Jennifer Hubbard, David J. Wildish, and Robert L. Stephenson, eds. A Century of Maritime Science: The St. Andrews Biological Station (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).
by Jane Jenkins
The Bay of Fundy, with its world-renowned high tides and its diverse marine environment, offers rich study grounds for a world-class marine research institution, the St. Andrews Biological Station (SAB). A celebration, in 2008, of one hundred years of the station’s marine research brought together scientists, those retired and still working at the station, with former and current staff of the station, as well as historians of science to recount the many ways that researchers at this facility have contributed to both practical and pure knowledge of marine biology and fisheries management since the facility was established in 1908. This volume of twelve chapters includes many of the papers presented during the centenary gathering and it offers valuable insight into the history of a public institution: its scientific achievements, political struggles for autonomy, and the logistical challenges presented by everything from fire to budget cuts.
The first four chapters present the background to the establishment of the SAB as well as the influences on its subsequent development, including a British model of institutional science, women marine biologists, and German forestry practices. The opening chapter, by historian Eric Mills, provides an excellent overview of the emergence, in the 19th century, of a distinctly Canadian way of doing science, tracing its roots to the British model of gentlemanly, or amateur science, and minimal government oversight. It recounts how, by the early 20th century, the federal government had decided to replace its moveable, floating marine stations with a permanent land station on each side of the country, one in Nanaimo, British Columbia and the other in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. These marine biological stations offered new, non-traditional spaces for study. The second chapter of the volume, written by third-generation female marine biologist Mary Needler Arai, recounts the significant role of women researchers and staff at SAB. The third chapter, written by historian of science Jennifer Hubbard, traces the influence of German forestry science and practices on the development of Canadian fisheries and marine science. Specifically, the concept of maximum sustainable yield, an essential feature of sustainable fisheries management following the Second World War, was modelled on 19th-century German forestry science, as was the method of aging fish by counting rings on their scales, a method similar to the one that ages trees by counting rings on tree trunks.
The fourth chapter, written by former station director Robert L. Stephenson, rounds out the volume’s background on SAB’s early growth with a broad survey of the entire century of scientific enterprise at the station, recounting the many pressures exerted on the institution, from tensions between pure and applied science to the ever-present fiscal threats to its very existence. In the early years of the station’s existence (before 1937), it was run by academic “volunteers” who spent their summer vacations carrying out their individual research agendas with minimal government interest or involvement. During a second period, from 1937 to 1973, administration of the station shifted to the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, comprised mostly of scientists who still operated with little government interference. This arm’s length status slowly faded by the 1970s when the federal government imposed centralized management and prioritized research activities. In sum, Stephenson’s overview is a superb case study of broader issues in the relations between science and government.
The remaining nine chapters offer the perspectives of experts who describe the research projects and the most important participants in their respective fields including oceanographic and aquaculture research, flow dynamics of currents and tides, studies of scallops and salmon fisheries, the impacts of marine pollutants, research on shellfish poisoning, and studies of bottom-feeding (benthic) organisms. These projects augmented knowledge of marine and aquatic science, as well as fisheries and environmental management on both local and international stages. A fine complement to these chapters detailing the range of research accomplished by SAB scientists are three chapters which focus on the technologies developed to meet the practical challenges of doing research in marine environments. Technologists and technicians worked in specialized workshops to design, build, and maintain everything from underwater cameras and submersibles with sampling arms, to salinometers, tidal gauges, drift bottles, and Nansen bottles.
Taken as a whole, this edited volume makes an important contribution not only to the history of New Brunswick and the history of Canadian science but also to general areas of study within the history of science and science studies including: women in science, relations between applied and pure science, the roles of social and political influences on institutional research, and the role of government in promoting so-called “public” science. Given recent concerns about the controlling reach of the federal government on its scientists, an exploration of the shifting relations between government and a world-class research institution is a most timely addition to keep the debate about these important issues current.
Jane Jenkins is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) Program at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB. Her research focuses on the social dimension of epidemics, the history of public health reform, and the historical consciousness of past public health reformers and health policies.