A collection of more than 1.8 million archival records, objects

April Gregory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service curator at D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives in Spearfish, shows a U.S. Bureau of Fisheries flag. The logo on the flag was used from 1903-39. Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher

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SPEARFISH — People who have lived in Spearfish all their lives are often surprised to find out that the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery also includes the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives — meaning that there are items from every state and several foreign countries in its collection of more than 14,000 objects and 1.8 million archival records such as documents, photos, blueprints, etc.

“The FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) only has three national archives/repositories, and Spearfish is lucky to house one of them,” April Gregory, curator, said, describing that there have been over 330 fisheries facilities across the United States since the establishment of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries in 1871, and the archives in Spearfish houses documents from many of those. “People across the board are surprised and impressed when they learn that the U.S. Fish and Fisheries Commission, one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s predecessor agencies, was the nation’s first federal conservation agency and was established … nearly 150 years ago. Most people have no idea that fisheries conservation work has been going on in this country for that long.”

Carlos Martinez, director of the hatchery, explained that the collection is national in scope. The hatchery began collecting items in the 1970s and was officially designated as an archive site in the mid-1990s, thanks in part to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who served in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2015 and was instrumental in getting the appropriations designated to construct a building to house the archives in Spearfish. Every Congressional representative from South Dakota since has supported the hatchery and archives, Martinez said, and the collection is not stagnant – it continues to grow. In 2018, he said, archival material from at least a dozen hatcheries in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest was accessioned.

“Established in 1896, D.C. Booth (hatchery) has a storied history in the Black Hills and the federal fisheries program,” Martinez said. “It is a fabulous place to house a significant collection that is national in scope.”

When asked what the curator’s role consists of, Gregory’s short answer included the care and management of the collection through accessioning, cataloging, administration, and housekeeping/pest control; internal and external promotion of the archives; securing new donations; responding to research requests; designing new exhibits and interpretation signs; visitor outreach; and more.

“This position combines my interest in history with my love of wildlife and the outdoors,” she said. “It is also a nice mix of hands-on work, manual labor work, research work, working with people and outreach/education work, and, yes, computer work. It is a diverse job — one where you are not stuck at the computer all day or doing the same task over and over. I’ve also always wanted to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as I believe in their mission to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

Gregory explained that the main focus of the archive collection is the national history of fisheries work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agencies. 

“The agency has an impressive history. It is our nation’s oldest federal conservation agency with its roots dating to 1871 with the establishment of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries by Congress,” she said, describing that in 1903, the Commission became the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and in 1940, it became the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

“The fisheries programs of the FWS are approaching their 150th anniversary – an impressive milestone,” she said, describing that the archives has paper documents, photographs, maps, letters, etc., dating from throughout that history, including fishery station logbooks, annual reports, egg collection and stocking reports, original blueprints, photos, research papers, correspondence — and there is also a collection of objects that relate to fisheries work, dating from the late 1800s through today. Examples include scientific fisheries equipment, employee uniforms, office equipment, maintenance equipment, and transportation equipment like buckets, pails, troughs, trucks, and boats. “One of our smallest items is a tracking device inserted into the nose of a fish (used for scientific research), and some of the largest items are fish stocking trucks,” Gregory said.

She added that the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives brings in researchers from around the country. 

“Researchers have included conservationists, writers, historians, scientists, filmmakers, and educators, as well as the interested public,” Gregory said. “The hatchery itself receives over 160,000 visitors each year, resulting in a positive economic impact for the community of Spearfish.” 

And her role in that positive impact is not unnoticed.

“April serves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributing her knowledge, skills, and abilities toward increasing others’ awareness to the role fisheries played in North American history,” Martinez said. “She oversees a significant growth in the number and importance of artifacts housed at the museum, as well as striving to make the resources more widely known among researchers, historians, and the general public. April’s position is instrumental in accommodating and collaborating with the 160,000 visitors and 14,000 volunteer hours D.C. Booth receives annually, in addition to countless researchers who benefit from the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives.”

Gregory, who began in the position of curator in January 2017 after serving as the executive director of the Booth Society since 2011, credited Randi Smith, who served as the collection’s first curator through March 2014, with building the archives into what it has become. 

“It’s my job, as the next curator, to continue caring for what she accumulated, and what I accumulate, it will be the next curator’s job to care for, and it will continue down the line,” she said.

When asked the estimated worth of the archives, Gregory responded with, “Priceless,” and added that the Fish and Wildlife Service holds and manages the collection in trust for the American public.

“The FWS recognizes the importance of museum collections to its missions and is committed to proper stewardship of these resources,” she said. “FWS follows Department of Interior policies and procedures for managing museum collections that meet the highest standards of the museum profession.”

Crucial aspects to maintaining the collection include pest control, housekeeping/cleaning, monitoring the environment, including temperature and humidity, and cataloging backlogged archival documents. 

“These maintenance activities are extremely important to ensure the continued existence of our nation’s conservation fisheries history — the documents and artifacts provide evidence of activities and tell us more about individuals and institutions,” Gregory said. “They tell stories. They also increase our understanding of past work and decisions so that current and future generations can learn from those decisions.”

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