In 1871, the U.S. Department of State fostered the establishment of the Commission of Fish and Fisheries for the following reasons:
- a growing concern over the observed decline in the Nation’s fishery resources
- a lack of information concerning the status of the Nation’s fisheries
- a need to define and protect U.S. fishing rights
Spencer Fullerton Baird, a prominent research scientist, was appointed the first U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries. Baird had previously been serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution since 1850.
Before his appointment as Fish Commissioner, Baird had already recognized the urgent need to assemble the necessary information to help analyze the magnitude of declining fisheries and identify the factors which were contributing to the decrease in fish populations.
Consequently, it is not surprising that the first national funding for fisheries conservation occurred one year before the establishment of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries.
Commissioner Baird’s primary duty, as directed by the President and the Senate, was to “ascertain whether any and what diminution in the number of food fishes of the coast and inland lakes has occurred.” He was also required to report to Congress the necessary remedial measures to be adopted and was authorized to take fish from lakes and coastal waters, regardless of any state law.
In 1872, the Senate and the House charged the Fisheries Commission with an additional task of “supplementing declining native stocks of coastal and lake food fish through fish propagation.”