Methods for Fish Biology, 2nd edition

Chapter 19: Fish Curation

Brian L. Sidlauskas and Peter Konstantinidis

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874615.ch19

Sidlauskas, B. L., and P. Konstantinidis. 2022. Fish curation. Pages 739–774 in S. Midway, C. Hasler, and P. Chakrabarty, editors. Methods for fish biology, 2nd edition. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.


For nearly 300 years, the world’s ichthyological collections have served as valuable libraries documenting the incredible biodiversity of the world’s fishes (Poss and Collette 1995; Pietsch and Anderson 1997; Suarez and Tsutsui 2004; Singer et al. 2018). Their millions of voucher specimens support thousands of publications annually in fields as diverse as systematics, ethology, ecology, physiology, development, biogeography, population genetics, archaeology, epidemiology, parasitology, and morphology (Winker 2004; Abrahamson 2015; Singer et al. 2019; Miller et al. 2020). The historic portions of these archives preserve snapshots of past diversity for comparison with the present (Lister 2011; Holmes et al. 2016), while newly collected specimens expand temporal and geographic sampling (Labay et al. 2011) and layer new data upon the old, such as sequences from cryopreserved genetic resources (Zink et al. 2005; Swartz et al. 2008) or detailed environmental data and metadata linked to the physical vouchers (Jones et al. 2006). Ichthyological collections often facilitate scientific discovery by allowing researchers to synthesize material collected across great spans of time, across wide swaths of geography, or across multiple data types all tied to the same voucher specimens. As such, the vibrancy and importance of these collections rest upon the establishment of clear curatorial policies, thoughtful acquisition of new specimens, proper maintenance of historical records, meticulous curation, and easy accessibility of specimens and their metadata.

Herein, we outline some essential elements of fish curation with two audiences in mind: newly hired curators of small or incipient collections, on one hand, and scientists interested in collecting voucher specimens and depositing them into the care of an established natural history collection on the other. Rather than attempting to be comprehensive, we provide a quick-start guide to policy setting, permitting, collection, specimen preservation, facilities design, databasing, digitization, and collection maintenance, and direct readers who need more detail to additional sources. In assembling this information, we draw extensive examples from our work as curators of the Oregon State Ichthyology Collection, including experience renovating that collection’s physical facility and digitizing its catalog between 2010 and 2015 with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). While we have the greatest familiarity with that collection’s policies, we also acknowledge that not all collections follow identical methods and have attempted to highlight alternative options when we are aware of variance in best practices.