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AFSC Historical Corner:  1885 - 1899

Agency Timeline
Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.

The USS Albatross and Fishery Studies in Alaska

The USS Albatross.  USFC photo, 1900.

On 20 January 1888, Congress established the U.S. Fish Commission (USFC) as an independent agency of the Federal Government and terminated its administrative relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. Marshall McDonald was appointed Commissioner at a salary of $5,000 per year.

On 4 July 1888, the first federal fishery studies along the North Pacific coast began as the USFC vessel Albatross, launched in 1882, left San Francisco, California, to collect marine samples and observe fish and other aquatic life. The 234-foot Albatross conducted the first fisheries research investigations, primarily on Pacific cod, off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

In 1889, Congress authorized a study into the habits, abundance, and distribution of Alaska's salmonLivingston Stone compared the Pacific salmon of Alaska to the buffalo and called for the formation of a "National Salmon Park." Upon his recommendations, Afognak Island in Alaska was set aside in 1892 as a Forest and Fish Cultural Reserve by proclamation of U.S. President Harrison.

The Albatross carried two presidentially appointed commissions in the 1890s that studied the plight of the fur seal. Their reports confirmed that seal populations were being seriously harmed by pelagic (high-seas) hunting. Over the next 33 years, the Albatross would undertake many pioneering research cruises to Alaska. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center is an outgrowth of these, and other, early investigations.

Other significant events:

  • 1888 - The Pacific halibut fishery was inaugurated as a sailing schooner returned to Seattle with its catch.
  • 1889 - Pacific halibut was shipped to the U.S. East Coast by rail and as the market develops and demand grows, the fishery gradually expanded farther offshore.
  • 1889 - The Albatross was ordered to escort the Dawes Commission along the Pacific coast.
  • 1890 - The U.S. Government awarded a 20-year lease to the San Francisco firm, Northern Commercial Company, to harvest male fur seals at the Pribilof Islands.
  • 1893 - The U.S. Fish Commission became responsible for northern fur seal research.
  • 1896 - Salmon research from the Albatross led Congress to regulate Alaska salmon fishing with net restrictions, closed seasons, spawning escapement requirements, etc.
  • 1896 - Dead fur seal pups were counted on all rookeries at the Pribilof islands for the first time as part of seal mortality studies.
  • 1898 - In response to commercial obstruction of Alaska's Karluk River, Congress passed its first salmon protection law.
  • 1899 - The U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act allowed Alaska fishermen to secure a permit granted by the U.S. War Department to buy salmon traps. The War Department's sole interest in the matter was to ensure that the traps would not obstruct navigation.

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