Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Preserving Pennsylvania’s Aquacultural Heritage: Ralph W. Abele

Every year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show the Bureau for Historic Preservation has a booth presenting our role in the preservation of the Commonwealth’s agricultural history.  We have launched the third annual Marker Scavenger Hunt at the Farm Show.  Twenty-four replicas of actual Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission markers are scattered throughout the complex.  In addition, our booth features information on the agricultural context for the entire state, developed in cooperation with PennDOT and Penn State University.  The context identifies trends in agricultural practices in the regions throughout Pennsylvania.

Abele readingAlso highlighted at our booth will be the Ralph W. Abele historical marker installed and dedicated in 2012 in Dauphin County.  Abele (1921-1990) was the longest serving Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission (now the Fish and Boat Commission) – from 1972 to 1987, and was nationally known for his leadership in wildlife conservation and matters related to aquaculture.  While often not thought of as agriculture, aquaculture is related due to its cultivation of fish for food, and of course several delicious fish dishes are featured at the Farm Show’s fabulous Food Court.

Abele and Maurice GoddardPrior to Ralph Abele’s appointment to the Fish Commission he had been a major force in the conservation field.  He served as Executive Secretary of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the State House of Representatives for 12 years, working on the Clean Water Act and other initiatives.  He was also a member of numerous related state and regional associations, federations, and councils.

Abele and Boy ScoutsAbele acquired his interest in nature and the environment as a Boy Scout.  He gained an appreciation for the importance of protecting and preserving the natural world.  He advocated strongly for educating the public about environmental issues, especially children.  As Fish Commissioner, he established an organization for young fisherman, the Pennsylvania League of Angling Youth (P.L.A.Y.).  Still in existence today, the program disseminates an educational newsletter and provides programming to young Pennsylvanians.

Another important accomplishment of Abele’s during his tenure with the Fish Commission was the authorship of the Fish and Boat Code of 1980.  This law consolidated and codified all the fragmented and antiquated laws in existence prior to 1980.  It identified the Fish Commission as an independent state agency.  Today, it remains the guiding law on fishing and boating in Pennsylvania.

President Carter and AbeleA very significant achievement while at the Fish Commission was the restoration of the American shad population to the Susquehanna River.  Due to overharvesting and disruption of migration routes by hydroelectric dams, the number of shad had been reduced to an alarmingly low number.  Abele was instrumental in opening a state-operated shad hatchery as well as requiring hydroelectric dams to install functional fish passage facilities to alleviate the deficiency.

His correspondents were widely spread and included senators, governors, and conservation advocates.  The author of the “Straight Talk” monthly columns, he was a prolific writer of letters and articles promoting the causes he held dear.  The Pennsylvania State Archives was fortunate in 2012 to have received all the records from Abele’s service as executive director from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.  Following a period of processing at the Archives, a ceremony honoring Abele and celebrating this valuable resource was held in July, 2013.  The records have been retained in Record Group 72, Records of the Fish and Boat Commission.

AbeleMakingSandwichOf this important acquisition, David Haury, Director, has stated, “The Pennsylvania State Archives is pleased to have the records of Ralph Abele and through them make an important chapter in Pennsylvania’s environmental history available to the public. The records of Ralph Abele while he was Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission provide significant documentation of the policies and issues facing that agency during an important time period.  Abele’s role as an early conservation leader extended far beyond Pennsylvania, and his records in the State Archives will save his legacy for future generations.”


The Ralph W. Abele historical marker is located at the Fish and Boat Commission Headquarters at 1601 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA

If you would like to plan a trip to see this marker just enter the coordinate below or the address above into your GPS, or check out the Google map location.

Latitude 40.29262, Longitude -76.86219

1 Comment

  1. Wayne W. Kober

    Thank you for illuminating the outstanding conservation leadership and achievements of Ralph W. Abele. The PHMC in partnership with the Ralph W. Abele Scholarship Fund Board and the Pa Fish and Boat Commission did an excellent job in: 1) preserving and archiving the administrative records related to Abele’s tenure as Executive Director; 2) installing a state historical marker at the Pa Fish and Boat Commission Headquarters; 3) conducting and videotaping the marker dedication ceremony; 4) conducting over 20 oral history interviews of people who knew and were inspired by Abele and his son and daughter; and 5) including information on the Pa Fish and Boat Commission website. Ted Walke, John Arway, and the Pa Fish and Boat Commissioners are to be commended for embracing the history of the Commission and bringing it to light for generations to come. Wayne Kober-Pa Conervation Heritage Project Volunteer.

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