Fish and Aquatic Conservation

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For over 140 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a partner on the American landscape in the conservation and restoration of our nation’s aquatic resources. Since its inception as the United States Commission on Fish and Fisheries, the Service has worked collaboratively with tribes, states, landowners, partners and stakeholders to achieve the goals of healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species and the conservation or restoration of their habitats. The Service conducts this work to ensure the health of our nation’s aquatic ecosystems and to enable Americans to realize the ecological, recreational and economic benefits provided by these critically important resources.

Spencer Fullerton Baird. Baird was the driving force behind the creation of U.S. Fish Commission. Many of today’s Service fish biologists have a direct academic link to Baird’s first employees. FWS photo.
photo of Spencer Baird.  He was the friving force behind the creation of the U.S. Fish Commission

On February 9, 1871, Congress passed the first legislation recognizing a Federal role in conservation of natural resources—the Joint Resolution for the Protection and Preservation of the Food Fishes of the Coast of the United States. Congressman Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, sponsored the initiative.

The resolution recognized that “the most valuable food fishes of the coast and the lakes of the United States are rapidly diminishing in number, to the public injury, and so as materially to affect the interests of trade and commerce.”

The act gave President Grant authority “to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among the civil officers or employees of the government, one person of proved scientific and practical acquaintance with the fishes of the coast, to be commissioner of fish and fisheries, to serve without additional salary.”

Thus, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was created. President Grant appointed Spencer Fullerton Baird, at the time Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as the first U.S. Fish Commissioner.

The new Fish Commissioner set up an office in his New England home. His initial charge was to assess the condition of fisheries and report remedial measures to Congress. Baird began studies of Atlantic salmon and striped bass. A year later he was given another charge: study and promote fish culture. Toward these ends, Baird worked in partnership with fish commissioners from the States; he advocated State involvement in fisheries, and as a result State fish commissions proliferated during his tenure.

McCloud River salmon-breeding station workers pose,
ca 1875. Livingston Stone reported to the U.S. Fish Commission on starting the McCloud River hatchery: “
... and on the morning of September 1, 1872,
the hatching-works of the first salmon- breeding
station of the United States was located on this
stream.” FWS photo.

Thus the early Fish Commission presaged the modern Fisheries Program, in which Fishery Resource Offices access the condition of fisheries and coordinate remediation—and the National Fish Hatchery System contributes to the science of fish culture.

Baird’s scientific work influenced a future president. Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “My chief interests were scientific. When I entered college, I was devoted to out-of- doors natural history, and my ambition was to be a scientific man of the Audubon, or Wilson, or Baird, or Coues type—a man like Hart Merriam.”

Fish culture soon took precedence over most of the commission’s activities. In 1872, Baird sought the input of State fish commissions and the American Fish Culture Association, precursor of today’s American Fisheries Society, on ways to carry out the wishes of Congress. As a result of that meeting, Baird directed scientist Livingston Stone to spawn California salmon eggs for distribution elsewhere.

In September 1872, Stone established the first Federal hatchery near the mouth of California’s McCloud River. Stone’s report to Baird read: “We at last discovered a spring stream, flowing a thousand gallons an hour... and on the morning of September 1, 1872, the hatching-works of the first salmon-breeding station of the United States was located on this stream.”

Stone’s hatching-works became the first national fish hatchery and remained in operation until 1937. Today the facility lies entombed in a watery grave below Lake Shasta.

One hundred and forty-five years later, the Fish Commission’s legacy remains within the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service’s Fisheries Program has evolved as our scientific knowledge has grown, and today, it comprises a network of dedicated professionals engaged in their craft at 72 National Fish Hatcheries, 65 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices, a Historic National Fish Hatchery, 9 Fish Health Centers, 7 Fish Technology Centers, and the Aquatic Animal Drug Approval Partnership. These professionals proudly carry the mantle of 145 years of fisheries conservation— descending from the oldest organized conservation effort in our nation’s history.


Written by Craig Springer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region
External Affairs



Rethinking Culverts - The Nature Conservancy

See why fish-friendly, climate-resilient structures are important to our future and how partnerships are the key to making them a reality.



Dam Removal on San Marcos River

Crews are removing an old dam on the lower San Marcos River in Texas. Built in 1911, the collapsed dam has posed a safety hazard and acted as a barrier to fish and other aquatic life. Removing the dam will help the ecosystem while also providing a safer environment for paddlers and other river users. 

For more information on the project and partners involved, visit the Texas Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office page. 

The National Fish Passage Program

Download the video or read the transcript.


Tune in to Native Trout Conservation

Nate Wiese and Jeremy Voeltz.
photo of Nate Wiese and Jeremy Voeltz both fish and wildlife biologist

Nate Wiese from Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico and Jeremy Voeltz from the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office were recently interviewed on Bass Pro Outdoor World Radio. (Sirius XM 147). They discussed their conservation work with Gila trout and Apache trout, two species found only in the Southwest Region.

You can listen to Nate and Jeremy here.  



Listing Salamanders as Injurious  Due to Risk of Salamander Chytrid Fungus (January 12, 2016)

The rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa)
is native to the western coastal mountains from
southeastern Alaska to California.
photo of a rough skinned newt

To help prevent a deadly fungus from killing native salamanders, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing an interim rule tomorrow to list 201 salamander species as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act. The fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, also known as Bsal or salamander chytrid, is carried on the skin of various salamander species. Bsal has caused major die-offs of salamanders in Europe and poses an imminent threat to U.S. native salamander populations.

Learn More

New York Times News Article


Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office receives recognition

photo of an award plaque given to Montana FWCO and Red Rock NWR

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge were recognized recently by the Fisheries Division of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for "Outstanding Contribution by a Fisheries Division Partner."

Recognition Letter


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National Fisheries Friends Partnership National Fisheries Friends Partnership

Click your region to find a hatchery, technology center, health center, and fish and wildlife conservation office near you.

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fish license information Refuge places to find Fish
Species Explorer


Last updated: February 8, 2016