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Bureau of Fisheries.
The Bureau of Fisheries owed its inception to the widely entertained opinion that the fisheries in general were diminishing in value and importance on account of the intensity and methods with which they were prosecuted, a view which investigation has shown to be justified with respect to many fishes and other valuable aquatic animals. The American Fish Culturists' Association (now the American Fisheries Society) took a leading part in advocating an investigation of the subject, and largely through its influence and the representations of State fishery officers Congress passed a joint resolution, approved February 9, 1871, which provided for the appointment of a Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, who was directed to conduct investigations concerning the facts and the causes of the alleged diminution and the feasibility of remedial measures. This was the beginning of one of the earliest and most effective conservation movements undertaken by the Federal Government.
Until July 1, 1903, the establishment was independent, reporting directly to Congress, and was known as the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, but on the organization of the Department of Commerce it was included by law in the new Department and the name was changed to its present designation.
The original conception of the Bureau was a body for scientific, statistical, and practical investigation of the fisheries, and that phase of its work always has been prominent; but it was soon found that to secure the practical end which dictated its formation it should be clothed with powers to make its own findings effective. This was in part accomplished by an act approved June 10, 1872, which gave authority for the propagation of food fishes, a branch of the service which has grown until at present it constitutes the largest part of the Bureau's activities.
Until recently the Bureau was wholly without administrative or executive control of the fisheries, as these functions are vested in the several States within whose territorial limits the fisheries are located. There existed, and in major part still exists, the anomalous condition of an organization national in scope but performing duties of local importance which is without power to give direct effect to some of its activities or to adequately protect the results of others. This condition has caused some embarrassment in places, and has often retarded the practical application of the results of investigations and experiments, but on the whole the results are better than might be expected and in many cases are highly satisfactory. Acting in an advisory capacity, the Bureau has been able to exert a powerful influence on the fisheries legislation of the States. Local authorities and interests hold its work in high regard, and, appreciating that its advice is authoritative and disinterested, frequently seek it. Members of its staff are called on to serve with and assist State commissions and, frequently, to address State legislative bodies on topics connected with the administration of the fisheries and to assist in the drafting of State fisheries laws.
The published reports on special investigations not only contain facts the knowledge and understanding of which lie at the root of rational conservation of the aquatic resources of the States, but they often contain specific recommendations for new legislation and practical criticisms of that in force. These suggestions are generally given consideration by the States. They are often enacted into law and sometimes induce complete changes in the methods of administering important fisheries.
By an order of the Secretary of Commerce dated February 15, 1905, the Bureau for the first time became clothed with the administration and enforcement of fishery laws through the assumption of supervision of the salmon fisheries of Alaska. Subsequently by law this jurisdiction was extended to all of the fisheries of Alaska. On December 28, 1908, the Alaskan fur-seal service, which since the formation of the Department had been administered through the Secretary's Office, was transferred to the Bureau; and in 1910, by act of Congress and direction of the Secretary, supervision was assumed over all of the fur-bearing animals of the Territory.
The administration of the laws regarding Alaska fish and furbearing animals is exercised in Federal territory, and by act of Congress in 1906 the Department became charged with the duty, which is also exercised through the Bureau of Fisheries, of controlling in certain respects the sponge fishery prosecuted on the high seas off the coast of Florida.
In addition to the general executive duties performed by the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries and the Deputy Commissioner, the work of the Bureau is organized as follows:
Division of Administration. - This division of the service is under the immediate direction of the assistant in charge of office, and exercises supervision of the accounting office, the office of the architect and engineer, the vessels of the Bureau, and the library, records, correspondence, and property. In this division are prepared contracts and land deeds, also plans and specifications for fish-cultural and biological stations and their related structures, and for engineering work in general. It is responsible for the purchase, maintenance, and repair of all vessels and boats, and for accounting relative to appropriations and property.
Division of Fish Culture. - This branch of the service, under an assistant in charge, has direction of all operations connected with the artificial propagation and distribution of fishes. Its practical work in 1914 was conducted through 36 fish-cultural stations and 94 sub or field stations, located in 4 States and the Territory of Alaska, and 5 specially devised railway cars engaged in distributing their product. It is the endeavor of the Bureau to hatch and plant fishes in sufficiently large numbers to compensate for the depletion of the natural supply through the fisheries, and the volume of its output has steadily increased until in 1914 it aggregated 4,047,643,417 fish and eggs. As the effects of fishing are more markedly manifested in circumscribed waters, most of the hatcheries are located in the interior, where they can more readily supply the inland lakes and streams, but some also are located in the coastal States for the hatching of fishes, such as shad and salmon, which run from the sea into the rivers for the purpose of spawning, and directly on the coast for the propagation of particularly important marine species, such as the members of the cod family, flatfishes, and lobsters. These operations have materially benefited some fisheries and have saved others from extinction. This division has also carried on particularly successful work in introducing valuable fishes in waters to which they were not indigenous and in rescuing fishes from overflowed lands where the recession of the waters would leave them stranded to die. It carries on its work independently or, in cases where public interest dictates, in cooperation with the States.
Division of Inquiry Respecting Food Fishes. - This division under an assistant in charge, continues the work for which the Bureau originally was instituted, enlarged to meet the requirements dictated by experience. The scientific work comprehensively covers the field of aquatic biology, as for a proper understanding of the requirements for the protection and fostering of the fisheries it is necessary to know not only the complete life histories of species of direct economic value, but also the habits of the food and enemies of those species and their relations to their physical and biological environments. An important feature of the work is furnishing advice and facts relating to fisheries legislation and administration. The division also conducts investigations and experiments tending directly to the increase of economic aquatic animals, especially those which, like sponges, oysters, mussels, and terrapin, are from their habits and nature not susceptible to the ordinary methods of fish culture, and in this way has added materially to the value of the fisheries.
The investigations and experiments are conducted by field parties or at the biological stations, of which there are two on the Atlantic coast, one in the Mississippi Valley, and a fourth to be constructed on the Gulf coast. There are also one especially equipped steamer for deep-sea investigations, one for coastal work, and a number of smaller craft for inshore and river duty.
The small permanent personnel, which is concerned chiefly with the work of more direct economic application, is supplemented as occasion requires by the employment of experts and investigators from scientific institutions. The facilities of the laboratories are, under certain conditions, extended to qualified independent investigators.
Division of Statistics and Methods of the Fisheries. - Under the direction of an assistant in charge, this division performs another of the original functions of the Bureau. The first duty to which the Bureau of Fisheries was assigned, namely, the investigation of the reported decrease of food fishes in New England, necessarily involved the collection of statistics of production, personnel, and capital. Since that time this branch of the work has been conducted without interruption, and in it have naturally been included the various other subjects affecting the economic and commercial aspects of the fisheries. Among its functions are (1) a general survey of the commercial fisheries of the country; (2) a study of the fishery grounds with reference to their extent, resources, yield, and condition; (3) a study of the vessels and boats employed in the fisheries, with special reference to their improvement; (4) a determination of the utility and effect of the apparatus of capture employed in each fishery; (5) a study of the methods of fishing, for the special purpose of suggesting improvements or of discovering the use of unprofitable or unnecessarily destructive methods; (6) an inquiry into the methods of utilizing fishery products, the means and methods of transportation, and the extent and condition of the wholesale trade; (7) a census of the fishing population, their economic and hygienic condition, nativity, and citizenship; (8) a study of international questions affecting the fisheries; (9) the prosecution of inquiries regarding the fishing apparatus and methods of foreign countries.
Alaska Fisheries Service. - This service is in immediate charge of the Deputy Commissioner of Fisheries, and consists of three important subdivisions, namely, the fur-seal service, the salmon service, and the fur-bearing animal service.
The fur-seal service has to do with all matters pertaining to the fur seals of Alaska and to the control of the Pribilof Islands. The islands of St. Paul and St. George were set aside as a special reservation in 1869, and the entire group in 1910, and have since been continuously under Government supervision. As these islands are the only land to which the Alaskan fur seals resort, the administration of the fur-seal service is concerned primarily with the care and utilization of the seals, and, secondarily, with the maintenance and education of the native inhabitants of the islands, the care and utilization of the fox herds, and the protection of other animals found on the islands.
The sealing privileges of the Pribilof Islands were for 40 years leased to private companies, which paid to the Government a per capita tax on each seal killed; but since April, 1910, the Government has had in its own charge the business of taking and marketing sealskins. The killing of seals is limited to such males as are required for food for the natives.
The representatives of the Bureau on the seal islands include agents and caretakers, physicians, school-teachers, and a storekeeper. The agents are charged with local matters of administration pertaining to the seals, the foxes, the natives, and other interests.
Enforcement of the laws and regulations affecting all other furbearing animals of Alaska was imposed on the Bureau by act of Congress of April 21, 1910. This branch of the service has at present seven wardens and one special warden, whose duties are to see that the laws enacted by Congress and the regulations thereunder for the protection of the fur-bearing animals are observed; to make observations and investigations regarding the abundance, distribution, and habits of the fur animals, their food, diseases, and the condition of the fur in different localities at different seasons; and to inspect, so far as is possible, the furs offered for shipment from Alaska, and to enforce the regulations concerning shipments.
The salmon service, represented in Alaska by an agent, assistant agents, and an inspector, is charged with the enforcement of the laws and regulations relating to the salmon and other fisheries of Alaska, and with the inspection of fisheries, canneries, salteries, hatcheries, and other similar establishments. Other duties of this branch are to make such investigations and experiments as may be desirable or necessary for the improvement and conservation of the salmon and other fisheries.
Publications. - The publications of the Bureau of Fisheries consist of four series, as follows: (1) The annual report of the Conimissoner and various special reports on different branches of the work; (2) the annual bulletin, which is made up of papers on miscellaneous subjects, frequently of a technical nature; (3) economic circulars, consisting of brief advance reports upon economic subjects to be more elaborately treated in subsequent papers, or containing information of interest to special localities or industries: (4) statistical bulletins giving, in tabular form, monthly and annual statements of the quantity and value of fish and aquatic products landed at the principal fishing centers.
The publications under the control of the Bureau are all distributed in pamphlet form as separate papers. The bound bulletins are congressional documents, and are distributed from the folding rooms of Congress.