Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian
G. Brown Goode (Editor)
The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, 7 volumes.
This monumental study on American fisheries was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Fish Commission and the Census Bureau. In July 1879, Spencer Baird made an agreement with the Superintendent of the Tenth Census to undertake an investigation of marine and fresh-water resources of the United States and the related industries. G. Brown Goode was appointed to head the investigation. Goode, who had spent his summers at the various research stations of the Fish Commission since 1872, was familiar with the state of the fisheries along the New England coast. The Halifax dispute of 1877 between the United States and Great Britain over fishing rights had revealed the need for a systematic study of the nation's waters and fisheries. Consequently, at Baird's urging, Goode prepared a proposal, which was published as Plan of Inquiry into the History and Present Condition of the Fisheries in the United States (1879). This Plan formed the basis of the extensive survey undertaken in conjunction with the 1880 Census. Accordingly, a team of nearly two dozen field agents was sent to investigate the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes. The survey not only covered a study of fishes, marine mammals and invertebrates but also included fishing grounds, methods of fishing, fishermen as labor force, and detailed statistics on the fishing industry. The results were published in Fisheries and Fishery Industries, incorporating the work of twenty scientists and special agents.
The 1880 Census investigation had a significant impact on the growth of the Smithsonian fish collection and the study of American marine biology in general. Collections made by different agents were deposited in the U.S. National Museum. Although actual numbers are not available, large quantities of aquatic specimens arrived in Washington. As noted in the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1880, "the collection of fishes received great additions, no previous year in the history of the National Museum comparing with [it] in this respect." For example, the largest and most important collection came from the Jordan and Gilbert team: 65 large tins, containing about 260 species, with over 50 species new to science. David Jordan, appointed a special agent of the U.S. Census Bureau and assisted by Charles Gilbert, had spent the entire year on a collecting expedition on the Pacific coast, extending from the Mexican border to Vancouver Island. Similarly, Tarleton Bean was absent from his duties as Curator of Fishes at the Smithsonian from April until mid-November. He traveled to Alaska to investigate the marine resources of this little known region.
Of special interest is the first section of the Fisheries and Fishery Industries, titled "Natural History of Useful Aquatic Animals." Consisting of a volume of text (895+ pages) and a volume of 277 plates, the section covers mammals, reptiles, fishes, mollusks, and crustaceans. The chapters on fishes, limited to game and food fishes, were written mostly by Goode, Jordan, and Bean. The authors discuss life history, habits, distribution, migration, economic aspects, and fishing lore. The fish drawings were done by H.L. Todd, based on specimens at the U.S. National Museum, and each specimen is identified with respect to catalog number, place and date of collection, and name of collector. Sections I and V of the Fisheries and Fishery Industries have been digitized by the NOAA Library and are available on the Web. (See: Related Web Sites.)
The last reports on fishing industries, complete with detailed statistics and striking illustrations, appeared in print in 1887, the year Spencer Baird died in Woods Hole, MA. In a way, Fisheries and Fishery Industries represented the culmination of Baird's work as U.S. Fish Commissioner. Through the Commission's scientific programs, which began as summer research stations along the northeast coast, Baird supported the study of marine life. The 1880 Census provided an opportunity to extend the investigations to lesser known areas of the country. As a government scientist and administrator, Baird succeeded in getting funding and recruiting talented individuals to work for him. He knew how to put science in the service of people, as revealed by these impressive reports on marine resources and fishing industries of the United States.
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