July 29, 1902 – May 20, 1973
Written by I. B. Byrd
Presented at the dedication of Swingle Hall, August, 1973 Homer Scott Swingle was one of the great fishery scientists. His contributions to fishery management and aquaculture have had a tremendous impact on fishery development in Alabama , the nation and the world. Dr. Swingle’s research has led to the creation of millions of acres of productive waters for both sport and commercial fisheries. His fish management methods are now used worldwide to make fish available for protein-hungry people.
As a young scientist, Dr. Swingle’s personal interest in sport fishing, coupled with a lack of good fishing ponds near Auburn, Alabama, motivated him to change from entomology to a career in fisheries. Many of his early experiments in fisheries, initiated in 1934, were conducted jointly with Dr. E. V. Smith, a plant physiologist. Both received strong administrative support from the late Dr. Marion J. Funchess, then the Director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.
Drs. Swingle and Smith pioneered in the use of small earthen ponds as “test tubes” for obtaining solutions to problems in fish pond management. Their early studies on the importance of small ponds to soil and water conservation contributed to national programs developed by agencies of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior. Subsequently, they found combinations of forage and piscivorous species of fish that could be stocked in ponds to furnish good fishing indefinitely without restocking. Their concept of “balanced” populations that provide sustained yields year after year was unique in fishery science and a milestone in the understanding of fish population dynamics. They studied the relationship between soil fertility and fish production in small ponds and developed simple methods for increasing fish production through the addition of inorganic fertilizers. They developed techniques for the construction of dams for small ponds, studied physical characteristics of ponds that would make them more easily manageable, and described methods to biologically control obnoxious aquatic plants and animals many years before ecologists became alarmed over the effect of pesticides in the environment.
Dr. Swingle realized early that as the amount of good fishing waters increased there would be increased demand for fish bait. So, he developed methods that could be used for the commercial production of worms, crickets and minnows.
While working on the problems of pond management for sport fishing, Dr. Swingle developed an interest in producing fish in ponds as a food crop. His contributions in the development of aquaculture as a means of food production gained him worldwide fame. He served as fisheries consultant to the governments of Israel and Thailand in 1957 and India in 1961, was the U.S. Pond Fish Culture representative to the Pacific Science Congress, and gave leadership to numerous foreign fisheries meetings and programs. He was chairman of the first World Symposium on Warm Water Pondfish Culture sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome in 1966 and was chosen as a member of President Johnson’s Panel of Specialists of Food for Peace in Vietnam in 1966. Primarily because of his knowledge of international aquaculture, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began contracting with Auburn University for fishery work in developing countries in 1967 and provided the university an institutional development grant for aquaculture and fisheries in 1970. After 1967, he participated in numerous surveys to assess the potential for aquaculture development in the following countries: Philippines , Taiwan , Japan , Malaysia , Thailand , Vietnam , Bangladesh , Pakistan , India , Nepal , Israel , Turkey , Puerto Rico , Colombia and Ecuador . Under his supervision, USAID-sponsored fishery projects involving Auburn staff members and newly-constructed or greatly-expanded aquacultural research facilities have been initiated in Brazil , El Salvador , Panama , the Philippines and Thailand .
Dr. Swingle has written numerous scientific and popular fishery articles. His ability to explain his ideas and methods in simple language using homemade visual aids led to many requests for short courses and special schools for fishery workers. He was a dynamic teacher with a special interest in teaching others; it was inevitable that he establish a formal training program for fishery students at Auburn . From rather humble beginnings in the late 1940′s he developed one of the most highly regarded undergraduate and graduate teaching programs in fisheries in the world. It is significant that the first Ph.D. granted by Auburn University was to one of Dr. Swingle’s foreign students. His former students, employed by universities, governments and private firms throughout the world, are contributing significantly to the enhancement of fisheries.
Under Dr. Swingle’s leadership and because of his ability to produce practical research results, Auburn University now has the largest fisheries research unit in the world. The unit occupies over 1,300 acres with 681 experimental ponds and numerous support facilities. The newest facility is the modern four-story Homer S. Swingle Fisheries Building with space for offices, classrooms, and laboratories.
Dr. Swingle never lost his love of fishing. He was not only a fish scientist, but a fisherman scientist as well. His lectures on the art of fishing were classics. He enjoyed being a chef and his fried fish, hushpuppies, tossed salad, and ice cream served under the shade trees on the shores of Auburn ‘s fish ponds were masterpieces.
Dr. Swingle received numerous honors, awards and citations for his contributions to fisheries. These included the U.S. Department of Interior Conservation Service Award, 1951; Nash Conservation Award, 1954; President of the American fisheries Society, 1958; Man of the Year in Southern Aquaculture, 1958; Governor’s Conservation Award, 1960; Leopold Award from the Wildlife Society, 1965; and Honorary Membership in the American Fisheries Society, 1966. He was named Alumni Research Professor at Auburn in 1968 and Head of the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures and Director of the International Center for Aquaculture in 1970. The Homer Scott Swingle Fisheries Building , Auburn University was dedicated in his honor on June 9, 1973.
He counseled presidents and prime ministers, lectured to scientists and scholars; but never lost the humble outlook that is a mark of a great man. He always took time to talk to a student and offer an encouraging word. On field trips, he was the first to get mud on his boots and to take the deep end of the seine.
A native of Columbus , Ohio , Dr. Swingle received the M.S. degree in entomology in 1925 from Ohio State University. His Alma Mater bestowed the D. Sc. (honorary) on him in 1958.