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

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Verrill's work provided a basis for our knowledge of bottom invertebrates in the immediate vicinity of Woods Hole and the adjacent areas extending to the 100-fathom line or farther offshore to some extent. His report upon the invertebrate animals of Vineyard Sound and the adjacent waters with an account of the physical characters of the region, published in 1871, has not lost its scientific value to the present day, and remains a major source of information about bottom communities of this area. Likewise, are his "Report on the Cephalopoda of the Northeastern Coast of America" (Verrill, 1882), "Results of the Explorations made by the Steamer 'Albatross' off the Northern Coast of the United States" (Verrill, 1885), and "Notice of a Remarkable Marine Fauna Occupying the Outer Banks off the Southern Coast of New England, and of some Additions to the fauna of Vineyard Sound" (Verrill, 1884). In the latter paper he describes the rich fauna in the region about 105 miles along the 100 fathom line between latitudes 3540' and 4022' N. and longitudes 6915' and 7132' W. according to his conclusion, the number of species and the abundance of individuals in this area "is due very largely to the annual uniformity of the temperature enjoyed at all seasons of the year, at all those depths that are below the immediate effects of the atmospheric changes. The region. . . . . is subject to the combined effects of the Gulf Stream on one side and the cold northern current of the other, together with the gradual decrease in temperature in proportion to the depth."

He describes also the effects of the Gulf Stream in bringing "Vast quantities of free-swimming animals which furnish an inexhaustible supply of food for many bottom animals". After Verrill's time, the study of bottom invertebrate communities on the offshore areas along the New England Coast was discontinued and was resumed only in 1954, in connection with recent investigations of groundfishes of Georges Bank. Verrill's conclusion about the condition responsible for the abundance of life along the 100-fathom line in an area south of Woods Hole shows a highly developed power of observation and the ability of the author to visualize a general ecological picture from the multitude of detached observations. Verrill never lost sight of the forest because of the trees.

His work on cephalopods contains the descriptions of gigantic squids, Architeuthis and their allies. Their existence in the waters not far from Woods Hole is rarely suspected by summer tourists and boatmen. The efficiency of Verrill's field explorations was facilitated by his skill in devising or modifying collecting instruments and perfecting methods of dredging and trawling. He remarks (Verrill, 1883, p. 65) that the adoption of steel-wire rope for dredging from the Fish Hawk greatly expedited the work. He was fully acquainted with the latest improvements, in sounding, dredging, and trawling techniques made in Europe. He immediately adopted the new methods for the operations of the Fish Hawk. He must be credited for designing new forms of traps for capturing bottom animals, the "trawl wings" for catching free-swimming forms close to the bottom, and many other devices. The mop-tangles that Verrill devised for catching spiny animals were later adopted by the oyster growers in Long Island Sound for removing starfish; this device is still used at the present time.

Other important contributions of the Woods Hole Laboratory made during the firest years of its existence are the three papers by Edwin Linton (1889, 1891, 1892) on entozoa of marine fishes. These publications were the first in a long series of papers on parasitic worms which Linton produced during more than 50 years as a voluntary collaborator at the laboratory.

The works of Harger (1880) on marine Isopoda and of Farlow (1873, 1882 ) on marine algae were the result of careful taxonomic studies of the material collected by the station's vessels.

The work on fishes dealt primarily with the occurrence, distribution, and development of the more important species. Among the valuable contributions originated at the Woods Hole Laboratory between the years 1871-87 were: "List of Fishes Collected at Woods Hole" (Baird, 1873), "The Scup, The Bluefish" (Baird, 1873), "The Sea Fisheries of Eastern North Coast of North America" (Baird 1889); "Catalogue of the Fishes of the East Coast of North America" (Gill, 1873); "The Natural and Economical History of the American Menhaden" (Goode, 1879), "Materials for a History of the Sword-Fish" (Goode, 1883); "Materials for a History of the Mackerel Fishery" (Goode, Collins, Earll, and Clark, 1884); "Embryography of Osseous Fisheries, with Special Reference to the Development of the Cod" (Ryder, 1884). The principal question regarding the causes of the decline in commercial fish catches and fluctuations in their abundance, could not be answered by these investigations and with the methods available at Baird's time. Even at the present time, in spite of the outstanding progress made in fishery biology and the development of statistical methods of studying fish populations, the causes responsible for the wide fluctuations in the abundance of fish remain undiscovered.

The experience of many European biologists in artificial propagation of fresh-water fish showed that the populations of fish in streams and ponds could be maintained by restocking with artificially raised young fish. Various organizations in the United States and state officials urged the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries to initiate artificial cultivation of marine species and to introduce foreign species of fish into American waters. The construction of a marine hatchery at Woods Hole was made in response to these requests. The problem of maintaining a fish population at a desired level of abundance appeared to be a simple one. In general, the fecundity of oceanic food fishes is very high, the adult female (depending on species) producing every year from several hundred thousand to several million eggs. Inference was made that by means of artificial propagation it would be possible to increase the supply of such fish as cod, flounder, shad, mackerel, halibut, and other species, and also to transport them to other localities where they were not present. Baird, in accord with the opinion of other biologists of his time, believed that artificial propagation might be effective, and put his full energy in establishing new hatcheries along the coast and over the mainland of the United States. Technical progress in the design of various hatching jars, boxes, and other equipment made in the United States was so rapid that as early as 1881 the U.S. Fish Commission participated with great success in the Berlin Fishery Exhibition, showing the progress of fish culture in the United States. A considerable part of this exhibit was prepared at Woods Hole.

D. Haack (1882, p. 57) summarizes a German appraisal of the American section in the Exhibition in the following words: "Everything which America had sent was on a magnificent scale. The American exhibit was distinguished by the neat workmanship of all the objects. But best in astonishment we stand before the large model of the Fish Hawk, a large steamship especially constructed by the American Government for the purpose of pisciculture. The steamship contains, both in its interior and its sides, hundreds of large pieces of apparatus for hatching fish eggs. The steam engine partly serves for pumping of water and partly for moving to and fro in the water the apparatus attached to the sides of the vessel, thus vivifying the germs of the eggs.

. . . With all our piscicultural efforts we must confess that we felt very small when viewing this grand American exhibit; and the magnificent results obtained in America are sufficient guarantee that this is no American humbug. For the present we can certainly do no better than to strain every nerve and imitate the example set us by the Americans." In recognition of his achievements at the Berlin Exhibition, Baird received from the Emperor of Germany the "Erster Ehrenpreiz" of the International Fisherei-Ausstellung at Berlin. Previously he had received the silver medal of the Acclimatization Society of Melbourne in 1878, and the gold medal of the Society of Acclimatization in France in 1879. The honors bestowed by these European organizations clearly show that artificial propagation of fish, including oceanic fishes, was considered to be practical and should be encouraged. These ideas greatly influenced the work of the Woods Hole station and its laboratory.

Numerous papers in the annual reports of the Commissioner of Fisheries describe many technical improvements in the method of hatching eggs. One of the earlier papers on oyster culture by Ryder (1887) summarizes the results of practical experiments, made at Woods Hole and in other parts of the Eastern Coast, in obtaining oyster spat.

Since 1873, Baird had suffered from irregular heart action. This did not prevent him from leading an extraordinarily active life and personally conducting many sea explorations around Woods Hole. The increased burden of work overtaxed his strength during the period of the station construction. His periods of sickness became more frequent, and in the summer of 1886 his doctors recommended that he reduce his work as much as possible. In July 1886, the Bairds, as usual, went to Woods Hole and here held the lsat four informal receptions in the Residence for the members of his staff. During the following winter his condition became worse and he was advised to take a complete rest for at least a year. Retirement to the Adirondack region in the State of New York somewhat improved his health, and in July 1887, he returned to the Woods Hole Laboratory.

The last days of Baird are described by Mayor J.W. Powell in his address at the memorial meeting of Scientific Societies of Washington in January 1888 (Dall, 1915). Three days before his death, Baird asked to be placed in a wheelchair and moved around the pier past the vessels and through the laboratory. For everyone he had a word of good cheer, though he knew it was the last. He died on August 19, 1887, and was buried at Oak Jill Cemetery in honor of the first United States Commissioner of Fisheries and founder of the Woods Hole Station, was placed at the station in 1902 by the American Fisheries Society; it remains in its original location.

At the time of Baird's death the scientific work of the Woods Hole Laboratory was already on a sound foundation. Research was conducted along several principal lines which can be grouped under the following general headings: taxonomy and distribution of fishes; composition of communities of bottom organisms; reproduction, embryology, and movements of principal food animals of the sea; fish culture as a means of maintaining the abundance of fish populations; parasites and diseases of fishes. The work was balanced as far as possible with the available funds and personnel. The major part of the general program was carried out by independent investigators. Many distinguished scholars were attracted by the facilities of the laboratory, but even more by the scientific standing and dynamic personality of its director.

Baird's guiding spirit in the study of fisheries problems was not lost with his death. With modifications and changes his spirit has continued to the present time. He undoubtedly was the first fishery biologist in this country. His understanding of fishery problems is clearly expressed in the following excerpts from his paper read at the International Commission held at Halifax in 1877 (Baird, 1889).

"While it is probable that the supply of fish on the outer banks and in the deep sea, away from the immediate coast, is as great as that of former years, a lamentable falling off is to be appreciated in the capture of anadromous fish, such as the shad, salmon, and the alewife, as well as of many species belonging immediately to the coast, such as the striped bass, the scup, and other fish.

"Fortunately, it is believed they are capable of remedy by proper legislation and protection, artificial propagation, etc., and that we may look forward in the distant future to a very considerable return to the former very desirable state and condition of the fisheries. . . . . . The status of fish in the sea is very largely determined by the question of temperature.

"The human race is more concerned in the movements and migrations of fish than in the question of their permanent abode. It is when they are aggregated in large bodies, and moving from place to place, either under the stimulus of search for food or other causes, that they furnish the best opportunity to man for their capture and utilization.

"That fish of many varieties have decreased greatly in abundance within the historic period in all parts of the world is well established, the reduction in some cases being truly enormous. This, however, applied only to certain varieties, especially of the anadromous fish, or those running up the rivers from the sea to spawn, and to the more inshore forms. The most indubitable cases of diminution are those of the shad, fresh-water herring, salmon, and striped bass. On the other hand, there is no reason to suppose that the cod, mackerel, bluefish, and the sea herring have been reduced essentially, if at all, in numbers, the stock of these fishes being from year to year about the same, and an apparent diminution in one region being balanced by a greater supply in another.

"The causes of this variation in abundance, so far as they can be detected, may be considered under two heads: first, the natural, or uncontrollable; and, second, the artificial, or those connected with the interference of man. Where the former alone are responsible there may be a hope of a return to original abundance; man's influence acts persistently and with increasing effect throughout long continued years."

In March 1888 a new institution was incorporated in Woods Hole under the name of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). On July 17 of that same year, a modest shingled building was erected on a piece of land in close proximity to the U.S. Fisheries grounds. The new institution was established at Woods Hole by a group of university professors with very meagre financial assets. They met with cordial support from the Fisheries Laboratory. For many years the sea water for the new laboratory was supplied from the Fisheries pumping house and practical assistance was given in the use of wharves, floating equipment, and interchange of other services. Many of the MBL scientists who became leaders of American biology spent several summers working at the Fisheries Laboratory. The MBL rapidly outgrew the Fisheries Laboratory and became the leading marine research institute of the country, but the spirit of cooperation which prevailed throughout the history of Woods Hole has persisted and greatly contributed to its growth as the scientific center of marine research.

Shortly after the death of its first Commissioner, the U.S. Fish commission was reorganized. As stated in the enabling act of Congress, passed and approved in 1871, "the Commissioner should be a civil officer of the Government, of proved scientific and practical acquaintance with the fishes of the coast, who should serve without additional compensation." the text was drawn jointly by Senator G.F. Edmunds and Baird, who insisted on the inclusion of the noncompensation clause with the idea that the phraseology of the bill would preclude the appointment of a mere political candidate and eliminate any suggestion that recommending the passage of the resolution was not voted by selfish consideration of the first Commissioner (Dall, 1915). The responsibilities of the Commissioner and the increased duties of organizing the laboratory and research program imposed a heavy financial burden on Baird. His request for an appropriation for furnishing adequate office space and living quarters for his personnel at Woods Hole was denied, and before the Government quarters were built he had to pay, out of his own money, the rentals for an office building and for housing facilities for his assistants. Shortly after his death, Congress corrected the oversight by an appropriation of $25,000 for the support of Baird's invalid widow and his daughter.

Baird was succeeded as Commissioner of Fisheries by George Brown Goode, his most competent assistant, an outstanding ichthyologist and Direction of the National Museum. The appointment was a temporary one. In six months Goode (fig. 3) voluntarily resigned his Commissionership in order to devote all his time to the duties in the museum. In January 1888, an act of Congress established the U.S. Fish Commission as a separate bureau of the government and terminated its formal relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. The bill also authorized the President to appoint the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries and also established the salary at $5,000 per year. The bill was approved on January 20, 1880, and Marshall McDonald was appointed Commissioner. He was a practical fish-culturist and inventor of important mechanical appliances for hatching fish eggs which were widely used in this country and in Europe. McDonald served as Commissioner until his death on September 1, 1895. The Fish Commission continued as an independent, government institution that was responsible directly to Congress until 1903, when it was included in the new Department of Commerce and Labor.

Baird's administration of the Fish Commission and of the Woods Hole station was essentially paternal. With the increased activity and greater complexity of administrative responsibility more formal organization became imperative. The duties were divided among several divisions each headed by an "assistant in charge of the division." During the first year of McDonald's administration, Hugh M. Smith was appointed an Assistant in charge of the Division of Fisheries. The scope of work of this division covered "all matters specially pertaining to commercial fishing, including statistics". Smith also directed the work of the Washington office and supervised correspondence and preparation of special records. In 1885, R. Edward Earll directed the preparation of statistics. The fish culture activities remained under the direct supervision of McDonald until 1895. After his death, the Division of Propagation and Distribution of Food Fishes was established, with W. deRavenal as Assistant in charge.

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