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Fisheries Heritage Collections

Fisheries Heritage Digital Collection


The Office of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, commonly known as the U.S. Fish Commission, was established by a joint resolution of February 9, 1871, as an independent agency to investigate the causes for the decrease of commercial fish and aquatic animals in U.S. coastal and inland waters and to recommend remedies.

The U.S. Fish Commission, initially under the direction of the naturalist Spencer Fullerton Baird and later by George B. Goode, undertook numerous scientific surveys of the marine environment and collected extensive and varied data about human exploitation of marine animals. Scientific research and subsequent government publications conducted in this period laid the groundwork for fisheries research in the United States. This is an extensive collection of publications, letters of correspondence, research notes, scientific survey expedition logbooks, photographs, and published statistics relating to commercial fishing, resulting from the research and work under the direction of Baird and Goode.

This digital collection was made possible by NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program Historical Ecology program as part of their effort to research and analyze historical records that document changes in the condition of fish populations and ecosystems within national marine sanctuaries. This collection of records from the U.S. Fish Commission, the legacy agency of NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, provide detailed information on environmental conditions observed by scientists in the late 19th century.

For additional fisheries history, please see the Fisheries Historical page from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.


Scientific Survey Logs from Early U.S. Fish Commission Research Vessels

U.S. Fish Commission research vessels collected scientific measures, sea temperature and salinity in the early 19th and early 20th centuries. These documents were imaged from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Museum of Natural History, RU 7220 and Smithsonian Institution Archives, United States Bureau of Fisheries, RU 7184.


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Interviews of Fishermen by the U.S. Fish Commission and the Bureau of Fisheries

These documents are primarily field notes and transcripts of reports of interviews with fishermen concerning species taken, gear and methods used, regulation of the fisheries, opening and closing of seasons, and related matters. The final report of the commission was published as House Document 315, 54th Congress, 2nd Session. Richard Rathbun of the Office of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries was the American member of the Joint Commission. In some cases, there are both handwritten and typed copies of the interviews. The documents were imaged from records at the National Archives, College Park, Md, Record Group 22, Records of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Records of the U.S. Fish Commission & the Bureau of Fisheries.


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