History of AFS

The history of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) reflects the changes in the social and geographical history of North America.

New York State’s Experimental Trout Stream, Crystal Creek, Adirondacks, New York. Field personnel (left to right) S. Lee Crump, Robert Zilliox, Howard Schuck, Arch Petty, Donald Pasko. HOWARD SCHUCK

New York State’s Experimental Trout Stream, Crystal Creek, Adirondacks, New York. Field personnel (left to right) S. Lee Crump, Robert Zilliox, Howard Schuck, Arch Petty, Donald Pasko. HOWARD SCHUCK

To begin this journey, we explore the historical context at the time AFS began and then trace the changes, challenges, successes, and failures to the present time. In his presidential summary in 1948, John Van Oosten wrote of the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, “In no other publication can be followed so completely the history of the development and progress in North America of fish culture, fishery research, fishery management, and conservation from the earliest years to the present.” This historical photo-essay and compact disc provides a visual and audio opportunity for you to explore the history of the AFS— to reflect on its past, to review its present activities, and to renew a vision for its future. The history is provided in a general narrative format with the details of source material (interviews, photographs, printed materials) provided at the end. Because of the scope of the project and the limited size of this presentation, many components of history could not be included. I apologize in advance to those whose valuable contributions are not mentioned. This history is dedicated to all AFS members in recognition of their many efforts and their sincere commitment to our fishery and aquatic resources.

In the mid 1800s, an unprecedented expansion of human activities occurred across the North American continent driven in part by the opportunity to utilize its pristine natural resources. Often these resources were exploited, with little to no regulation, to be abandoned for new ones found further west. Mining for gold and precious metals created boom and bust communities. The old-growth forests in the northern Midwest were cut in massive operations to fuel industry and build cities. The growth of industrial centers for the new expansion economy created point source pollution and disrupted aquatic river ways with dams, diversions, and effluents. In these industries, human capital was also exploited without consideration for the plight of the workers.

The second half of the nineteenth century was the era of railroad land grants. Between 1850 and 1872, extensive tracks of public lands were ceded to states and to railroad companies to promote railroad construction. Usually, the companies received from the federal government, in twenty- or fifty-mile strips, alternate sections of public land for each mile of track that was built.

By 1870, the United States had emerged from the effects of the Civil War, and there were 38 states in the Union. Canada was a newly formed Confederation and was gaining provinces from British North America. Maximilian had just been defeated and executed in Mexico, and U.S. business interests were soon to negotiate business opportunities, including building railroads in Mexico. The last of the native Indians were being run off their lands, and the battles of Little Bighorn and Big Hole had yet to be fought. The remaining buffalo herds were being slaughtered, and the yet-to-be famous western artist Charles Russell was still living in St. Louis.

Right Click > Save As to download the History of AFS (PDF) – the entire manuscript, entitled:

A Photographic History of Fisheries and the American Fisheries Society in North America
by Christine M. Moffitt
Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
University of Idaho

What You’ll Find:


  • Preface
  • The North American Continent Before 1870
  • Fisheries Harvest & Preservation Before 1870
  • The Foundation of AFS in 1870
  • Early Federal Governmental Institutions With Fisheries Missions
  • Major Capture Fisheries Late 19th & Early 20th Centuries
  • Development of Fish Culture Seen as the Solution to Depleted Stocks
  • Description & Natural History
  • AFS’s Unique Position
  • Cross-Continent Rails Provide Access
  • Quantitative Fishery Science
  • Early Fisheries Management & Surveys
  • Emmeline Moore: First Woman To Lead AFS
  • AFS Develops a North American Fish Policy
  • World War II & AFS in Early Postwar North America
  • Environmental Awakening, Changing Values & Regulations
  • AFS Membership & Fisheries Science Expands
  • Native People & Their Fisheries Challenge The Status Quo
  • Challenges of the Present & Future: Thinking Beyond the Hook