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Fisheries Heritage Digital Collection

About this 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, resulted from the research and work under the direction of Baird and Goode. The original records of the U.S. Fish Commission, the legacy agency of NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are housed in government repositories such as the Smithsonian Institution and National Archives and Records Administration.

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 research requires extracting and tabulating relevant information from historical maps, fishing logbooks, fish catch and market records, as well as narratives of fishermen that describe the past conditions of fisheries and the marine environment. The records of 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. The survey logbooks of the Commissions research vessels, for instance, contain historical atmospheric and oceanographic conditions, classify seafloor sediments, and inventory what scientists caught in their sampling nets and dredges in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

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

Digital images are in PDF, JPEG, or TIFF formats. For PDf images, you will need to download the free Adobe Reader*.

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

U.S. Fish Commission research vessels collected scientifc 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.

U.S. Fish Commission ship Gannet
U.S. Fish Commission ship Grampus
U.S. Fish Commission ship Fish Hawk
U.S. Fish Commission ship Yvonne
Fish Hawk





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. These 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.

image of interview book for U.S. and Canada interviews
image of page from interview
image of page from interview
image of page from interview
image of page from interview
image of page from interview
image of page from interview
image of page from interview

Historic Fisheries Image Collection

Link to the first page of the collection in the NOAA Photo Library. Includes Gulf of Maine Cod Project from NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries. Digitized from images in the National Archives.

U.S. Fish Commission ship Gannet
Hawaiian fish
Cod oil works Provincetown, Mass.
Marketing poster for fish
Fishing scenes
Marine Specimens
Preparing fish

fishing scenes, marine specimen, scientific surveys, marketing fish, posters

Related Link: Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission

An official publication of the U.S. Government since 1881, the years 1881 to 1997 are available in PDF format.

Related Link: U.S. Fish Commission Annual Reports

Annual reports of the United States Fish Commission and the United States Fish and Fisheries Commission from 1871 to 1940 in PDF format.

Related Link: The Origins and Early History of the Steamer Albatross, 1880-1887

Link to NOAA History Site.

Related Link: Gulf of Maine Cod Project

Based at the University of New Hampshire, is a this is a multi-year research project that utilizes historical documents and archaeological data to document long-term changes in the marine environment and to establish biological indicators and population trends for fishes in the Northwest Atlantic region.

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