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AFSC Historical Corner:  1870 - 1884

Agency Timeline
Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.

U.S. Fish Commission and the First Fur Seal Surveys

Klawak cannery
The cannery at Klawak established in 1877.  U.S. Fish Commission photo, 1898.

Formed on 9 February 1871, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries became the first federal agency concerned with natural resource conservation. The Commission was directed by Congress to ".determine whether a diminution of the number of food-fishes of the coast and lakes of the U.S. has taken place; and, if so, to what causes the same is due; and whether any and what protective prohibitory or precautionary measures should be adopted in the premises....". The agency's first commissioner, Spencer Fullerton Baird immediately initiated a broad spectrum of research on living marine resources.

In 1872, the first surveys of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands (Bering Sea) were conducted by Henry Wood Elliott of the U.S. Treasury Department. His objective was to determine the most profitable manner of managing the island's great seal herds for a sustainable harvest. Elliott continued to work vigorously on behalf of fur seal conservation. His tireless efforts led to the North Pacific Fur Seal and Sea Otter Treaty of 1911 – the first international treaty for wildlife conservation.

Other significant events:

  • 1870 - The Federal Government assumed management of the Pribilof Islands' fur seal resource. The Alaska Commercial Company, operating out of San Francisco, was granted a 20-year lease by the U.S. Government to harvest male fur seals at the Pribilofs.
  • 1877 - The first salmon cannery in Alaska was established at Klawak  (see photo above).
  • 1880 - Systematic research on Pacific salmon was conducted by Tarleton H. Bean.
  • 1882 - In March, the 234-foot U.S.S. Albatross was launched, becoming the first U.S. vessel built exclusively for fisheries and oceanographic research. The iron-hull, twin-screw power schooner was designed to conduct its marine investigations in any part of the world's seas. The Albatross would later become the first commissioned vessel to conduct research along the U.S. West Coast and Alaska.

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