Captain George Moskovita and the R/V John N. Cobb


The Moskovita family has been kind enough to forward a package of pictures, newspapers clippings, and a couple of reports to us. We will be forwarding the material, especially the pictures, to the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. But first we wanted to take a look at what George has saved.

His copy of the 1964 cruises of the John N. Cobb looks like it had spent at least some time on at least one of Moskovita’s boats. Moskovita was one of the early pioneers of trawling on the West Coast. In those days, fishermen had Lorans to tell them where they were on the water, but knowing when and where to set the net was considered an art and often a closely held secret, the fisherman’s little black book, as Bob Hitz had told us.

2016-08-12_1436One of the Cobb’s tasks, as part of the Exploratory Gear Group in Seattle, was to fish and record where fish were caught, then to make the information available to the fleet. The Cobb fished systematically, across a grid, recording what came up in its nets.

It is likely that Bob was on the cruises that make up the data for this small publication. The cruise data inside looks like a foreign language, and all but fishermen and scientists at the time, it was. We went through the book, hoping George had made some notes, or perhaps indicated where he might have set his nets and found fish.

It’s likely that the grid pattern turned up a lot of rockfish, especially S.2016-08-12_1436_001 alutus, in the waters along the West Coast. It was the dominant rockfish species in the area, and the fish were plentiful until 1966, when the Soviet fleet arrived and fished the stocks heavily, leading to a collapse. The projected recovery of rockfish off Oregon and Washington is about 2050.

History is about connections, and about uncovering relationships. It’s likely that George was excited to get the information contained in this document and that he might even have set his own fishing trips around some of the results. The report is another link in the ways that scientists and fishermen interacted, at a time when there was enormous excitement about the potential of discovering fish resources off the West Coast.

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

John Nathan Cobb, the man, not the ship

John N. Cobb

John N. Cobb

We here at the blog have written a great deal about the R/V John N. Cobb, but it occurs to us that readers might be interested in the human being behind the boat. He was an interesting man, a self-taught naturalist, writer, photographer, and the founder of the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington.

John Nathan Cobb (1896-1930) was one of twelve children born to a railroad engineer and his wife in Oxford, N.J. His first job, at the age of 16, was with a newspaper and he rose to become an editor. He passed a Civil Service examination in 1895 that qualified him as a typist and stenographer for the U.S. government. He accepted a position as clerk in Washington, D.C., with the statistical division of the U.S. Fish Commission. Within a year, he was appointed a field agent and his career in fisheries began.

The job called for him to travel throughout the Eastern seaboard, collecting statistics on the fish and shellfish catch. In 1901 he was assigned to investigate the fisheries of Hawaii, a project that put him in touch with David Starr Jordan. When the Fish Commission refused to transfer him to the West Coast in 1912, Cobb went to work for a San Francisco fish company. The following year, he began writing for Pacific Fisherman, the Seattle-based trade publication owned by Miller Freeman. Cobb stayed four years, and he continued to publish scientific work. He helped found the Pacific Fisheries Society in Seattle, patterned after the American Fisheries Society.
In 1913, Hugh M. Smith, the Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries,

A newspaperman, Cobb was also an avid photographer

A newspaperman, Cobb was also an avid photographer

delivered a paper to the American Fisheries Society lamenting that professional training in fisheries was available in Ireland, France, and Japan, but not in the U.S. There was not a single American university or college “where even the rudiments of an education in fishery technique may be obtained,” despite the fact that one out of every 80 individuals in the country was directly dependent on the fishing industry.

The following year, Smith suggested to the University of Washington that a school of fisheries be established to equip young men and women “for practical work in the service of the federal government, the various states, and private establishments having to do with artificial propagation, the curing and marketing of fishery products, and the administration of the fishing industry.”[1]

Founded in 1862, the University of Washington was already offering courses in ichthyology through the Zoology Department, but supporters wanted an actual fisheries school. They included Miller Freeman, publisher of Pacific Fisherman, and Trevor Kincaid, head of the university’s Zoology Program. Kinkaid presented a paper to the Pacific Fisheries Society outlining a proposed program. The organizational structure was modeled on the world renowned Imperial Fisheries Institute in Japan, where practical instruction and research had been underway since 1897. Kincaid suggested a two-year program with a concentration of classes in administration, technology or fish culture during the second year. Six years later, the school was established in 1919, with John N. Cobb (1868-1930) as its director.


The Cobb launching, BCF photo

Cobb laid out his vision for the school in 1920, not to train fishermen or scientists, but something in between, “men of executive ability with a thorough understanding of the fisheries.” According to biologist J. Richard Dunn, Cobb’s approach to the school reflected his experience with the fishing industry and reflected the practical needs of the commercial industry.

It would be a program in applied fisheries science and management. For Cobb, the salmon industry needed scientists, but it also needed men to run the fish companies and manage the growing complexity of the annual Alaskan fishery. The faculty remained small, with a great deal of turnover, probably the result of the low salaries.

There were two tracks of study, fish culture and fisheries technology. Enrollment was strong during the first decade, ranging from 30 to 117 students a year. The first graduating class was in 1922, and the first Master of Science degree in 1924. By 1928, he could boast that 40 graduates had found work in some branch of the fisheries.

When the R/V John N. Cobb was built in 1950, there could have been little disagreement that the vessel be named after the man who did so much to establish West coast fisheries research.

[1] Robert R. Stickney, Flagship: A History of the Fisheries at the University of Washington (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1989), 1.

[1] J. Richard Dunn. “John Nathan Cobb (1868-1930): Founding Director of the College of Fisheries, University of Washington, Seattle” Marine Fisheries Review 65, no. 3 (2003): 5.

Posted in boat building, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Soviet Invasion of POP – 1966

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz                                                     Bobs Posting 40 June 29, 2016

Hitz drawing

Hitz drawing

Nineteen sixty six was a catalytic year in many ways with the appearance of the Soviet Fleet off the Washington and Oregon coasts. The massive fishing power of that fleet devastated the Pacific Ocean perch (POP) populations off these states in four years, 1966 to 1969, and brought a lot of changes. The first one was extension of the 3 mile limit to 12 miles in 1967 in an attempt to save the Pacific Hake or Pacific Whiting (PW) fish flour fishery that was in its infant stage of development. That got the politicians’ attention and later became law, with the 200 Mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) effective in 1977.
Fig  2Rockfish research was increased after 1966 and still continues.

Two government-funded stern trawler factory ships of the Sea Freeze class operated in 1969 and 1970 in competition with the Soviet stern trawlers. The U.S. fishing vessels went through a major change when the Soviet vessels could not fish due to the changed U. S. laws. A “joint venture” was formed where U.S. vessels would catch fish and transfer the full codends at sea by disconnecting and floating them to the Soviet stern factory trawler. They would be pulled up the stern ramp and dumped through a hatch to the factory belowdecks to be processed.

Later the U.S. vessels would build their own stern factory trawlers. The observer program was formed so biologists accompanied the fishing vessels or factory ships to record the catches, especially on foreign vessels. The Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife’s Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research group was abolished when the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was formed in 1970.

Fig 3

Count of Soviet Ships Off Washington and Oregon in 1966, Hitz 1970 drawing

The fisheries’ research vessels were transferred to a national fleet, the NOAA fleet and administered from two different locations in country, the Atlantic Marine Center (AMC) in Norfolk Va., and Pacific Marine Center (PMC) in Seattle. I, with the R/V John N. Cobb, was transferred to PMC and the vessel was moored at the docks at Lake Union where my office was located, along with the other ships that made up the fleet. This was a major change for me and meant that my involvement with actual field biology at sea was at an end and now my shore job was management of the fisheries vessels.

Fig 4

Hitz drawing

After I retired and became interested in the history of exploratory fishing, in 2010 I looked up Dr. Don Gunderson, a University of Washington professor who had accompanied me on one of the Cobb’s cruises in the early ‘60s. He referred me to The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific” (1) published in 2002, a monumental reference on rockfish. I couldn’t believe the amount of research that had been done on this group of fish since 1966.

I was interested in one rockfish, POP or Sebastes alutus and found that there were 106 publications listed. One was listed in 1890, where Gilbert collected the species when the vessel Albatross visited the Pacific Coast. Starting in 1957 to the end of 1966 there were 12, or an average of 1.2 publications per year, and from 1967 to 2001 there were 92 for an average of 2.6 publications per year, doubling the publications.

Fig 5

Hitz drawing

Don himself studied the POP and had published a number of papers on POP between 1971 and 1977, based on his dissertation for his doctorate degree. In 1987 Ito, Kimura and Wilkins put together a paper (2) for the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the history of POP using some of Don’s findings. In their presentation was a table listing the total catch in metric tons, which is the unit used worldwide in recording landings of fish by year taken in the EEZ area off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and the east side of Vancouver Island south of Cape Scott.

They included foreign catches, particularly those of the Soviets. Metric tons have been converted to pounds landed by year and are presented in a graph showing the results the Soviet fleet had on this resource. In 1966, the first year the fleet appeared, there was a rapid increase in the catch to 61 million pounds which caused a lot of concern and became the catalytic year of change. The catch increased in 1967 and peaked with a little over 82 million pounds of POP landed and then there was a rapid drop to about 13 million pounds in 1969, the start of the collapse of the POP fishery.


Fig 6

Count of Soviet ships off Wash. and Or. in 1967, Hitz 1970 drawing

Before the fleet arrived in 1966 the Soviets had exploratory vessels scouting the Washington and Oregon coast. The Soviet side trawler Adler had been observed slowly working south along the 100 fathom contour off Washington in May 1965. Then in April 1966 the first of the fleet arrived off Oregon (3). The number of Soviet fishing vessels put on these grounds changed the fisheries. They targeted two different resources, the POP and PW populations and then moved to the Washington coast in June, where the fleet reached its’ maximum number of about 100 vessels by July. Side trawlers dominated the fleet. In September they worked both Washington and Oregon waters, with the majority leaving by December. The fishing vessels that actually caught the fish can be divided into two groups; the side trawlers classified as RT, SRTM, SRTR and SRT, and the stern trawler factory ships which are classified as BMRT and RTM.

Fig 7

Count of Soviet Ships off Wash. and Oregon in 1968

In 1967 a much larger fleet dominated by the side trawlers arrived in April and May off Oregon as they had done the year before and shifted to the Washington coast in June. Most of the fleet again departed by December. In 1968 there was a major change in the fleet composition, an increased number of stern trawlers used off Oregon and Washington and a decrease of side trawlers (4). I’m sure that the Soviet fleet had quotas they had to meet, whether they were fishing POP or PW and I assume that they were concentrated on PW because of the declining catch rate of POP.

POP and PW live in different parts of the ocean. PW migrate into Oregon and Washington waters in the spring and summer of the year, where they are caught with trawls on or near the bottom of the ocean on the continental shelf in less than 100 fathoms of water. They leave the area by winter. The majority of POP live on the top of the continental slope in waters generally deeper than 100 fathoms and are slow growing, some reaching 100 years of age. As Lee Alverson had predicted there was a huge untapped resource of POP in the 1960’s, but the Soviets found them off the Washington and Oregon coasts and in four years about wiped them out with their distance water trawler fleet. Hopefully the POP are being restored now. Pacific Whiting, on the other hand, is a prime resource today that is being harvested by the U. S. fleet.

(1) Love, Milton S., Mary Yoklavich, and Lyman Thorsteinson 2002. The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. (404).
(2) Ito, Daniel H., Daniel K. Kimura, and Mark E. Wilkins 1987. Status and Future prospects for the Pacific Ocean Perch Resource in Waters off Washington and Oregon as Assessed in 1986. Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Bin C15700, Seattle, Washington 98115. April 1987.
(3) Hitz, Charles R. 1970. Operation of the Soviet Trawl Fleet off the Washington and Oregon Coasts during 1966 and 1967. U.S. Department of the Interior, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Washington, D. C. March 1970, Circular 332, pp 53-75.
(4) Hitz, Charles R., 1969. Soviet Hake Fleet Keeps Up Pressure. National Fisherman, April 1969, Camden, Maine 04843.

Posted in Charles Gilbert, Cold War, Dayton Lee Alverson, Exploratory Fishing Base, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Washington Trawl Fishing Log

Brad Pattie, 2015, Bob Hitz photo

Brad Pattie, 2015, Bob Hitz photo

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz Bob’s posting 39 May 13, 2016

I had the opportunity to visit Brad Pattie recently. I’d heard that he was ill with cancer so I called him, and during our discussion we touched on what he did during his career with the Washington State Fisheries Department (WSFD).

In 2012 his son Jody Pattie, who I met at a church retreat, asked me if I wrote the “Catalog of the Russian Fleet” that his dad, Brad, used when he was with the WSFD (Washington State Fisheries Department) and I said that I did. So I made arrangements to visit Brad on October 23, 2012, after losing track of him over the years, and we shared memories of the flight we made together over the Soviet vessels in 1967.

Fig 2

Debbra, Greg, and Gene, WSFD, Hitz Photo


After I posted the information we had put together I contacted Gene DiDonato, Brad’s boss in those days, who was retired. In July, 2013, Gene and I made a trip to the WSFD in Olympia, Washington where we met with Debbra Bacon and Greg Lippert, part-time WSFD historians, whom he had contacted before our trip. I’d hoped they could come up with reports of the flights and they did, all twelve of them.

Fig 3

Report On Flight No. 1, WSFD Document

The First Flight, which was made on July 17, 1967, had my name on it as an observer. After so many years some memories fade while others remain and I remember the airplane, but not the airport from which we took off and returned. That turned out to be Olympia airport and not Boeing Field, Seattle from which all the later flights had originated and returned. I’d also estimated that we observed at least 30 Russian vessels that day, but the report shows that we saw 50. Brad Pattie was on 10 of the flights: he missed two of the last three but made the last flight with coworker Nick Pasquale on October 4, 1968.

Fig 4

Bucket being filled with petrale sole, Brad Pattie photo


During our latter two visits on September 19, and October 10, 2015, Brad and I talked about his job with the WSFD. Not only had he recorded information on those flights, he also had the job of checking the fishing log kept by the skippers of individual vessels in the Washington trawl fleet, matching the information to their fish tickets required by the state, giving the pounds of fish landed. This is the system that Lee Alverson was involved with when he worked for WSFD between 1954 and 1958 after resigning from the Federal Exploratory Fishing group (FEFG). He also developed an interview system with a voluntary fishing log before returning to FEFG as the director (1). As far as I know the log is still in use today.

Brad was hired by the WSDF in 1963 and went to work in the trawl program with Ed Holmberg, Nich Pasquale and Jerry Reeves. The team visited the trawl fleet to review the logs as they returned from their two week trips and were unloading the catch at one of the fish processing plants in Seattle, Everett, Bellingham or Blaine. Each haul was recorded in the log, giving its location, depth and duration as well as the estimated weight of each species taken and the total combined weights.

Fig 5

Rockfish lifted to the dock, Brad Pattie photo

When the vessels arrived at the processing plant the catch was unloaded, the weight of each species was noted and a fish ticket issued. The catch was sorted when the fish were first caught and was stored in the fish hold in separate bins. To reduce spoilage, individual fish were packed in crushed ice. While at sea only the fish that the processing plant would buy were saved. The skipper’s log indicated what part of the catch was returned to the sea.

At the fish plant a large bucket was lowered into the hole and loaded with fish stored inside bins. Only one type of fish was placed in the bucket since the fish house had different prices for different fish. The loaded container was lifted up to the dock, dumped into a cart and moved to the scale and weighed. The crushed ice used to preserve them remained in the hole until it was later dumped overboard. Once the vessel was unloaded, the total weight of all the fish was added up and a fish ticket issued. The skipper received a check from the fish house for the entire catch. Brad said that the skippers’ estimates in the logs were very close to the fish ticket when it was issued.

Fig 6

Washington State Yearly Catch figures of POP, Hitz drawing


Brad and the team collected this data in 1966 when the Washington State landings of Pacific Ocean perch (POP) peaked. The Western Flyer was part of the Washington trawl fleet, as Kevin Bailey pointed out in his book (2) that Dan Luketa had converted her to a trawler after the California sardine fisheries collapsed. I am sure she arrived at the Main Fish Company in Seattle full of POP from Queen Charlotte Sound during this time as Brad remembers the New Washington and Morning Star, both converted sardine seiners, unloading at Bornstein Fish Company in Bellingham with record catches of POP taken from the same fishing grounds in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Fig 7

New Washington and Morning Star, Pattie photo

Brad gave me a number of Washington State Annual reports and from them I learned that in 1952 POP was separated out of the rockfish category which grouped all the rockfish together. He and the team recorded the rise of the POP landings until its peak in 1966 with a little over 17 million pounds. Debbra Bacon sent me a copy of Washington State Technical Report No. 68 (3), which gave the landings of Washington POP from 1966 to 1979. Using this information and the annual reports I plotted the annual catch per year of POP landed in the state of Washington. After 1966 the team started to define which individual species of commercial rockfish made up the group of rockfish, and observed the declining landings of POP in Washington due to the arrival of the Soviet fishing fleet in 1966 and the tremendous effect it had on this resource which became the catalytic year that changed the industry.

Fig 8

Sea Freeze Pacific in Bellingham, Wa. Hitz Photo

The Western Flyer was converted to a king crabber and entered the expanding Alaskan king crab fisheries because of this decline. Once the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was put into effect in 1977 by the Magnuson Fishery Management Act of 1976, Brad said that the Canadian government let the U. S. trawl fleet continue fishing Queen Charlotte Sound for an additional two years before it was closed to them, because of the data obtained from the Washington Trawl Log system that the skippers kept and Brad and the team recorded.

I wondered why there was a second lower peak of little over 13 and a half million pounds of POP landed in 1970 when the resource was declining. I thought about my trip on the Sea Freeze Pacific in 1969 when I was invited as an observer on her first fishing trip. She sailed from Bellingham Cold Storage on Nov. 14, 1969 and returned there on Dec. 14, 1969 to unload the catch. She was one of two 290 foot factory stern trawlers built for the United States fishing industry under the 1964 Fishing Fleet Improvement Act and was designed to operate in the Pacific among the foreign trawlers fishing POP, using similar fishing gear and often fishing on the same grounds. This was a radical change for the Pacific trawl fisheries, a huge vessel that could catch and process the fish at sea.

I located a copy of the report I had written and found that I kept a fishing log for the skipper, the same one that Brad Pattie talked about that he and his team matched with the fish ticket when the vessel returned. The Seafreeze Pacific landed all its products in Bellingham from all five trips, although the vessel had also fished along the coast of Alaska during some of her trips which other US trawlers seldom did. I don’t remember actually filling out the log, but using copies of the reports I recalled the total catch of POP for all five cruises which came to 3,168,000 pounds. If this value is removed from the landing made in 1970 it would indicate the steady decline of the POP fishery. The Sea Freeze Pacific made a gallant effort at saving this fisheries, but it was too late and the excellent product it landed could not economically support the operations of running a large factory stern trawler.

Brad lost his battle with cancer, but before he passed away on Jan. 22, 2016 he wanted to share his experiences during his career in Fisheries, especially the rise and then the fall of POP in the U. S. market due to the Russian invasion of the resource during 1966 and 1968. We are fortunate to have his memories.

(1) Alverson, Dayton L. (2008), Race to the Sea, The Autobiography of a Marine Biologist, iUniverse, Inc. New York, Bloomington, 553 pp. (277-282)
(2) Bailey, Kevin M. (2015), The Western Flyer, University of Chicago Press, 146 pp.
(3) Tagart, Jack V. & Daniel K. Kimura (1982), Review of Washington’s Coastal Trawl Rockfish Fishery, State of Washington Department of Fisheries, Technical Report No. 68, April, 1982

Posted in Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, World History | Leave a comment

Happy 40th Birthday, Magnuson-Stevens Act!

Sen Ted Stevens and Sen. Warren Magnuson, courtesy of the Marine Conservation Alliance

Sen Ted Stevens and Sen. Warren Magnuson, courtesy of the Marine Conservation Alliance

They bracketed an era. Maggie, first elected as an FDR New Deal Democrat, who created the  modern American fishery, and Ted, the Alaska Republican who carved the empire into winners and losers, shaping the fishing industry of the US for the next century.

We spent quite a bit of time this winter thinking about the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is turning 40 this week. It is easy to be critical of the act, plenty of people are. We have just finished our second book, arguing about what it got wrong. But the fact of the matter is, given the political context in which the act was signed, it did a pretty good job.

The Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (now known as the Magnuson Stevens Act, or MSA, after the two senators who did most to shape it, Warren Magnuson and Ted Stevens) passed 40 years ago last week, in 1976. Our friends know how bad we are about remembering birthdays, and did not remember this one either, we depended on the Pew Charitable Trust  to mark the date for us. (Check out their list of five things we now know about the ocean, that we didn’t know in 1976).

Many of our posts on the blog deal with the events that led up to passage of the MSA–mainly the foreign boats (especially Soviet boats) fishing off American waters, as Bob Hitz had told us about. The Departments of State and Defense were opposed to widening the territorial sea from three to 200 miles, but Congress acted after people overwhelmingly supported controls on the foreign boats–especially Soviet boats–in American waters. The seas were an important battle front during the Cold War, and the competing pressures made it difficult to reach agreement on expanding the territorial sea from three to 200 miles in 1966. What was to be done about fishing?

There were eleven agencies involved in fishing in some way, with little incentive for them to cooperate—there were not even mechanisms if they had wanted to cooperate, according to Edward Wenk Jr., a policy staffer during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who wrote about the messy policy debate in The Politics of the Ocean, published in 1972.[i] For anyone interested in this period, Wenk’s book is essential reading. Also essential is From Abundance to Scarcity, by Michael Weber.

The history of American maritime policy is found within a complex stew of competing agencies. The Coast Guard was created in 1790, the Navy in 1798. Federal intervention into the fisheries was piecemeal and spasmodic, responding to crises and with no overall attempt at an integrated policy.

Federal fishery scientists in the postwar saw their role as supporting the economic role of fishing, finding markets so that American fishermen could sell more fish and make more money. But for the post-war American fishermen, especially in New England but also in California, the problem was not finding new markets; the problem was the American industry could not complete with cheap tuna from Japan and cheap cod from Canada and Iceland; fisheries in all three countries were subsidized by the state and American fishermen had almost no access to government aid.

The thrust of American post-war economic policy was free trade. As the Cold War deepened, it was essential to rebuild the Japanese and German economies, and re-integrate both countries into global trade. Also important was to tilt countries such as Iceland and Norway towards the US, and not to trade with the Soviets. Thus the State Department worked to increase cod imports from Iceland and Norway, and canned tuna from Japan.

The post-war American fishing industry spent most of the 1950s fighting with the federal government for a tariff to protect their markets. Despite many hearings, they failed dismally.  Americans were buying a lot more fish but unfortunately it wasn’t fish caught by American fishermen.

The Saltonstall-Kennedy Act in 1954 collected 30 percent of gross receipts of custom duties on imported fish products and directed them to doing marketing and research for the industry. After the passage of the Fish and Wildlife Act in 1965, the bulk of money was soon devoted to general operations of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF).[i] The new Bureau “was not much more important than the Fish and Wildlife Service had been,” said Wenk.[ii] Recreational fishermen and the processing industry sought to blunt the power of the commercial industry.

The new bureau focused on finding overseas markets for American fish, even though most of the traditional American fisheries were static, or, as the bureaucrats put it, “mature,” including New England cod, haddock, and ocean perch, northwest salmon and halibut).[iii]

“The United States should be the leading fishing nation of the world because it has all the qualifications for this position,” the new bureau stoutly argued in 1968.[v] Despite extensive coastlines, stocked with many different kinds of fish, Americans were importing more and more of the fish they ate, and the American fishing fleet, which should be the best in the world, clearly wasn’t.

While most other countries created direct loans to fishermen to build boats during the 1950s and 1960s, the Americans would not do so until 1970. Led by Warren Magnuson, the first federal fisheries planning was done after the passage of the 1976 act.  Magnuson had complained for more than a decade that the most important battlefront in the Cold War was being fought on the nation’s fishing grounds. And with the passage of the bill that bears his name, he set about modernizing and industrializing the American fishing industry.

[i] Wenk, 21.

[ii] Wenk, 250.

[iii] Weber, 30.

[v] Weber, 79.


[i] Michael Weber, From Abundance to Scarcity: A History of U.S. Marine Fisheries Policy (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002), 21.

[i] Edward Wenk Jr., The Politics of the Ocean (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 47.

[i] David Helvarg, Blue Frontier: Saving America’s Living Seas (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2001), 177.

[ii] James P. Walsh, “The Origins and Early Implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976,” Bevan Lecture Series on Sustainable Fisheries, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences/School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington April 24-25, 2014.

[iii] Weber, 86.

Posted in Cold War, Fisheries policy, Fishing, History of Science, Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY), Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history' | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Moskovita book for sale at history conference

Moskovita Memoir at the OSU Book booth at the American Society for Environmental History in Seattle

Moskovita Memoir at the OSU Book booth at the American Society for Environmental History in Seattle

You have no idea how pleasant it is to see a book you have worked on for sale. Even better would be watching somebody buy the book, but that has only happened to me once, when we went to a bookstore with somebody who was going to buy the All the Fish.

And that brings us to All the Boats, and we are greatly cheered that the University of Chicago Press is not going to change the title, since we think we are on a bit of a roll here. Although we do admit that we are a little challenged by what to call the next book, our working title is All the Science, but that doesn’t exactly sing.

We are just back from the American Society for Environmental History conference the first week in April in Seattle. It is always pleasant to meet with friends and colleagues, especially those from the Rachel Carson Center in Munich. We were part of a panel looking at food, which was a change of pace for us, although we did talk about fish.

OSU Press had a large booth and a lot of enticing new books. And, there, in the front row was George’s book, and we can’t help thinking that he would have been very pleased. Our thanks to his family for their support in bringing this important work back into print.

Posted in Columbia River Packers Association, Environmental History, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rachel Carson Center, Sebastes rockfish | Tagged | 1 Comment

A few notes on Milner Baily Schaefer (1912-1970) and the R/V Oregon

Milner Baily Schaefer, SIO photo

Milner Baily Schaefer,
SIO photo

When you finish a book, there are always bits and pieces left on the floor, or on the desk, or in the cupboard, things that are interesting but you just can’t fit them in because they distract from the point you are trying to make and that is hard on your readers. We’ve finished two books now (yes, All the Boats on the Ocean has been turned over to the highly capable hands of my editor, Christie Henry at the University of Chicago Press), and for those of you wondering why it look so long, the peer review alone took more than five months. Instead of finishing the book over the summer, we didn’t get back to work on it until November. See how easy it is to get distracted from what we were originally writing about?

We’ve been thinking a lot of about Benny lately (that’s what his friends called him). Schaefer is generally regarded as one of the leading post-war American fishery biologists. He was considered F. W. Thompson’s top student at the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington. He was the first director of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission between its creation in 1951, until 1956. He is the author of the concept Surplus Production Theory, which held that fish populations had “surplus” that could safely be harvested, a theory that has been much criticized. If you are interested in his very illustrious career, here’s a link to a biography by Deborah Day, the former archivist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography,

Chapman's book on his adventures was published in 1949.

Chapman’s book on his adventures was published in 1949.

We are more interested in his early life. He started his university career in 1935, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Washington, and won the President’s Medal for scholastic excellence. He also met Wilbert McLeod Chapman. Together, these two students of W. F. Thompson’s would go on to decisively shape post-war American fisheries science. Together, they would mobilize fisheries science into a powerful tool for the State Department to wield against nations unhappy with American fishing boats in their waters. Both graduated from the School of Fisheries at UW.

Schaefer enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was commissioned a lieutenant. Chapman was turned down for service because he was blind in one eye. Chapman was working for the Washington Department of Fisheries in the early 1940s. He was offered the job of Curator of Fisheries  at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences. Almost immediately, the Office of Economic Warfare asked him to survey tropical Pacific fish resources and to develop a fishery to feed American troops.

Chapman had Lt. Schaefer added to the fishery project, but Schaefer almost immediately contracted rheumatic fever, was invalided home, and spent fourteen months recovering in Naval hospitals. One of the other of the five scientists Chapman worked with in the Pacific, Robert T. Smith, died “of ailments aggravated by his experiences in the South Pacific.”[1]

A book based on Chapman’s wartime adventures in the South Seas appeared in 1949. Chapman called it Fishing in Troubled Waters, a provocative title if ever there was one, but the book is a light-hearted and rueful account of his misadventures, trying to learn fishing skills from native fishermen. It is breezily dedicated to “the gals we left behind, Mazie, Marge and Vi, this book is dedicated in the hope that some day we will be forgiven for having deliberately started and maintained the Pacific war in order that we could have a trip to the South Seas without taking them along.”

The dedication is discordant, in that one scientist died during the venture, and Schaefer’s health was probably permanently impaired by the long bout of rheumatic fever; he died in 1970 at the age of 58. When the war ended and Schaefer was recovered, he went to work for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of Honolulu. He was one of the first American scientists to work in the Mandated Island, the Marshall, Mariana, and Caroline Islands, where the Japanese had developed a lucrative fishery for tuna in the 1920s.

With the end of the war, the American government moved to take over the fisheries the Japanese had developed in the Pacific, the king crab fishery in Alaska, and the high seas tuna fishery, especially in the Mandated Islands. The vehicle to achieve both goals was the Pacific Explorer, the world’s largest fishing boat, and the flamboyant man who ran it, Nick Bez.

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 trawlers would catch the fish, then transfer it to the mothership for freezing. The Pacific Explorer was nothing if not efficient: it would not only freeze and transport  tuna, but it would do research as well. There was a fisheries technician assigned to the vessel, as well as a fisheries biologist, Milner B. Schaefer. The crew would “study ocean life and currents and temperatures.”

It was an impossible assignment; it’s not feasible to look for fish, operate a floating fish plant, and do any meaningful research on ocean conditions. But Benny took at least two cruises on the Oregon, which Bob Hitz has told us was the first of the four fishing boats built to work with the Pacific Explorer.

Benny made at least two cruises on the Oregon, at least according to the published literature. He spent from January of June of 1948 onboard the Oregon and the Alaska scouting for tuna in the Western Pacific, in the waters around what were called the Mandated Islands, the Marshall, Marina, and Caroline islands. The Japanese had developed a lucrative fishery for tuna during the 1930s and the Americans wanted to claim the waters for American fishermen.

American fisheries at the time depended on bait, for a pole and line fishery that had been developed by the Japanese and exported to California. But the research cruises showed that bait was hard to find in the central Pacific.  The American fleet would not be able to greatly advance its tuna fisheries in the Pacific until the development of the power block in 1957.


[1] Chapman papers, Box 4, Folder 6, “Statement in Regard to the Recent Death of Richard Thomas Smith,” undated.

Posted in boat building, Cold War, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Nick Bez, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Nick Bez, a portrait by Karsh of Ottawa

A portrait of Nick Bez, by Karsh of Canada. Permission of the Bez family.

A portrait of Nick Bez, by Karsh of Canada. Permission of the Bez family.

The Bez family very kindly let us go through the voluminous collection of materials they amassed about the career of Nick Bez, the millionaire fisherman turned airline executive. There were several copies of a striking photograph of Bez and there was a famous name on the corner, Karsh.

Yousuf Karsh was an internationally renowned portrait painter. He was born in 1908 in Turkey and moved to Canada in 1924. He worked with his uncle, who was a photographer. He called himself Karsh of Ottawa and he traveled the world shooting portraits of famous people, including Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ernest Hemmingway. He died in 1902 at the age of 93.

Did Karsh travel to Seattle to photograph Bez? In his office, perhaps? Note that the globe is positioned to show the North Pacific Ocean, where Bez made his money and put his stamp on Pacific Northwest history.

These two paragraphs from the Karsh obituary in The New York Times certainly sum up the portrait of Nick Bez.

Mr. Karsh was a master of the formally posed, carefully lighted studio portrait. Working with an 8-by-10 view camera and a battery of artificial lights (he was said to carry 350 pounds of equipment on his trips abroad) he aimed, in his own words, “to stir the emotions of the viewer” and to “lay bare the soul” of his sitter.

He characteristically achieved a heroic monumentality in which the sitter’s face, grave, thoughtful and impressive, emerged from a dark, featureless background with an almost superhuman grandeur. As the historian Peter Pollack put it in his “Picture History of Photography”, “Yousuf Karsh, in his powerful portraits, transforms the human face into legend.”

Posted in Carmel Finley, Environmental History, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Nick Bez, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged | Leave a comment

Nick Bez, friend of presidents

Unidentified man to the left, Nick Bez, President Harry Truman, Washington Senator Warren Magnuson. Undated, courtesy of the Bez family

Unidentified man to the left, Nick Bez, President Harry Truman, Washington Senator Warren Magnuson. Undated, courtesy of the Bez family

The Pacific Explorer, the world’s largest fishing boat, was eventually sold for scrap, but Nick Bez stayed in the news.[i] He sold his stock in Astoria’s Columbia River Packers Association in 1951 and bought P. E. Harris, one of the largest salmon-packing and distributing companies in the Northwest, founded in 1916. Bez took over the assets and became president, board chairman, and the largest stockholder.

The company had packed salmon under a variety of names, including Peter Pan, Gill Netters Best, and Sea kist. Bez renamed the company Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc. and it operated canneries in Alaska, Puget Sound, and Astoria. He broadened the marketing line to include canned tuna and Alaska king crab. He was bringing frozen Japanese tuna to the U.S. to can, evading any tariff, and worsening the economic situation of the Southern California boats, an act that undoubtedly gave him great pleasure, seeing as how the Southern California boats had forced him out of Central America. His was one of the first American companies to import salmon and tuna from Japan to process in the U.S.[ii]

Two of his boats, the Western Clipper and the freezer ship Toni B, were charged with “illegal fishing” in Peruvian waters in 1955. He refused to pay the fines. “We aren’t going to recognize any 200-mile limit,” he told the Seattle Times. “If they get away with 200 miles, they could make it 10,000 miles.”[iii] The Toni B, described as a former Navy tug, sank in February of 1955, in “heavy Caribbean waters.” Bez’s son, John, was the skipper of the boat. All 10 men were saved when they were picked up by a Navy vessel. The Toni B had been on her way to deliver 600 tons of tuna to the new cannery at Ponce, Puerto Rico. The cargo was valued at $180,000, according to clippings from several unknown news papers in the possession of the Bez family.

Bez had always been colorful, but when he was first quoted in the press, his accent was reproduced, with faulty grammar and incorrect syntax. He was painted as an immigrant who made good, a penniless boy who became a millionaire, a smart man but with no formal schooling and the coverage was often patronizing. The tone in his hometown paper was a lot more respectful by 1960, when Bez threw a party for 500 at the Rainier Club Lounge in Seattle. He was celebrating the 50th anniversary since his arrival in the U.S.

His friends included most of the city’s political and financial elite.[iv] He was still the friend of presidents, chairing a Seattle committee to raise money for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Nick Bez died in 1969 at the age of 73.

[i] Portland Oregonian, December, 1951.

[ii] Erwin Laurance, The Seattle Times, “Salmon-Packer Baits World’s Fair Hook,” March 5, 1962, 13.

[iii] Seattle Times, Jan. 25, 1955.

[iv] John Reddin, “Faces of the City: 500 Attend Nick Bez’ “Little Party,” Seattle Times, Sept. 16, 1960.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Columbia River Packers Association, Fishing, Nick Bez, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged | Leave a comment


Fig 01

A lift coming onboard, Hitz photo

By Charles R. (Bob) Hitz         Blog # 38                        Jan. 25, 2016

I had been waiting patiently for the skipper to give the command to retrieve the trawl after an hour of towing it along the bottom, hoping it would not hang up on an unknown obstruction and would yield a catch. This was my first opportunity to observe and be involved in working a trawl catch in unexplored offshore waters, under the eyes of chief scientist Al Pruter. There were only two scientists aboard the vessel, Al and myself, for this part of the trip.

I was aboard the research vessel John N. Cobb on the second half of exploratory cruise

Fig 02

Simrad Echo sounder showing trace below, Hitz photo

number 47 to Queen Charlotte Sound, B.C. Canada. In the article by H.E. Crowther entitled “Exploratory Fishing” he writes; “The primary functions of exploratory fishing are to search unexplored waters – especially offshore waters – for new fishing grounds” (1). Prior to when I went out on the Cobb in August, 1960 the exploratory group had worked out a method of determining whether there were any tows in the untrawlable areas that commercial fishermen suggested we explore. First run a series of sounding transects to determine the character of the bottom, then drag a chain over areas suggested as being trawlable by the sounder and finally, replace the chain with a commercial otter-trawl net and fish over those grounds on which the chain was successfully pulled, evaluating the commercial potential of the ground fish present.

Fig 03

Drag chain on deck, replaced with the net, Hitz photo

The waters off the coast of British Columbia had been part of the fishing grounds of the U. S. trawl fleet for years before the Magnuson-Stevens Act became law in 1976 and the 200 mile conservation zone was established. The Western Flyer was part of the trawl fleet that fished Queen Charlotte Sound in late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Some commercial trawl fishermen had pointed out areas off the tip of Vancouver Island that were untrawlable, wanting them to be explored by the Cobb.

Once we arrived on the grounds on August 17, 1960, the first thing was to set haul #45 to determine what species were found there. We were to duplicate haul #44 made in the first half of the cruise when the puckering string came undone, the catch was lost before it could be brought aboard and there wasn’t time to complete another tow. I was waiting to see what was in this catch and I became excited when the fish came aboard in one lift of the cod end and was released into the checker.

Fig 04

Stations, Second half of Cobb Cruise 47, BCF Drawing

The first thing the biologist must do when the catch is brought aboard is make an estimate of the total weight. A full checker holds about 3,500 lbs. and half a checker equals about 1,750 lbs. A lift or a full split is about 2,000 lbs. and the estimated weight for this haul was one ton or 2,000 pounds.

The catch is then sorted by species and a count of each made and recorded on a Data Form. A copy of the original is included here and is referred to as “Station 67”. This number was changed to #45 in the final published report (2) and a copy of Figure 7 from the report has the net hauls plotted with the new numbering system. Otter-trawl drag numbers 39 to 44 were made during the first half and numbers 45 to 56 were made during the second half.

The reason there is a difference between the original and final report numbers is that only the net hauls were used and renumbered in chronological order. All the other stations were deleted such as the sounding transects where an echo sounder was used to determine whether the bottom was soft and trawlable or hard and untrawlable as well as all the stations where a chain replaced the trawl net to reduce damage to the nets.

Fig 05

Cobb’s chart table, Hitz photo

The skipper on the bridge has a chart laid out on the chart table and he plots the drag on it from the start to the end. He uses loran or radar to get the position along with the depth of the drag from the sounder. When making a tow he tries to follow a depth contour, in this case 85-86 fathoms. The biologist later converts the plot into latitude and longitude from the chart and records them along with any other information required.

Fig 06.jpg

Page 1 of Original Data form Station 67 (45) BCF Form

The form is set up for exploratory fishing and the results are of interest to the fishing industry. Since this cruise was designed to find trawlable grounds, when a successful haul like 45 is made the commercial fishermen need the exact location so they can repeat it if they wish, and to know what was in the catch by weight since they are paid by the pounds landed. For example, in this haul there were 200 individual Pacific Ocean perch (POP) at an average weight of 2.5 pounds, equaling 500 pounds.   Adding the weight of each of the food fish species totals 1690 pounds. Adding all the categories on the form the catch total is equal to 2091 pounds, which should equal or come close to the original estimated weight.

Fig 07

page 2 of Original Data Form Station 67 (45) BCF Form

To my surprise there were five different species of rockfish in the catch. In the final report they would be classified as Black, Red and POP but on this form they were broken down by the scientific names except for POP (S. alutus), because there are at least 55 species of rockfish along the Pacific coast and they are difficult to differentiate.

I became so interested in this catch, helping to work up the data and to identify the rockfish, that I completely forgot about being seasick the day before on the transit along the outer coast of Vancouver Island. This was only the first day on the grounds, but a presage of the rest of the trip.






Posted in 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, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments