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

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Edwards' enthusiasm for observation and collecting was known to Baird. This probably explains that in making his appointment he stipulated that "Mr. Edwards was to do no regular work on Sunday." Edwards' services to the Fish Commission and to the biologists who came later to work at Woods Hole were recognized by many prominent scientists. Their feelings are well summarized by the words of E.B. Wilson, who wrote on May 12, 1919 after the death of Edwards, as follows: "It is hard to realize that the familiar figure of Vinal N. Edwards will no longer be seen at Woods Hole, and he will be greatly missed, especially by all the earlier workers who had come to rely so often upon his advice and judgment. No one could know Vinal Edwards without having the kindliest feelings toward him personally and without coming to realize that he was a man of rare character and attainments. I always associated him with Spencer Baird who I know had a very high regard for him and fully appreciated his important services to the Fish Commission... Woods Hole will not seem the same without him." A commemorative plaque for Edwards was presented by friends of Wards to the Fisheries Laboratory at Woods Hole and was mounted on a wall at the entrance to the old aquarium building. It can now be seen in the lobby of the new laboratory.

In the years 1872-74 the operations of the Fish Commission were shifted northward to the Bay of Fundy with the special purpose to study the fisheries of Maine and the adjacent portion of the British Provinces. In 1872 the headquarters was established at Eastport, Maine, where Baird was permitted to use the U.S. Revenue Cutter Mosswood. The vessel was armed with a small gun on the forward deck and carried a number of rifles and cutlasses. The arrangement with the revenue office specified that if a suspicious craft should be sighted the dredging must be suspended while the suspect was overhauled and investigated. The records fail to show that dredging and seining were interfered with, since most of the smuggling was done at night. As in the previous year, several scientists, including A. E. Verrill, S. I. Smith, G. Brown Goode, Th. N. Gill and others, assisted in the work and collaborated in the identification of collected materials. The Commissioner of the Dominion Fisheries, William F. Whitcher, and his staff showed great interest in the fishery investigations and gave Baird valuable assistance and cooperation. A biologically interesting conclusion was reached by Baird regarding the probable cause of the reduction of cod and river fishes, both of which have declined in equal ratio. He state din his report for 1872-73 (Baird, 1874) that "the reduction in the cod and other fisheries, so as to become practically a failure, is due to the decrease off our coast in the quantity, primarily of alewives; and secondarily, of shad and salmon, more than to any other cause."

Early in 1872, the American Fish Culturists Association at the February meeting in Albany, New York, passed a resolution urging the U.S. Government to take measures for the introduction and artificial propagation of shad, salmon, and other valuable food fishes throughout the country, especially in the waters common to several states. An appropriation of $15,000 for this purpose was given by Congress and added new responsibilities to the Commission of Fisheries. This action greatly influenced the work at Woods Hole where a marine hatchery was established as an integral part of the station.

In 1873 the field operations were based at Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine, about three miles from Portland. The location was selected as the principal area of the herring and cod fisheries. A Navy steam tug Bluelight (fig. 8) which weighed about 100 tons and was 100 feet in length ,was placed under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner. This vessel was sufficiently large to provide an opportunity of trying, for the first time, the steam windlass for hoisting the dredges and trawls. This improvement of technique attracted the attention of the Secretary of the navy who visited the headquarters and spent several days in examining the operations at sea. The assignment of the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Bache to the Fisheries Commission gave an opportunity to extend the operations farther offshore between Mount Desert and Cape Cod.

As in previous years many visitors, including several scientists who attended the Portland, Maine, meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Maine Commissioners of Fisheries, representatives of the New York Tribune, and others came to see Baird's explorations.

For marine investigations in 1874, Baird selected a locality in the village of Noank, Conn. At the mouth of the Mystic River on Fishers Island Sound. The place was sufficiently remote from the previously explored areas of New England waters to permit the notice of some important zoological differences. In addition to the waters adjacent to Noank, the Bluelight visited Montauk Point on the eastern tip of Long Island, Gardiners and Peconic Bays, Block Island Sound, and the eastern part of Long Island Sound. Verril and his associates reported that over 100 species of invertebrates new to the fauna of New England were found. They also reported that some of the more southern species of animals were discovered in localities which had a higher sea-water temperature than others. In addition, the party conducted experiments in artificial propagation of sea bass and attempted to introduce young shad into salt-water rivers. Valuable background information necessary for selecting a place for the permanent location of the laboratory and hatchery was obtained through the four years of studies of the abundance, habits, and distribution of the more important species of fishes and invertebrates. The final decision had to be postponed until later years.

Baird, with his assistants, returned to Woods Hole in 1875 with the idea that second survey of local waters would provide a means for determining the variation in the abundance of fishes as compared with the conditions recorded four years previous, in 1871. The need for a more permanent field accommodation for the Commission became acute. It was solved by the authorization of the Light-House Board to convert the large shed on the banks of Little Harbor into a two-story laboratory (fig. 9) and to construct a 5,000-gallon reservoir and a windmill for pumping sea water. The regular appropriation of the Commission provided funds necessary to cover the cost of the alteration, but laboratory equipment, including tables, shelves, tanks, aquaria, and plumbing, for which Government funds were not available, was purchased with the liberal contributions made by Mr. And Mrs. John F. Forbes of Naushon Island and Robert L. Stuart of New York. This laboratory greatly facilitated the work of sorting, identification, and preservation of the material collected at sea and made it possible to observe the behavior of various animals, and to study their spawning and hatching of eggs. The opportunities for research in marine biology offered by the new laboratory attracted many outstanding biologists from New England colleges, as well as State fisheries Commissioners and the general public. Baird realized the importance of public support of his venture and encouraged the visitors to come and see the laboratory and the collection of live fish and other animals kept in tanks. He was pleased when popular accounts of the activity of the new institution appeared in the New York Tribune under the signature of William C. Wyckoff, the scientific editor, who on several occasions was his guest at Woods Hole.

The year 1875 should be considered the year of the establishment of the Woods Hole laboratory, although the construction of a permanent building had to be postponed for several years. During 1875 and in the following years the biological investigations continued under the supervision of Baird and his principal collaborators, George Brown Goode and A. E. Verrill. A number of students were attracted to the new institution which offered an opportunity to conduct scientific research under Baird, who liberally offered his guidance and advice. At this time he actively participated in dredging, seining, or in collecting material in shallow water. Being an enthusiastic collector, he enjoyed going aboard the vessels with his students and assistants. He was frequently seen wading along the beaches of Woods Hole or seining from a small boat in Little Harbor (figs. 10 and 11). The research work conducted in the temporary laboratory buildings was well organized. The first floor was utilized by those who worked with fishes the second floor was used by the biologists studying invertebrates. The students employed by Baird spent the early morning hours collecting materials in nearby waters. Sometimes the steam launch Cygnet would take them to the "Hole". After several half-hour tows were made the material was brought to the laboratory and examined before the investigators left for the night. Edwin Linton in his recollection of life at Woods Hole in the earlier days of the Fish Commissioner (Linton, 1927) remarks of the "total absence of anything in the way of play, other than the daily swim." However, it is known that a small part of the laboratory shed was set aside as a social hall used for discussions, conversation, reading, and relaxation. It was unofficially known in the village as "Sharks Parlor." A photograph (fig. 9) taken during this period shows a carriage standing near the shed entrance. The crate on the carriage apparently contained a piano.

For his family, Baird rented the house facing Little Harbor belonging to Miss J. Fish (fig. 12), but his associates were scattered in different dwellings throughout the village. When the number of Commission employees increased, a house was rented to provide office space, living quarters, and mess facilities. It burned in 1883, and the site is now occupied by the Woods Hole Public Library.

The purpose of scientific investigations was little understood by the public. Their questions about what the biologists were doing in the laboratory were sometimes difficult to answer. Linton reported that on one occasion A. E. Verrill, who was in charge of the laboratory, found it impossible to enlighten his interlocutors. He had an inspiration and told them that he was paid for his work. This seemed to be accepted as quite a satisfactory explanation. Of course there were many laymen of better education and higher intelligence who were able to grasp the significance of research. Since Baird's time to the present, the problem of visitors and how to satisfy their natural curiosity and at the same time avoid interference with scientific work has been of great concern to all in charge of scientific institutions at Woods Hole. Baird encouraged the people to visit his laboratory because he was convinced that in a democratic society the people are entitled to know about the activities of the institutions which are maintained by expenditures of public funds.

He also thought that research and education should not be divorced. As a practical person he believed that public support would be effective in obtaining the necessary appropriations by Congress for the construction of a good marine station.

The scientific work conducted at the station during the ensuing years was carried out along the lines already established by exploratory studies of New England Waters, with greater emphasis on developing practical methods of artificial propagation of fishes and in formulating a system for collecting statistical data. Zoological research was in the hands of specialists, with Verrill as head of the section of marine invertebrates and E. B. Wilson as his outstanding assistant (fig. 13). The fact that this eminent American embryologist and cytologist was associated with the laboratory during the earliest years of its existence has remained a source of pride to many biologists who during the past 80 years were employed by the U.S. Fisheries Laboratory at Woods Hole. Studies of fish and fisheries were continued under the supervision of Goode, while Baird concentrated his efforts in obtaining land and necessary funds for the laboratory.

In the scientific circles of his time Baird was recognized as an organizer and administrator of the highest rank. He had a rare faculty of adapting himself with unusual tact to subordinate positions, as can be seen from his work for nearly 30 years when he devoted his principal efforts to the organization of the National Museum. Moreover, through his position as Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution he obtained cooperation of nearly every branch of the Government. In spite of the well-known fact that his chief, I. Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, a physicist, had little or no fondness for zoology, the relationship between the two men remained harmonious. Upon the death of Henry in 1878, Baird succeeded him as Secretary and assumed an even greater burden of administrative work. In his discussions he displayed a remarkable ability to convince his listeners and secure their assistance. This was so well known in Congressional circles, where Baird was a frequent witness at hearings of various committees, that one influential Senator was quoted as saying: "I am willing to vote the money asked we give him, one-half by direct purchase and one-half by gift." This reputation helped Baird in obtaining Congressional appropriation for the construction of the Fisheries Station, since the increased scope of activities of the Fish Commission required larger and more permanent accommodations than those provided by the Light-House Board.

The power of persuasion of this remarkable man was so great that he was equally successful in dealing with college professors, students, local politicians, State Fish Commissioners, Senators, Congressmen, and business officials. In his attitude to others he was never condescending, vain, or "highbrow", but always tried to explain the merits of his point in terms understandable to others.

Since the Fish Commission became more and more involved in fish culture, it was necessary to find an inexpensive and safe method of transporting live fry to the place where they were to be released. It was not difficult for Baird to obtain full cooperation of the American railroads, who granted to the Fish commission special low rates for travel of personnel and for delivery of large containers of water and young fishes. Later on, special railroad cars were built for this purpose. One such car was frequently seen at the railroad terminal at Woods Hole.

On July 18, 1872, the Old Colony Railroad opened its services to Woods Hole. This improvement was a great benefit to the members of the Fish Commission. The first train conductor, Augustus S. Messer, remained in the service of the company for many years and became highly respected and known and loved by the residents and commuters for his friendliness and services which he was eager to extend. The administration of the railroad encouraged friendly relations with the travelling public; this policy was continued until the late 1950's when due to the financial adversity of the owners, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, to which the Old Colony Railroad was leased in 1893, stopped passenger service between Boston and Woods Hole. Good transportation facilities were an important factor in the growth of Woods Hole as a scientific center. At first the fastest train travelled from Boston to Woods Hole, a distance of about 80 miles, in 3 hours and 10 minutes. Soon, however, the famous "Flying Dude" train was inaugurated. It made its first trip early in the spring of 1884 and cut the travel time to only 1 hour 47 minutes. The Old Colony Railroad "Was the equal to any road and inferior to none." (Fisher, 1919).

At the request of Baird the Old Colony issued special tickets which facilitated transportation of the officers and employees of the Fish Commission to and from Woods Hole. An agreement with various other railroad companies authorized the Fish Commission to transport live fish in the baggage cars of passenger trains without extra charge and allowed the Commission messengers to have free access to them while en route.

During the formative years the final decision crystallized in Baird's mind regarding the location and character of the permanent laboratory of the Fish Commission. In 1882 he arrived at the conclusion that the proposed station was to be used both for research "and for propagation of the marine fishes and that the best conditions for the latter purpose were found on the south coast of New England because greater variety of fish can be found here and so far as the winter hatching was concerned, the cold being much less severe, and the other circumstances more favorable." The choice was between two locations: Newport, R.I., and Woods Hole. The citizens of Newport showed great desire to have the station and exerted their influence on Government authorities to induce the Fish Commission to choose their town. Necessary buildings and the use of a suitable wharf were offered, and the Navy Department invited the Commission to establish its laboratory and hatchery on the northern end of Coasters Harbor Island, which was thought not to be required for the Naval Training School.

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