History of the Institute
The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) is the research division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). FWRI’s research programs focus on providing scientific data and information about Florida’s natural resources to managers and stakeholders. In 2004, the Florida Legislature approved an agency-wide reorganization of the FWC that integrated parts of the Division of Wildlife, Division of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Florida Marine Research Institute to create the FWRI. Though FWRI only recently comprised these scientific disciplines into one entity, each has a legacy dating back to the mid-20th century.
Florida’s freshwater fisheries research began in 1946 when the then Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission hired the state’s first formally trained fisheries biologist, Jack Dequine. Early research efforts focused on resolving conflicts between commercial and recreational fishing interests, evaluating regulations and assessing the effectiveness of stocking fingerling largemouth bass.
The events that led to the foundation of FWRI’s marine research program occurred around the same time, following a large and destructive Florida red tide in 1946-47. In 1955, the state’s first marine research outpost was established at a former U.S. Maritime Service Training Station at Bayboro Harbor in St. Petersburg, the current site of FWRI headquarters. Under direction of the Florida State Board of Conservation, initial marine research efforts focused on Florida red tide. In 1957, Robert M. Ingle, the first marine biologist hired by the state of Florida, was named director of research at the laboratory.
Wildlife research conducted by the then Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission began in the 1940s, when federal funding from the Pitman-Robertson Act facilitated the state hiring additional biologists to work on wildlife restoration projects and establish wildlife management areas. The movement to establish an entity within the agency focused solely on wildlife research began in 1964 when Lovett Williams – a regional wildlife biologist in Lake City – and Dale Crider – a waterfowl biologist in West Palm Beach – discussed combining their research efforts into a single headquarters. Later that same year, the two biologists moved into a Gainesville office and established the Wildlife Research Project within the agency’s Game Management Division.
Through the decades, each branch of research grew in size and scope and operated under their respective or successor state agencies before becoming a part of the FWC when it was established in 1999, and ultimately integrating into FWRI’s current structure. FWRI now employs more than 600 people, who work at its St. Petersburg headquarters and more than 20 field laboratories and offices situated at key inland and coastal locations statewide. To learn more about the history of the institute, read this retrospective written by Gil McRae, FWRI Director: A History of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.