SABS History

Canada's first marine biological research station began operations in St. Andrews in 1899. This station was a small, portable laboratory that resembled a Pullman railway car. After operating for two years at St. Andrews, it was moved and operated at various places in the Maritime provinces and Quebec until 1907. Kenneth Johnstone wrote in The Aquatic Explorer: A History of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada that the scientific papers which proceeded to flow from the summers at the movable station persuaded the scientific community that it was a valid and important instrument in the development of the science of ichthyology. Similarly, many of the subjects of the papers ... [dealt] with problems that faced the Canadian fishing industry and thereby justified the enterprise.

Canada's first marine biological research station

Subsequently, the Biological Board of Canada decided that a permanent biological station was needed on the Atlantic coast. St. Andrews was the chosen site primarily because of the diverse biological and physical environment in Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy and its proximity to important commercial fisheries for herring, groundfish and invertebrate species. The St. Andrews Biological Station (originally called the Atlantic Biological Station) began operations in 1908 on a 1.4 hectare site at Brandy Cove, near the mouth of the St. Croix River. The original facilities included a main laboratory,a residence building and a small wharf. In the early years, the Station was open only during the summer field season, generally from May to September. It was not until 1928 that the Station was operated year-round.

In 1932, the laboratory and its valuable library collections were lost to a fire. As this occurred in the heart of the Depression years, funds for rebuilding were scarce. The Director at the time, Dr. A.G. Huntsman, transferred funds from the Station's scientific operating budgets, including salaries, and the new laboratory was built almost immediately.

Biological Station scientists have gained national and international recognition for their pioneering research and industry participation. Early studies focused on the identification of flora and fauna in the Bay, oceanography and on the commercially important species such as lobsters, oysters, clams, scallops, herring, trout, salmon, and groundfish. Station scientists gained considerable expertise in each of these fields and in some instances pioneered conservation practices and fishing regulations. For example, as early as 1918, Station researchers conducted an educational campaign to the lobster industry on conserving egg-bearing lobsters, which led to amendments to the lobster fishing regulations. In 1945, scientists began collecting logbooks from groundfish commercial fishermen, a practice which continues today to aid researchers in their stock assessments. More recently, Station researchers were key players in the implementation of an innovative fisheries management model for the Atlantic herring industry. This multiple-gear fishery was one of the first fisheries managed under limited entry and operated under Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits. In the early 1970's, Station scientists began experiments on overwintering Atlantic salmon smolts in the Bay of Fundy waters to determine if salmon sea cage culture would be viable. After much perseverance, that study paved the way for an industry now worth $100 million annually.

In the early 2000’s, Atlantic halibut research was highly successful - from the production of the first halibut in North America to subsequent technology transfer to industry. Research continued on genetic markers and production methods to improve broodstock including the production of all female offspring which grow larger and faster, thus providing a more profitable product.

SABS Atlantic cod culture research refined methods for egg collection, feed production and tank design. In 2004, the first Atlantic cod broodstock families in North America were produced. This led to a significant role in the Cod Genomics and Broodstock Development Program that developed elite broodstock through the application of selective breeding and genetic mapping.

Biological Station scientists have also been instrumental in developing high technology tools to track fish species such as Atlantic salmon, Atlantic Bluefin tuna and Atlantic swordfish to document their migration patterns in the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

In 2012, the Biological Station completed a major renovation and opened two new state-of-the-art facilities - the 4500 square metre science building and a 2900 square metre wet laboratory that includes holding tanks, laboratories and a biocontainment facility for research on live aquatic animals.

Other campus features include the CCGS Viola M. Davidson an 18.5 metre specialty research vessel commissioned in 2010 as well as smaller vessels, a wharf and a conference centre. The Station also collaborates with the Huntsman Marine Science Centre to operate the Atlantic Reference Centre, a research collection housing over 8000 marine species from Atlantic Canada.