How knowing something can lead you astray

The Pacific Explorer unloads tuna in Astoria

The Pacific Explorer unloads tuna in Astoria

We have had an interesting time over the past three years, learning how an assumption we made allowed us to ignore some evidence that we really should not have ignored. It took Bob Hitz, with his interest in finding the roots of the U.S. Exploratory Fishing and Gear Base and its premier research vessel, the John N. Cobb to make us realize how we can be misled by what we know. We knew the Pacific Explorer didn’t make it to the Marshall, Mariana, and Caroline Islands, to fish for tuna. So we did not seriously look the evidence of how intent the Americans were about replacing the Japanese tuna fleet in the eastern tropical Pacific.

The Pacific Explorer, the world’s largest fishing boat, only made two voyages. There were plans for a third, to the islands, but the Explorer was quickly bogged down in post-war politics. Nick Bez was an ardent Democrat (and we all remember the picture, don’t we?) and bids had never been leased for the Explorer project. The project had a taint of political cronyism.

Wilbert McLeod Chapman

Wilbert McLeod Chapman

After the war, the American military escalated their involvement in the Pacific (including nuclear testing).  There was also a push to expand American fishing for tuna deep into the equatorial Pacific, where the Japanese had developed a lucrative fishery in the 1920s.  A line of American fishing boats would help cement the claim to the waters. And if the American boats could find and claim the tuna quickly enough, they might be able to prevent the Japanese from returning to the waters to fish once a peace treaty was signed.

At least that’s what Wilbert McLeod Chapman, the Washington ichthyologist, who rose to prominence on the issue of expanding American tuna fisheries deep into the Pacific, thought. As we more closely re-read Chapman’s correspondence and public papers from this time, we realized we had overlooked an important series of events. Chapman thought the traditional American fisheries of salmon and halibut were “mature,” by which he meant there would be little growth potential in the future.  With the decline of California sardines, more purse seine boats from California were moving into the tuna fishery in places like Costa Rica, in competition with the bait boat fleet.

American boats needed new water to fish.  Thanks to Bob, we now know there were serious plans to send the Explorer to the Marina Islands. One of its four satellite vessels, the Oregon, did make an exploratory run but the tuna were elusive.  By the time the Oregon got back, Bez’s many enemies (primarily the San Diego long line fleet, but let’s face it, there were others) had succeeded in keeping the Explorer tied to the dock until it could be sold for scrap.

The state and federal fishing agencies held a big conference on tuna in Los Angeles on Oct. 7, 1949.  (We found an account of the meeting in the papers of Richard Van Cleve at the University of Washington special collections).

“The experience of the RFC vessels Oregon and Alaska last year, and of various private ventures in the central Pacific before and since then indicate that simply going fishing without an adequate background of facts regarding the tunas and their environment in a new region, is likely to be a costly venture without much in the way of catch in return.”

It was Chapman who compared the waters of the Pacific to the Great Plains, and tuna to the buffalo. The tuna were were much harder to find–and to understand than the buffalo.

But the point of all this is to say that we need a lot of different stories and accounts when we attempt to write history. If Bob hadn’t dug into the story of the boats, we would not have realized how serious Bez and Chapman (as well as many others) were about this American imperial push, using fish as a proxy to claim high-seas tuna and the island territories of the eastern Pacific.




Posted in boat building, Carmel Finley, Cold War, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Nick Bez, Overfishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Moskovita Memoir–this fall from OSU Press!

LivingOffThePacificFaithful readers will know how excited we are that Oregon State University Press will be republishing Living Off the Pacific Ocean Floor, George Moskovita’s memoir about his five decades fishing on the West Coast. It is set for publication this fall and the Press has just released this wonderful cover image.

We think the picture better conveys the story that George tells, about the grueling and dangerous work of fishing in the 1930s and 1940s, before technology revolutionized fishing, greatly adding to the ability of fishermen to find and catch fish. The photograph on the original cover, of George standing on the cod end, having caught 150,000 pounds of POP, was certainly eye-catching.

But this image is more evocative of the story and George’s hardscrabble race to wrest a living from the Pacific Ocean floor. It was difficult and dangerous work. George and his father, Dome Moskovita, had been located in Bellingham, where George was born. The family moved to Astoria in 1939. Dome Moskovita owned the New Zealand, and George bought his first boat, the Treo. As Dr. George Yost Harry tells us, these were two of the four boats that started the trawl fishery in Oregon.

George had been a deckhand, purse seining for salmon in Alaska, sardines off California, and tuna off Mexico. He’d scraped the money together to buy the 55-foot Treo, an old wooden boat with a gas engine. There were no controls in the pilot house, just a bell to signal the crewman in the engine room to put the engine in or out of gear. It’s likely that he just intended to set crab pots near the mouth of the Columbia River, dangerous enough for an old boat designed to purse seine in the sheltered waters of Puget Sound, not to drag nets in the open ocean.

“They were paying a dollar a dozen for crabs at first, but when they chopped the price to fifty cents a dozen, we quit,” Moskovita wrote. “We shopped around to see if we could sell some drag fish because we also had our drag nets with us. But nobody wanted to buy bottom fish. We were the only ones with dragging gear in Astoria, so the packers didn’t handle it.”[i]

The only market for trawl-caught fish was the mink farmers and they paid less than two cents a pound. The dogfish were plentiful, as shown in the cover photograph. But it was dangerous work.

George opens his memoir with the harrowing story of the Treo sinking off Peacock Spit, and George and his crewmen barely escaping with their lives.

We are very pleased that this wonderful addition to the literature on the development of fisheries in the Pacific will be more widely available.

[i] George Moskovita, Living Off the Pacific Ocean Floor. (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, Fall, 2015).

Posted in boat building, California sardines, Carmel Finley, Environmental History, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Oregon pilchards, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rachel Carson Center, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, World History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cleaning our desk

The Yaquina, photo courtesy of  Gunderson Marine.

The Yaquina, photo courtesy of Gunderson Marine, Portland

We are extremely pleased to say that the book has gone to our publisher at last. Alert readers will remember this is the project we started during our fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, almost three years ago.

We could not have written the book without the blog and the stories we have told here.  One of those stories involves this boat, the F/V Yaquina, one of the first boats to fish in deeper water in 1945 and pioneer the Pacific ocean perch fishery (POP, redfish, rosies).

Built at Gunderson’s Marine in Portland, the Yaquina was the first non-military boat built in Oregon in 1944.  The deck hard on the maiden voyage was a Newport fisherman, Gordon White. This images comes from the company history.

The Yaquina shared the stage with a number of other significant vessels, as documented for us by Bob Hitz. We’ll be writing more about her in the near future.



Posted in boat building, Carmel Finley, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Rachel Carson Center, Resources About Fishing, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, World History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Western Flyer: Steinbeck’s Boat, The Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries.

The Western Flyer

The Western Flyer

By Kevin M. Bailey. The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Reviewed by Donald Gunderson

A rich blend of philosophy, ecology, history, and first-rate literature lies behind the unassuming title for The Western Flyer: Steinbeck’s Boat, The Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries.   Writer and marine scientist Kevin Bailey uses the odyssey of the Western Flyer to illustrate the exuberance that accompanies the exploitation of a newly discovered fisheries resource, the all-too common depletion that ensues, and the ongoing struggle to exploit natural resources in a sustainable way.

And what an odyssey this was. From the Tacoma shipyard where she emerged

Kevin Bailey

Kevin Bailey

“with colored streamers set high and snapping”, to the Port Townsend dry dock where her worm-infested hulk lies in state, the Western Flyer was fated to participate in one poorly managed fishery after another. Sardines off California, Pacific ocean perch off Washington, and finally king crab off Kodiak. She ended her active days as a salmon tender in Puget Sound, and after a prolonged period of neglect she suffered two dockside sinkings.

Legendary skippers like the pioneering Dan Luketa and the fearsome Jackie Ray (who actually sported a hook at the end of one arm) ruled the Western Flyer’s wheelhouse over the years, and she was manned by a colorful array of deck hands and hard working fishermen. Yet for a few brief interludes she saw service as a research vessel and scientists like Colin Levings and Ed Ricketts walked her decks. Levings participated in surveys that helped to save the halibut fishery from depletion. The iconoclastic Ricketts was a pioneering ecologist, and the model for “Doc” in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Donald Gunderson

Donald Gunderson

Four weeks in the spring of 1940, when John Steinbeck—an accomplished naturalist in his own right—chartered the Western Flyer for an expedition to the Sea of Cortez, would destine her for a permanent place in history. It was during this voyage that Steinbeck and Ricketts carefully documented the fauna of the Sea of Cortez, and elaborated their philosophy of the unity of mankind with the universe in general, and the earth’s ecosystems in particular. Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez was the most notable product of this collaboration, and Bailey correctly orients it as a pioneering work in the canon of ecological holism, together with those of John Muir and Aldo Leopold. “It is advisable to look from the tidepool to the stars and then back to the tidepool again.” wrote Steinbeck and Ricketts.

In Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote “The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it.” And so he did—in collaboration with Ed Ricketts.

Steinbeck observed that fish schools “turned as a unit and dived as a unit. In their millions they followed a pattern minute as to direction and depth and speed. There must be some fallacy in our thinking of these fish as individuals.” “And this larger animal, the school, seems to have a nature and drive and ends of its own accord. It is more than different from the sum of its units,” and seemed to be “directed by a school intelligence“.

For Steinbeck, this provided insight into human behavior. “A man in a group isn’t himself at all…I want to watch these group-men, for they seem to me to be a new individual, not at all like single men.”

Ricketts showed similar insight. “With their many and their very large boats, with their industry and efficiency, but most of all by their intense energy, the Japanese very obviously will soon clean out the shrimp resources of Guaymus…But there again is the conflict of nations, of ideologies, of two conflicting organisms. And the units in those organisms are themselves good people, people you’d like to know.”

In Bailey’s words, the Japanese fishermen “…knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it for the sake of the superorganism, the industrial company.” Fishermen, fishing vessels like the Western Flyer, corporations, resource management agencies and even economies can be viewed as nested superorganisms existing within the ecosystems that support them. Each of these groupings can thrive only if those ecosystems do. Yet the record of successfully sustaining those ecosystems is a checkered one, with many natural resources suffering the same fate as those exploited by the Western Flyer.

Bailey uses the Western Flyer’s current condition as a metaphor for the hulk that the once prosperous Pacific Salmon resource has become—so badly damaged that the costs of repairing her may be prohibitive. While Alaska salmon have been managed properly and continue to support vibrant commercial fisheries, the costs of rebuilding salmon resources in Washington, Oregon, and California will be enormous and we may not know how to accomplish this. Will future generations simply write them off?

The final pages of this book are lyrical prose at its finest, and almost seem to channel Steinbeck. The Salinas valley that Steinbeck loved so deeply seems to become a living, breathing organism. Bailey suggests that it is perhaps here that the Western Flyer should spend its final days—an icon high on Mount Toro, “witness to the fog drifting in and out of the valley”, a ghost ship with her ribs “sounding out in the wind”.

How appropriate. The Western Flyer testifying to lost resources, lost opportunities, and mankind’s conflicting roles as both exploiter and shepherd of the earth’s natural resources. Bailey has found poetry in this.

Posted in California sardines, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

R/V COMMANDO – College of Fisheries – Off Shore


Two graduate students, Dave (left) holding The White Sturgeon

Two graduate students, Dave (left) holding The White Sturgeon

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz              Bob’s Posting # 31                              April 4, 2015

When I was going through the Logs of the Commando I found an entry that I had written on May 3, 1960. It was for trip #6017 and it brought back a wave of memories, since that was my first encounter with the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. At the time I was being considered for a job with the Exploratory group which worked the outside waters from Mexico to the Bering Sea. The first thing that came to my mind was, would I become seasick once I was outside? If so, would three years of graduate school be wasted? There was no class about sea sickness given at the College of Fisheries, but there was talk.

Commando logbook (click to enlarge), Hitz photo

Commando logbook (click to enlarge), Hitz photo

Seasickness is strange: some people get it and others don’t, and I felt that I wouldn’t because of the storm I went through on the Atlantic Ocean on my way back from France in 1956.   I had completed my active duty with the US Army and was headed for discharge in Seattle on a 623’ troop transport, the USS General H. W. Butner, when she got caught in a hurricane. The seas were monstrous, the vessel was hove to and I, along with the rest of the troops, was locked below decks. I remember lying in one of the stacks of bunks near the after part of the ship and as abnormal swells passed under us and the bow hung in the air, the whole ship would vibrate and you hoped the welds would hold.

Commando, Tom Oswald Jr. on flying bridge, Olaf Rockness on bow, Collage of Fisheries behind, Hitz photo

Commando, Tom Oswald Jr. on flying bridge, Olaf Rockness on bow, Collage of Fisheries behind, Hitz photo

I had guard duty during part of that time and the sergeant put me in the

middle of a stairway in the bow that let out onto the foredeck, where it was my job to keep anyone from going on deck. At the bottom was a head full of vomit and some soldiers throwing up. As I sat on the stairs we would rise 20 to 30 feet as a swell approached and then drop the same distance as it passed underneath us before coming back up to repeat it again and again. Fortunately nobody came up the stairs. I was proud I never got sick, but I did feel a little woozy. After that experience I hoped I might be immune.

USS General H. W. Butner, 1956, Lowney Photo

USS General H. W. Butner, 1956, Lowney Photo

Once the hurricane had passed a few of us were allowed on deck. The swells were still large and the ship still headed into them. The sun was out, but there was a haze that was the remains of the storm.

On Butner looking forward, after the hurricane, Bow down, 1956, Hitz photo

On Butner looking forward, after the hurricane, Bow down, 1956, Hitz photo

In 1960 I and two other graduate students had the opportunity to accompany the Commando for a week’s trip to the open ocean to collect Pacific or true cod Gadus microcephalus off the coast of Washington. We left the College on Monday morning May 2, 1960 and by dinnertime we were off Dungeness Spit and heading out the Straits of Juan DeFuca. A strong westerly wind was blowing directly down the straits with an ebbing, or outgoing tide against the wind, which made the waves even steeper as the vessel bucked into them. Since I was in the pilothouse when dinner was called, I went back to the galley and sat down, but after a bite or two of spaghetti I had to rush out the galley door to the deck – I was seasick. The motion of the Commando in that chop really got to me.

On Butner looking to the side after hurricane, Hitz photo

On Butner looking to the side after hurricane, Hitz photo

On deck I threw up and leaned against the mast, but looking aft at the horizon from the center of the vessel I felt better so I went back to the pilothouse and remained there until I started feeling sick again. Went back to the mast, hoping that would help. As I looked around I saw that the deck was covered with vomited spaghetti – how could I have thrown up that much when I eaten so little? Dave, one of the other students, said that he had eaten a full dinner and then some, and he’d lost it all on deck. The third student gave us a bad time about seasickness, since he was feeling great and felt that the sea was his calling.

On Butner looking aft, after hurricane, 1956, Hitz photo

On Butner looking aft, after hurricane, 1956, Hitz photo

We put into Neah Bay that night and proceeded offshore the next morning. The day was nice, with a slight breeze and a swell from the northwest and my seasickness was under control. So was Dave’s. But the third student was seasick off and on throughout the remaining days off the coast. As soon as we returned from the trip he changed his major to teaching and did a wonderful job as a science teacher on dry land once he graduated.

We made four hauls the first day out, each about two hours long and in depths of 57 to 61 fathoms along the so-called bread line, as the fishermen call it, just south of Cape Flattery. After the fourth haul was up at 2000 or 8 PM, we secured everything and shut down for the night. We had taken 25 true cod in the first three sets and 70 in the last one. There were a few rockfish in the catch and I opened each to see the condition of their ovaries. Then everyone went to bed, I in the upper bunk on the starboard side of the house.

All night I lay awake, listening to the cables of the stabilizers swishing through

Commando’s stabilizer pole rigged for outside waters,            another dragger in the background   Hitz Photo

Commando’s stabilizer pole rigged for outside waters,
another dragger in the background Hitz Photo

the water as the gentle swells lifted and lowered the vessel. I kept wondering where we were drifting, as we could see light on the beach before we went to bed. Tom and the others were sleeping soundly. Morning came and everyone got up and went into the galley, where we waited for the coffee to perk. Looking out the door, it seemed to me as though we hadn’t drifted during the night and I mentioned that “We didn’t move much last night.” No one said a word. The coffee perked and as they were drinking it, I looked out again and said “That spot on shore is in the same place as it was last night, so why didn’t we drift? We should have.” No one said a word. When Tom and Olaf had finished their coffee, Tom told Olaf “Start up the engine and then haul the anchor” and that’s when I realized that we had anchored all night in the open ocean. If I had known that I would have slept better. Talk about a greenhorn…….

Outriggers are common on these vessels, especially the smaller ones. There are two poles that are spread out from the mast at about 45 degrees from the vessel, like trolling poles on the salmon trollers. They are stayed rigidly in a fixed location and from each pole there is a cable with a bird attached to it. The bird is a weighted cylinder with a triangle fin on each side like wings of a delta jet, and a vertical tail. When the vessel rolls in a swell, the device slows the roll as it is pulled up through the water on one side with the flat part of the wings resisting the water, while on the other side it sinks head first with the leading edge of the wings cutting through the water with no resistance. Once the vessel completes the roll and starts the other way, the stabilizer reverses and slows down the rolling. The upper part of the tail helps keep the bird in line when the vessel is underway. The devices are always deployed when the vessel goes into the open ocean, as was done on the Commando when she left Neah Bay for the outside waters.

Stabilizers, Hitz photo

Stabilizers, Hitz photo

After the anchor was pulled, we proceeded offshore and made our first set at 0450 in the morning in about 58-60 fathoms for a two-hour tow south near Destruction Island. We took 40 true cod in that haul and then made a second haul in about the same location at 0722, which lasted another two hours and we took another 40 true cod. Again there were a few rockfish in the catch which I measured and sexed, along with a few flatfish and small halibut. There was a surprise in the catch, a white sturgeon Acipenser transmontanus. We all took part of it home as home pack and it was delicious.

On the way back, we made the last haul in Puget Sound at Port Orchard at 0435 the next morning, May 5, 1960, the last haul made in my study. It is recorded in the Commando fish log as haul 6017-G, the seventh tow for the trip.

I had survived the coastal trip and felt seasickness was part of the job, and looked forward to joining the Exploratory group and going to sea on the John N. Cobb.



Posted in Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish, World History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nick Bez and his clear conscience

“The tuna business is largely concentrated in Southern California. That industry, which 2015-03-21_1248always shows surface indications of bursting apart violently from internecine squabble, is capable of uniting almost instantly to give the most ruthless competition, in either the production, processing, or marketing field, to an outsider trying to come into the tuna business….A newcomer to the business, without deep roots of fisheries know-how, can confidently expect to be crucified before he gets his feet under him.” [1]

The quotation comes from a letter written by Wilbert McLeod Chapman in 1947. We have no doubt that he was referring to Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer. We have been searching for ages for the right place to deploy that quotation, which we really, really like, and we are pleased to use it at last.

Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer

Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer

There are so many things in the three issues of The Fisherman’s News that we hardly know where to start. There are complaints about fish from Iceland, Sen. Warren Magnuson is worried about the Americans giving fishing boats to the Soviets,  and more American built boats are going to fish in China.

But there is no question of where to start and that’s with Nick Bez and the headline: “My conscience is clear,” says Nick Bez regarding Pacific Explorer.” Where to start?

In January of 1947, after a final outfitting in Astoria, the Pacific Explorer, accompanied by twelve trawlers rigged for purse-seine fishing, set off on its shake-down cruise, to Costa Rica.

The American Tuna Association, which represented the bait boats, was furious. It put pressure on its congressional delegation, calling for an investigation into the contract between the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Bez. Rep. Thor Tollefson, chairman of the House Merchant Marine-Fisheries Subcommittee, called on the RFC to explain “why a research fishing vessel, equipped and paid for by the government, is hauling tuna out of Costa Rica waters in competition with San Diego and San Pedro boats.”[1]

The result of the hearing was that the Explorer was ordered back to Astoria while the contract was re-written. It sat for seven months, waiting for the heat to die down, before it was sent to Alaska to fish for king crab. The Fisherman’s News clipping is interesting, because this is the publication we have seen where Bez says, “I did not want to go in with the government and explore the Bering Sea.”

It is likely that Bez was more interested in fishing for tuna rather than for king crab. He certainly intended to send the Explorer to the Marshall, Marina, and Caroline Islands, where the Japanese had mounted a lucrative tuna fishery in the 1920s. While one of the boats built to fish with the Explorer, the Alaska, was sent to the Line Islands, but the tuna project was mothballed after a disappointing trip to the Bering Sea.

[1] Chapman to George H. Owens, Sept. 24, 1949, Chapman papers, 1852, Box 15, Folder Number 23.

Posted in Albacore tuna, American Tuna Association, Environmental History, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Built in Seattle for fishing in China in 1947


This is another in our continuing series of blog posts about American-built boats that went sent to foreign countries after World War II. We have looked at vessels built for the Soviets, sent to Germany, and a research vessel sent to South Korea. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created to help countries, especially China, to counter hunger problems by developing fisheries.This picture of the F/V Michigan, apparently built in Bellingham, was featured in the May, 1947 issue of the Aberdeen-based The Fisherman’s News.

According to various newspaper accounts from 1946-47, the US provided China with at least 72 vessels, as well as sending eleven vessels to Greece and eight to Yugoslavia. The idea was to increase protein production in countries with little food.

The F/V Michigan, built at Bellingham for China

The F/V Michigan, built at Bellingham for China

The story quotes two fishermen who had taken boats to China, Jerry Johannesen and Carl Salter, who had taken the North Coast and North Cape to Shanghai as part of the UNRRA program to jump start Chinese fisheries with modern technology. They said the program was hopelessly entangled in “monopolies and rackets.” The UNRRA was calling for 50 skippers to be sent to Shanghai to man the vessels that had already been delivered.

The accompanying news story quotes Lowell W. Weeks, the UNRRA director on Washington, D.C., “that the rehabilitation program in China has ‘fallen down’ comes as no surprise to the fishing industry.” The story goes on to say that fishermen had been in contact with the government about the problems with the program, which was designed to help “the starving Chinese people.” Weeks goes on to complain that items sent to China-specifically rope—was left to rot on the docks, because there was no distribution system. “From the information we have, the fishing sector of the UNRRA program in China is but a small part of the whole program and the other segments are equally inefficient.”

2015-03-18_1624In June of 1947,  published this picture of American built-boats in Shanghai, with this article.

“Last of the Puget Sound-built vessels for China sailed from Seattle early this month. The five vessels comprise what is to be the last convoy. The vessels were the Seattle, Michigan, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Indiana. Skippers are Maurice O. Reaber, Earling C. Jacobsen,  Winston C. Phalin, Henry C. Jacobsen, and George Gray.”

This Aberdeen-based monthly newspaper, started in 1945, eventually moved to Seattle and continue to publish as The Fisherman’s News.

Posted in boat building, Chinese fishery development, Cold War, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Japanese fishing, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

R/V COMMANDO – College of Fisheries – Puget Sound


Commando, College of Fisheries in the Background                Hitz Photo

Commando, College of Fisheries in the Background
Hitz Photo

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz       Bob’s Posting #30         Mar. 17, 2015

Recently I was contacted by Jason Lim, a University of Washington (U/W) graduate student who is doing research on his Master’s thesis. The objective of the research is to gather information about the historical distribution of bottomfish in Puget Sound, with an emphasis on rare rockfish like yelloweye, canary and boccaccio. Most of my work was done offshore with Exploratory Fishing, but when I was at the UW School of Fisheries between 1958 and 1960 I was working on my graduate thesis on two species of rockfish, brown and copper, taken in Port Orchard within Puget Sound. He was still interested in interviewing me, so we made plans to meet at the UW Fisheries Science Building on Feb. 24, 2015.

Jason Lim, U/W graduate studentHitz Photo

Jason Lim, U/W graduate student Hitz Photo

It’s difficult to recall what occurred 57 years ago, but there are occasions that are etched in one’s memory, one of which concerns the UW College’s R/V Commando’s Fishing Log. My major professor Dr. DeLacy had control of the schedule and one of his requirements was that a fish log had to be kept for each haul made. He made arrangements for me to use the Commando as a tool to collect my samples and it was my responsibility to fill out the log for those hauls I made. The only time that I remember him to be upset was when he reviewed the log of my first couple of tows and found the scientific names either misspelled or missing. I had to go back and correct each one and had to use the basic reference we used, “Clemens and Wilby Fishes of the Pacific Coast of Canada” (1) to make sure of the spelling of the scientific name. After that my log entrees and species were correct and scientific names were included. I wanted to review the logs before I met Jason to help me recall what else was in the catch, as all I remembered were the brown and copper rockfish which were the target species.

Returning through the Locks ,Hitz Photo

Returning through the Locks ,Hitz Photo

Thinking back, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to use the Commando to collect my samples. The vessel had an overall length of 67 feet and was built in 1944 for the commercial fishing industry in Seattle. It had fished in the halibut longline fishery for 11 years. In 1955 it was sold to the UW College of Fisheries, replacing their R/V Oncorhynchus. She was rigged for trawling and was my first introduction to a commercial fishing vessel.

Trawler, dragger, otter trawler, are all terms to define a vessel that tows a net along the

: Commando Profile (Click to Enlarge)                Hitz Drawing

: Commando Profile (Click to Enlarge) Hitz Drawing

bottom. The net is held open by floats attached to the head rope, and has a weighted foot rope which skims the bottom. It is spread by the trawl doors which act as kites in the water, each shearing to an opposite side of the boat, holding open the net. Once the doors are on the bottom the net is towed for about an hour.

Trips on the Commando were a full day. During 1959 and 1960 we made a total of 22 trips. There were three of us on the vessel: Tom Oswald Jr. the skipper, Olaf Rockness, the engineer deckhand and myself, a greenhorn deckhand and student. It was a wonderful experience and I still remember parts of it.

Trawl Winch with Iron BarHitz photo

Trawl Winch with Iron Bar Hitz photo

We would depart from the College of Fisheries’ dock located just west of the Montlake Cut across from the Seattle Yacht Club, casting off the lines in the early morning and heading out blowing the whistle to open the University Bridge. After that we followed the ship canal to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, where we waited to enter the locks and once there waited again for the after lock door to close behind us and then became a tourist attraction as the water was being pumped out, lowering the Commando. Once the water reached the level of Puget Sound, the outer doors would be opened and the vessel would move out into Shilshole Bay and the salt water. We’d head across Puget Sound for Port Orchard and, while we crossed, Olaf would go into the galley to fix us breakfast on the galley stove.

It’s been over 50 years since I was served breakfast in the Commando’s galley and I still remember Olaf’s biscuits, how good they were with bacon and eggs.

After breakfast we headed through Agate Passage under the bridge located on the northwest side of Bainbridge Island. It opened into a body of water called Port Orchard, which had a smooth bottom where trawls made in the past yielded rockfish in their catch. We would set the trawl and tow it for about an hour.

Rockfish Ovaries ,Yellow OrangeHitz Photo

Rockfish Ovaries ,Yellow Orange Hitz Photo

Since there were only 3 of us on the vessel, I had to run one of the winches when we set and retrieved the trawl. There was a brake handle on each winch, a wheel that you turned to release the brake. When letting out the gear Olaf kept saying, “Make sure the brake is off and it’s not dragging,” so I would keep unscrewing it to make sure it wasn’t dragging until one day I unscrewed it completely and it sprang out of the socket. I said “Is this OK?” and he said a lot of bad words. How he refitted the screw into the socket is a mystery to me but he did, and I never unscrewed it completely again. Retrieving the trawl was an interesting procedure as the cable came in and had to be laid flat in layers so that all the cable could be contained on the drum. Each winch operator had an iron bar that he used to guide the cable onto the drum in even layers. I also had to take the single line from the boom, which was used to lift the catch aboard. I was told never to let go of it until it was fastened or passed to another crewman, because when the vessel was outside and was rolling, a lost hook was dangerous, I had an opportunity to see that aboard the Cobb a few years later and it was scary.

 Rockfish Ovaries Gray-Eyed LarvaeHitz Photo

Rockfish Ovaries Gray-Eyed Larvae Hitz Photo

Once the net was brought back aboard and the catch sorted, the rockfish were set aside and on the way back to the U/W I measured each for total length and opened the body cavity to determine its sex and what stage the females were in. Rockfish are ovoviparous, giving live birth to their young. I had no idea that their eggs were fertilized internally although I had filleted many rockfish before, just had never opened their body cavities to check the eggs. I found that the ovaries changed color as the embryos grew as the yoke of each egg was used up. From yellow to orange to gray as the larvae gained eyes and the yolk sack disappeared. Once the yolk was gone, the largest individual brown rockfish gave birth to 300,000 larvae and the copper produced 600,000. The births occurred in late spring for both (2).

Commando’s Log Book (Click to Enlarge)Hitz Photo

Commando’s Log Book (Click to Enlarge) Hitz Photo

Jason arrived when I was reviewing the logs and we discussed his thesis and went through the questions and charts that he brought. One of his questions was whether I had ever seen a bocaccio in the inside waters and I said I couldn’t remember ever seeing one. Toward the end of the interview we were looking through the old log books, and on tow 6002 made on Feb. 3, 1960 we found Sebastodes auriculatus, S. caurinus, and S. paucispinis. The first two I recognized as the brown and copper rockfish respectively, but didn’t recognized the latter. Jason got out his smart phone, looked up the scientific name and said “You won’t believe this, but it is the bocaccio.” There was a question mark by it – why the question? I would assume I was questioning the identification, but in Clemens and Wilby’s book it is the first rockfish to be separated out so I should have ID it. We also found a log for a May trip off the Washington coast in which we took bocaccio in the catch, with no question mark.

My thesis was about completed and one item that was holding me back was the requirement of converting French text into English, so when I was overseas in France I took a class which I passed for my undergraduate requirement. But when I was in graduate school at U/W I took the exam five times without passing. I was becoming frustrated, so when Lee Alverson became the director of the Exploratory and Gear Research unit in Seattle and offered me a job in 1960, I took it with the idea I could finish my degree while working for him. I never did. I hope I have contributed to Jason’s research.

  • Clemens, W. A., Wilby G.V. (1961) Fishes of the Pacific Coast of Canada,   Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin No. 68 (2nd Edition), 1961, 443 pp.
  • DeLacy, Allan C., Charles R. Hitz, and Robert L. Dryfoos, (1964), Maturation, Gestation, and Birth of Rockfish (Sebastodes) from Washington and Adjacent Waters. Fisheries Research Papers, Vol. 2, No. 3, Washington Department of Fisheries, March, 1964.



Posted in boat building, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Pacific Fishing History Project, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FISH FLOUR and the Cobb Midwater Trawl


The Cobb midwater trawl, FWS drawing

The Cobb midwater trawl

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz    Bob’s Posting 29                   Mar. 9, 2015

Fish Flour brings back a lot of memories and the Ballad of the Hake enforces them. Reading them leaves one feeling that the hake project and fish flour were a failure. I who worked on it as a researcher have another opinion. I feel it was one of the more successful missions that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Base (EFGRB) accomplished. A lot of people were involved in this project and one part of the group which I haven’t mentioned much in my past postings is the gear group. It played a major part and Dick McNeely was the head of this division.

Large catch of Pacific hake, FWS Photo

Large catch of Pacific hake, FWS Photo

In the early 60’s there was interest in a midwater trawl to sample the off -bottom traces seen on the echo sounders, which were believed to be fish. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) had contracted the FWS EFGRB to sample the bottom and midwater fish off the Oregon and Washington coasts which might have been affected by the outflow of the Columbia River fresh water that had passed by or through the AEC Hanford plant.

Europeans were experimenting with a small high speed trawl they felt would catch fish by speed, but were having trouble with the instrumentation to fish the net at the desirable depth of the target in midwater. Lee Alverson, the new director of the EFGRB, and Dick McNeely decided to experiment with a large slow-speed trawl and develop a system to control the depth where it fished (1).

Dick fabricated new hydrofoil aluminum trawl doors like airplane wings which, when

Simrad Depth Sounder with Midwater trace, FWS Picture

Simrad Depth Sounder with Midwater trace, FWS Picture

towed through the water were held up in a horizontal position. Water flowing over the airfoils helped pull or shear a door to the side of the vessel and when two doors opposite one another would spread or open the net. He purchased cable with electronic wires running through the center which replaced the conventional trawl cable and developed a method of diverting the electric current through the trawl winch so that the electrical current from the trawl cable could get to the pilot house. He then set up a way to pass the current from the trawl cable to a depth sensing instrument. This wasn’t a simple matter because of the stress of the trawl doors pulling on the cable. If any saltwater got into the electrical system it would short out. I remember the O rings and

Hydrofoil Trawl door, FWS Picture

Hydrofoil Trawl door, FWS Picture

the epoxy that he used to make the connection. He changed the smaller trawl blocks that the cable passed over to larger ones so the electrical wires in the cable wouldn’t be crushed (2). It worked, and the EFGRB finally had a workable midwater sampling gear, the Cobb Midwater Trawl.

When I was hired in July, 1960 I was shown around the unit to get acquainted with the group and one of the first I met was Dick. He was enthusiastic about the gear group and I remember going out on the Cobb for a few days when they were experimenting with the new midwater trawl. They were using scuba gear to observe it underwater. The crew and the biologist who volunteered to be a scuba driver were approved and trained by the government so that they could be used in this type of work. Scuba gear was very popular at this time because of Jacques Cousteau, the person who introduced it to the world during WWII on his own TV show, showing his experiences in diving from his vessel the R/V Calypso.

Trawl cable with electric wires in the center, FWS drawing

Trawl cable with electric wires in the center, FWS drawing

Pilot House Readout, FWD Photo

Pilot House Readout, FWD Photo

I watched as the divers got ready to go overboard as the net was being towed just below the surface waters outside Port Angeles in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. While he was employed in Miami, Florida before coming to Seattle, Dick had developed a sled-like a two-man bobsled that was towed behind the vessel. It had a stick which was connected to fins on each side and worked like ailerons on a plane’s wing. Moving the stick forward would make the sled go down and pulled back would

Pressure sensor at the end of Trawl Cable, FWS Drawing

Pressure sensor at the end of Trawl Cable, FWS Photo

bring it up, and when the stick was moved to the sides the sled would go side to side. Divers had air tanks to supply them while submerged. The first diver sat in the front seat of the sled as pilot and the second one got in behind him and was the

observer. The rope was let out, the sled would go down and they were able to get close to the net and trawl doors by manipulating the control stick. When they returned to the ship they would be debriefed and decisions about improving the conformation of the net would be made from their observations.

Sensor and pressure meter, FWS Drawing

Sensor and pressure meter, FWS Drawing

I made a decision that day that I would not volunteer for scuba diving, even though I was a good swimmer and used to love to swim underwater with fins and a face mask like my heroes, frogmen of the Navy demolition teams during WW II. I decided that there was a lot of information to be obtained on the surface after the net was returned to the vessel from the deep and that would be my role.

By Pass through Trawl Winch, FWS Drawing

By Pass through Trawl Winch, FWS Drawing

So in early 1960 the net became a sampling tool and by the mid-60s it became a commercial net where hake were taken in large quantities. While they were considered an industrial fish, since they were not suitable for human consumption, they could still be converted to fish flour and exploratory trips determined that there was a huge midwater resource of hake off the Washington and Oregon coasts during the spring and summer months. Commercial fishing vessels using the midwater trawl with the specialized trawl cable could catch

Enlarged Trawl Block, FWS Drawing

Enlarged Trawl Block, FWS Photo

quantities of hake which could be delivered to a shore facility and, based on this information, the U.S. Government built the first fish-protein concentrate plant in Aberdeen, Washington.

But in 1966 the huge Russian fishing fleet suddenly arrived off our coast. They targeted POP and Pacific hake, which they captured and processed in waters just outside our three mile limit, and they took the finished product home to feed their population. Our commercial vessels were not able to compete with the large powerful Russian trawlers. The Russians had read American newspapers and scientific reports about the huge hake resource and had exploratory vessels working the Washington and Oregon coasts in 1965, and prepared to come when they did.

Sensor and pressure meter, FWS Drawing

Sensor and pressure meter, FWS Drawing

The arrival of the Russian fleet in 1966 was one reason the fish flour plant failed and was the main reason why the 200 mile limit became law in 1976 with the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. With time hake were renamed Pacific Whiting and, along with the Alaskan Pollock, would become one of the major American fisheries with American factory trawlers processing the fish on the high seas.

Trace of 40,000 pounds of Pacific hake, FWS Photo

Trace of 40,000 pounds of Pacific hake, FWS Photo

I was involved with the early exploratory hake cruises when I was aboard the Cobb, and hope to have the opportunity to post about my experiences during that time with this fascinating resource.

  • Alverson, Dayton L., (2008), Race to the Sea, The Autobiography of a Marine Biologist, iUniverse Inc., New York, Bloomington, 553p, (pp. 344-345 & 347)
  • McNeely, Richard L., L. J. Johnson, and C. D. Gill; (1965), Construction and Operation of the “Cobb” Pelagic Trawl (1964), Commercial Fisheries Review, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Dept. of Interior, Vol. 27, No 10, (Oct. 1965) pp. 10-17 (Also Separate No. 743)
Posted in Carmel Finley, Cold War, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Captain George Moskovita Memoir to be republished by OSU Press

Captain George Moskovita

Captain George Moskovita

We are extremely pleased (thrilled, actually!) to announce that Oregon State University Press is going to republish Living off the Pacific Ocean Floor, the memoir by pioneer Astoria trawler, Captain George Moskovita. We are big fans of George, and grateful to his family, for the work they have done to tape record his stories, transcribe them, and collect the wonderful pictures that illustrate them.

Along with Mary Hunsicker, a biological oceanographer, we’ve written an introduction to Moscovita-203x300George’s story. It is scheduled to be published in the Fall. We could not be more pleased (we know we already said that, but we are really pleased)!

Our main objective in the blog is to help write the story of the development of fishing and fisheries science, first off Oregon, but really for the whole Pacific Ocean. As we frequently lament, most of the scholarship on the development of fishing is based in the Atlantic, where fishing developed over hundreds of years. In the Pacific, development was much more compressed, with fisheries starting and collapsing within decades–or within years, as was the boom and bust fishery for shark livers off Oregon early in the war.

Captain George Moskovita fishing for shark livers

Captain George Moskovita fishing for shark livers

Dr. George Yost Harry

Dr, George Yost Harry

George’s memoir adds to our portrait of Astoria in the early 1940s. For a young and ambitious man like George, it was the perfect place to fish out of, close to the sardines fisheries off California and Mexico, but also the Bristol Bay salmon fishery in Alaska. The California sardine boats that had come to Oregon in the early 1930s had greatly stimulated the development of commercial fishing (remember, Oregon fishing developed in response to outside capital). The Columbia River Packers Association started canning tuna in 1947. George and his father, Dome, brought some of the first trawl nets to Oregon, according to one of our most important primary sources, George Yost Harry’s 1956 dissertation, on West Coast rockfish.


Jergen Westrheim

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hired Dr. Harry to run its new research lab in Astoria. His first hire was our old friend, Sigrud Jergen Westrheim. Dr. Harry put him to work sampling the rockfish that trawlers like George Moskovita were landing. Dr. Donald Gunderson has written an appreciation of Jergen’s work in this post; it contains a lot of background about the early science around rockfish. Bob Hitz has also shared his last visit with our friend.

History is woven from many strands of information. One of the powerful sets of stands are the stories that people tell, about themselves, about each other, and how we interact. With the republication of George’s memoir, we have a valuable new source of information about the development of fishing and fisheries science off the West Coast. It adds to the stories Dayton Lee Alverson has already told us.  Dr. Harry also hired Lee Alverson, and together with Jergen, they wrote the first papers on Pacific Ocean perch.

George Moskovita was a superb storytelling, quick, funny, and observant. His memoir documents a vital period in Oregon fishery development, when fishermen–and scientists!–were first learning about the Pacific Ocean floor and the fish that lived there.




Posted in Carmel Finley, Columbia River Packers Association, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Oregon pilchards, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment