Fishing for Science: Aquatic and Fisheries Science at Iowa State University

Iowa State College (now University) was the site of the first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit in the country. Established in 1932, the collaboration between the Iowa Fish and Game Commission (DNR) and Iowa State predated, by three years, the national cooperative program between Iowa State, eight other universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Biologic Survey. In 1941 the unit expanded to include fisheries research.

One of the first accomplishments of the fishery unit, directed by first unit leader Reeve M. Bailey, was the establishment of an Iowa State fish survey, which today’s fishermen will find easily accessible in its online form. Following Bailey, Kenneth Carlander served for nearly two decades as the second unit leader of the unit. During Carlander’s tenure, ISU offered two fishery-related graduate degrees: Fisheries Management (1947) and Fishery and Wildlife Management (1963). Carlander also had students in his “Principles in Fish Management” class take a census of fish in Lake Laverne.

1962 guest book for the Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Click to enlarge. (RS 9/10/4, box 4, folder 10)

1962 guest book for the Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Click to enlarge. (RS 9/10/4, box 4, folder 10)

The program has had international impact, drawing both students and visitors from around the world, as well as exchanging knowledge and informing practice in multiple countries.

Bismarck Kuyon and Gerard Le Tendre - checking the hoop net, 1964. (University Photographs 9/10/G box 605)

Bismarck Kuyon (L) and Gerard Le Tendre (R) – checking the hoop net, 1964. (University Photographs 9/10/G box 605)

One such student was Bismarck Kuyon (at left), who served as Director of Aqua-Culture in the Liberian Ministry of Agriculture from 1965 – 1968 after graduating (M.Sc. General Science) from Iowa State.

You can read more about the activities of the program and its alumni in the semi-annual newsletters put out by Carlander (RS 9/10/4, box, 4 folder 10). The newsletters also describe Carlander’s time in Alexandria, Egypt, assisting in the establishment of the Institute of Aquatic Resources at the University of Alexandria.

Graduate aquatic work isn’t easy – you get to spend a lot of time out on the water, but much of it is unusually messy and/or repetitive.

“David Behmer and Gene Huntsman weighing carp suckers, 1964” (University Photographs 9/10/G box 605)

Gene Hunstman recounts an unpleasant formaldehyde experience he, his research partner David Behmer, Prof. Carlander, and Prof. Jess Muncy suffered after electro-fishing:

Completely saturated with fish, fish biology, heat, and the week’s work, Dave and I were absolutely convinced that the formaldehyde would be overjoyed to spend the weekend in the wheel well so that its removal could provide us with a fitting beginning to the next Monday. We did not know that Ken and Jess Muncy were planning a very early departure in that same despoiled vehicle on Monday morning for the 150-mile round trip to Fort Dodge. Nor did Ken and Jess know in the cool of their predawn departure that the morning’s heat would vaporize the unsuspected, and then hidden, fish preservative and force them to ride the entire distance with their heads out the windows.Kenneth Dixon Carlander by Gene Huntsman.

Red Haw Reservoir fish research, 1947.  (RS 9/10/52, box 16, folder 4.)

Red Haw Reservoir fish research, 1947. (RS 9/10/52, box 16, folder 4.)

Red Haw Reservoir fish research, undated. Selection from research notebook kept by one of Kenneth Carlander's students. (RS 9/10/52, box 16, folder 4)

Page from a Red Haw Reservoir research notebook kept by one of Carlander’s students. (RS 9/10/52, box 16, folder 4)

Read more about the Fisheries Research Unit and aquatic and fisheries science research at Iowa State University in the following collections:

Visit the  Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit’s website to see a history slideshow (scroll to bottom) and to learn about people currently involved in the unit.

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