shores and used in the MBL classes and for research. The aquarium doors were open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in order to give the MBL investigators a chance to visit the exhibits between breakfast time and the beginning of morning classes at 9:00 a.m. another favored time was between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. The tourists and other visitors usually came between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The aquarium was frequently crowded on holidays, especially when bad weather kept the tourists from the beaches. The visitors were invited to register and write their impressions. Spot checks conducted at various times of the day showed that in the morning and late afternoon hours the ratio of those who signed their names and those who disregarded the request was 1 to 10. During other hours it varied from 1 to 3 to 1 to 5. From these and other checks it was possible to estimate that the number of visitors exceeded 1,000 per day on rainy days and holidays. In 1945-50 the average number of aquarium visitors for the entire 90-day period it was open was about 250 per day.

With the organization of the School of Science for the boys and girls of the parents doing research work at Woods Hole, arrangements were made for the children to have their own tanks for keeping and watching the animals they collected in the sea. The old hatchery provided plenty of room for this purpose. By this policy many acts of juvenile delinquency were prevented since the participants of the "aquarium projects" acted as voluntary guards.

It was my practice to mingle with the crowd and learn directly their reactions to our display. It was a surprise to find out how many college instructors in biology had never seen live dogfish, squid, or other common animals. Some of them admired the graceful movements of the fish, the continuous color change of the squid, the sliding motion of starfish, and the brilliance of our common red sponge. Their previous acquaintance with these forms of life was only through the unattractive specimens preserved in formalin and used for dissection.

On many occasions the aquarium supplied the MBL classes with material for experimentation and dissection. The demonstration of electric discharges by the larg electric ray was the most spectacular event carried out for several consecutive seasons on Fisheries grounds by William R. Amberson for the students of his physiology class. The ray was placed on a wide copper plate to which an electrode was attached. The second electrode was placed on the ray's dorsal side, over its electric organ. A chain was formed of 40 to 50 volunteers holding hands and two at the ends touching the poles. The fish was then disturbed, and at the discharge of an electric shock all the hands jerked up simultaneously with loud screams of the participants. The event always attracted numerous spectators.

Many curious remarks were heard and comic incidents happened around the outdoor pool. By long-established tradition, two young harbor seals were kept every summer in a large sea-water pool behind the sea wall. The lovable animals, adored by the public, spent most of their time on a small raft anchored in the pool. They became tame within a short time of their capture and came close to the wall to accept mackerel or other fish offered to them. At feeding time a large crowd would always be standing on the walls of the pool. Besides the seals, sea turtles and large sharks occasionally were placed in the pool. There was always a discussion about the dangers of sharks, their attacks on humans and questions why the seals were not afraid of them. I noticed late one afternoon, a large group of men loudly arguing some question and refreshing themselves with frequent excursions to hip-pocket flasks. To prevent possible unpleasantries I moved close to the group and heard how one rather fat and vociferous fellow proposed a bet of $5 to $25 that he would enter the water where sharks were swimming and remain there immobile for 10 minutes. The bet was accepted, and the man stripped to his bathing trunks, stepped into the water while his companions anxiously looked at their watches. When he successfully emerged from the pool and collected his bet, I quietly remarked that the large sand sharks in the pool are sluggish animals which subsist on small fish and never attack humans. Since the explanation was not appreciated by the winner, I hastily retreated to my quarters.

The seals were the darlings of Woods Hole. People loved them, and used thousands of films photographing them and asked endless questions about their habits. There were many visitors to the aquarium, including some local fishermen who with great regularity came to see the exhibits and always commented on the condition or rarity of the specimens they saw. Who knows how many of them became naturalists and conservationists as a result of these first impressions of life in the sea?

The aquarium serves educational purposes by emphasizing to the public the value and necessity of conservation of aquatic resources. In designing the new aquarium the Bureau attempted to carry on the tradition of Spencer F. Baird. It is housed in a modern building and uses modern techniques for exhibiting fish and telling the story of conservation of marine resources. There are 16 tanks for display of local marine animals and plants, and no attempt is made to entertain the visitors with trained animals or to show exotic species. As in the past, the aquarium is open only during the summer. Shortly after Labor Day its facilities are used for experimental research.

In spite of the very modest character of the aquarium it attracted over 200,000 visitors in the summer of 1961. This tremendous interest in marine science on the part of the American public points up the need for more marine museums and aquaria in accessible places to satisfy the desire to learn about the sea. The Bureau's aquarium is designed to tell the story of marine conservation and to give to the public an idea of the research being conducted at Woods Hole. It cannot do more than this. The usefulness of the public exhibits of the Fisheries Biological Laboratory and their educational value cannot be denied.

V. Outlook for the Future

Effective management of fisheries resources of the open ocean presents a great challenge that can be met by well-planned, year-round observations conducted without interruption for a number of years. The most important scientific phase of this research is concerned with the causes of the great fluctuations in the abundance of fish stocks. For the past hundred or more years these fluctuations have greatly affected the fishing industries of this country and in Europe. Frequently the cause was attributed to one or another factor- such as overfishing, changes in ocean currents, or temperature deviations from the expected average- without actually ascertaining all the complicated interrelationships between the welfare of a fish population, environmental changes, and the effects of man's activities. The intricate picture of life in the open ocean cannot be elucidated by a single short-term observation in a restricted area. The census of fish populations should be taken from year to year together with measurements of changes that may occur in the oceanic environment, particularly in climate and weather, observing the pattern of currents, and determining the abundance of the food supply for different species. Life in the ocean does not remain stable. Contrarily, it is in a state of unstable equilibrium in which the struggle for existence gives temporary predominance to one group which in turn may be replace by another. For an understanding of such interactions, long-continued and well-planned observations are needed.

An evaluation of the events that take place among free-living and rapidly moving marine populations cannot be made by studying a single species of commercially important fish. All species of fish compete for space and food and are directly or indirectly dependent on the abundance of zooplankton and bottom organisms which in turn are controlled by the abundance of microscopic plants and bacteria. In final analysis the entire food chain in the ocean from mineral salts, necessary for microscopic plants, to the abundance of the giants of the sea- sharks, tunas, and whales- depends on sun energy absorbed by the surface of the ocean. Therefore, it is clear that biological observations on a marine population must be based on detailed oceanographic studies. The needs and tolerances of various species for temperature, salinity, oxygen, and food must be known in order to interpret possible effects of slight changes in the environment. To this long array of particulars must be added the study of the behavior of fish, and diseases which sometimes decimate the entire population. This type of work requires the facilities of a modern laboratory and availability of a sea-going research vessel. Continued and uninterrupted observations in the open ocean are essential for the success of this work. It is apparent that the work of such magnitude can not be carried on by a single institution. Together with a number of organizations and agencies concerned with marine sciences, the Fisheries Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole is ready to contribute its share in oceanographic research and to assume a leading role in the studies of fisheries, their conservation and utilization, the goal which was formulated 90 years ago by Baird. It is remarkable that the present day ideas of oceanic research are essentially those which the great founder of this Laboratory so eloquently expressed in his reports, in his statements to Congress, and in his remarkable instructions to the men he sent to explore the secrets of the ocean.

Let us hope that the ideals of Spencer F. Baird shall remain alive and will continue to stimulate the young generation of scientists who have now at their disposal the wonderful tools of research that could not have been imagined at the time the first marine biological station in the United States was founded.

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