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.
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. Since then, aquaculture research has become an increasingly important component of the Station's research programs. The Station continues to carry out research in support of the existing salmon aquaculture industry, as well as conducting research on other species with aquaculture potential.
The Biological Station facilities have expanded over the years and now cover 9.3 hectares at Brandy Cove. The original residence building is still in use, but it is now used for offices, forming part of a modern office/laboratory complex that also includes a conference centre, computer facilities, a library and a wharf.