The idea of a Sea Grant College Program was originally suggested by oceanographer, inventor and writer, Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus at the 93rd meeting of the American Fisheries Society in 1963. Interest in the Sea Grant concept grew after the release of an editorial written by Spilhaus that appeared in a 1964 issue of Science: " I have suggested the establishment of ‘sea-grant colleges' in existing universities that wish to develop oceanic work...These would be modernized parallels of the great developments in agriculture and the mechanic arts which were occasioned by the Land-Grant Act of about a hundred years ago...Establishment of the land-grant colleges was one of the best investments this nation ever made. That same kind of imagination and foresight should be applied to exploitation of the sea."
In 1965, Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island introduced legislation to establish Sea Grant colleges on campuses nationwide as centers of excellence in marine and coastal studies. With the adoption in 1966 of the National Sea Grant College Act, Congress established an academic/industry/government partnership that would advance the nation's education, economy, and environment into the 21st century.