Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Mississippi
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Whelan, G.E., D.M. Day, J. Casselman, L. Gephart, C.J. Hall, J. Lichatowich, M. Matylewich, L.E. Miranda, L. Roulson, P.D. Shirey, N. Mercado-Silva, J. Waldman, and D. Winters. 2020. Tracking fisheries through time: The American Fisheries Society as an historical lens. Fisheries 45:392-426.


The historical context of current environmental conditions offers vital guidance to North American fisheries professionals as they strive to develop effective management plans and policies. Through this retrospective we highlight the remarkable historic fisheries resources and causative reasons for establishing public fisheries agencies and the American Fisheries Society (AFS). Through a review of primary historical documents and literature for North America, this paper identifies: factors contributing to the founding of AFS and public fish commissions; shows how selected resource issues evolved; and documents how and why selected fisheries and aquatic habitat policies changed in response to those issues. Overexploitation, landscape-scale habitat alterations, mining, and dams were the causative agents for emergence of fisheries agencies and the AFS, and these factors remain relevant today. Beginning in the 1960s, North Americans grew tired of degraded waters and fisheries and forced policy changes that have directly and indirectly affected the fisheries we manage today. The historical events and resulting corrective legislation are taken for granted by those unaware that AFS has actively participated in developing policies to address these environmental issues. Further, AFS continues to play a vital role in identifying key issues, providing conduits for information to cope with impairments, and advocating for policies to conserve intact habitats and improve degraded systems. The struggles documented in this paper offer crucial lessons as we continue to be challenged by legacy resource issues and face emerging environmental stressors such as climate change as well as regression in long-standing environmental protection policies.