Western Flyer Launching at Western Boat Building Co. Petrich Photo

Western Flyer Launching at Western Boat Building Co. Petrich Photo

By Charles R. Hitz,  Blog # 34                     Aug. 28, 2015

Western Flyer is an interesting vessel. I became more aware of her when I was talking to Kevin Bailey, who was writing a book about her. At that time I knew only that she was chartered by John Steinbeck during the height of the California sardine fisheries and that she was part of the Washington trawl fleet when I worked on the John N. Cobb in 1960’s. He said that she was moored under a bridge near Anacortes, Washington and that her name had been changed to Gemini. I asked him if there were any drawings of her, but as he wasn’t aware of any I told him that I would like to make one for his book (“The Western Flyer” published in 2015) , which I did.

Drawing of the Western Flyer as seiner, Hitz drawing

Drawing of the Western Flyer as seiner, Hitz drawing

It was an interesting project. The Flyer was built by the Western Boat Building Company in Tacoma, Washington as a speculative vessel in 1937. Allen Petrich, a relative of the builder, later told me that any of their vessels built on speculation had “Western” in the first part of the name, such as the Western Flyer. He also said that each one had a hull number assigned by the company and when it was launched that number was nailed to a wall in the shipyard. The shipyard caught on fire in August, 1950 and burned to the ground seven months after the Cobb was delivered. All those numbers on the wall were destroyed, along with the models and half models which were used in building the seiners.   When an historic list of all the vessels built by Western Boat Building was put together the Western Flyer and the John N. Cobb were on it, and while hull number 122 was given for Western Flyer, there was no hull number for the Cobb. Years later, however, going through Cobb cruise files I found a number of old photographs made during its construction and showing the Western Boat hull number as 192.

Cobb ribs being installed at Western Boat Building CO. BCF Photo

Cobb ribs being installed at Western Boat Building CO. BCF Photo

Cobb was designed by the engineering firm W. C. Nickum and Sons of Seattle and the hull lines were supplied in a bidding package for construction of the vessel. Western Boat Building Company won the contract. She was built by lofting the hull lines from the package full size, so that the ribs were fabricated and placed on the keel as the vessel formed. Western Flyer, on the other hand, was built by taking the lines off a model and then lofted to full size, the ribs constructed and placed on the keel as they were for the Cobb.

Western Flyer as constructed as a sardine seiner Petrich Photo

Western Flyer as constructed as a sardine seiner Petrich Photo

Western Boat had developed a reputation for building a productive sardine seiner with a seaworthy hull that moved through the water smoothly. In 1937, out of 64 seiners over 70 feet in total length built in the Pacific yards, the Western Flyer was an example of the top of the line vessels.

Western Flyer under the bridge, Hitz Photo

Western Flyer under the bridge, Hitz Photo

Western Flyer is currently being restored in Port Townsend, and I hope someone has the experience to draw her actual lines from the hull when she is out of the water. They have historical value as they were state of the art at the peak of the sardine fisheries and the model was destroyed in the fire which Allen said destroyed all the models, so they are lost forever. They were used to build each vessel and apparently changed with time, so a slight change to the model would change the behavior of a completed seiner.

To start the outboard drawing I needed dimensions, so went to the AnnualFig 6 List of Merchant Vessels of the U.S. for the year 1938 (1) and found the Western Flyer under Motor Vessels.   Her official number is 236142 and her registered dimensions are: length 71’, breadth 19.3’ and depth 8.9.’ Registered length is the measurement along the main deck, from the fore part of the outer planking on the side of the stem to the after part of the rudder post. Length overall is not recorded in the registry.

I believe that the total length of the Western Flyer is 76 feet. Using these dimensions and photographs I drew an outboard profile at the time of her completion. I also drew the deck layout and the house arrangement as she was built, which is important because the vessel was modified from earlier models by moving bunks from the fo’c’sle in the forepart of the hull to the deckhouse above. This change added more carrying capacity by moving the engine room and increasing the size of the fish hole.

In his book Keith Bailey described how Toni Berry, a partner in the adventure, brought up the landings of sardines by the Western Flyer and his standing as a highline skipper to one of the top boats. He learned the art of fishing the vessel at night in the dark of the moon. As it moved slowly through the water with no lights showing, they were able to spot a school of fish from the phosphorescent glow given off in the water. He was able to determine if it was a school of sardines or a school of anchovies. If he made a mistake and set on a school of anchovies, the net would become clogged by anchovies becoming gilled in every mesh of the seine, which was a misery to clean. He also describes how they made a set by circling the school with the seine net and then closing the bottom, trapping the sardines, all in the dark of night.

While I attended the School of Fisheries I heard about the collapse of the sardine fisheries and the debate on whether it was overfished or because of a change in oceanographic conditions. Kevin’s book goes into the details of this collapse. Whatever occurred, sardines literally disappeared, leaving hundreds of sardine seiners idle.

I have been interested in what happened to these vessels. Harold Hanson describes in his paper (2) that the West Coast Pacific seiner is basically a combination vessel and can easily be converted to fish almost any commercial fishing gear. The combination principle was one of the requirements for the design of the exploratory vessel John N. Cobb. He states that a commercial vessel built on the west coast must be able to convert to other fisheries to survive. Many of them went into the tuna industry as tuna seiners or converted to bait boats. Some went to Alaska to seine herring, but were blocked from seining salmon by the Alaskan Limit Law that restricted vessels over 50 feet in registered length from seining salmon. Some became Puget Sound seiners and fished the Fraser River sockeye run. Others went to China under UNRA and still others came north to the trawl fleet. But some were idle and that’s why there was so much interest in developing the hake fisheries and fish flour. If that should become a viable fishery, many of the sardine seiners could be converted to midwater trawlers.

Kevin’s book supplied information about what happened to the Western Flyer after 1945 when the sardine fisheries collapsed. The vessel was too small to fish for tuna off South America, so he sold the boat and it headed north; where it seined for herring in Alaska before it was resold to Dan Luketa in 1952 and entered the Washington state trawl or bottomfish fisheries.


  • 1938 Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation.
  • Hanson, H.C. 1955 Pacific Combination Vessels. In Fishing Boats of the World, FAO, Fishing News London, England, pp 187-202
Posted in Albacore tuna, boat building, California sardines, Carmel Finley, Environmental History, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SETTING THE TRAWL – My First Cobb Trip

Arnie heaving the cod end over (Hitz photo)

Arnie heaving the cod end over

By Bob Hitz, Blog # 33  Aug. 11, 2015

Memories of my first trip fifty-five years ago have become vague, with the exception of a few occurrences which were etched in my mind and some of those I mentioned in my last posting about the first two days of the trip.

Recently I found a number of color slides showing the setting and retrieval of the trawl. The process had fascinated me ever since I heard Lee Alverson’s lecture in 1958 at the College of Fisheries, when he spoke about his recent trip to Germany. He indicated that there was a major change occurring in the distant water trawl fleets of the world – the introduction of stern trawlers which would make the side trawler obsolete. I left the lecture wondering why this hadn’t happened before, since the Pacific coast trawl fleet had been stern trawling for years?

Rest of net being pulled overboard (Hitz photo)

Rest of net being pulled overboard (Hitz photo)

When I went out on the Commando to collect rockfish samples for my research I was involved in the actual trawling, running winches and hooking up and releasing trawl doors, but didn’t pay much attention to the process, being more interested in the end results of the tow and how many rockfish were in the catch. When I was hired by the Exploratory Fishing group on July 5, 1960, and went on my first trip on the R/V John N. Cobb on August 15, 1960, I had time to understand and observe the process of setting and retrieval of a commercial trawl and to photograph the procedures.

Deciding where to make a set was an important decision, because the ocean bottom is not all smooth and flat as it was in Port Orchard where I did my study and there was danger of hanging up on an obstacles that could damage the net or lose it. We were working in an area that commercial fishermen considered untrawlable. Considerable effort had already been expended to find suitable bottom, and this was the final stage to determine what species were available and whether a haul could be repeated without losing the catch or damaging the trawl. The skipper lined up the vessel on a depth contour and gave the command to set the gear.

Net being let out (Hitz photo)

Net being let out (Hitz photo)

The pictures included here are of the setting. The first one is of Arnie, one of the fishermen, heaving the cod end over the stern so the water could take it and pull out the net as the vessel moved forward. The second picture shows the rest of the net going overboard and the third is cable from the winch running freely through the block as the net is let out. The fourth shows where the doors have taken the strain after the “jam link” has become engaged with the “Figure 8” hanging from the after part of the door and the pull of the net is transferred to the door which is held in place by a chain that is hook to the stanchion. This is the point where fisherman Arnie on the starboard side and Connie, on the port side, connected their individual trawl door to the main cable by attaching the slack flat link at the end of the trawl cable to the G-hook hanging slack from the door, sliding the open slot on the G-hook through the grove in the flat link joining the doors to the trawl cable.


Door taking strain, Arnie connecting Flat Link (Hitz photo)

This is where I believe a drawing helps and I have taken the liberty of modifying one that artist Boris O. Knake published in Fishery Leaflet #445 in 1958. He is the person who accompanied the Deep Sea on her first two cruises in 1947, and again in 1948.In the publication he made a drawing that shows the hardware and how it’s arranged for a trawl door on an east coast side trawler. The arrangement is similar to that used by the Pacific trawl fleet, the only difference being the placement of the stanchions on the stern instead of on the side of the vessel. The nomenclature differs and I have replaced it with what I was familiar with on the Cobb, a Pacific coast vessel.

Drawing from Krake Fishery Leaflet (Krake drawing)

Drawing from Krake Fishery Leaflet (Krake drawing)

Once the trawl doors are attached to the main cable the winch operators pull the trawl door up into the trawl stanchion, shifting the pull of the net to the main trawl cable as shown in the fifth picture. The chain that connected the trawl door to the stanchion becomes slack and the hook can easily be released. I did the same thing on the Commando. The forces are great on the trawl doors as the vessel slowly moves through the water, and I must admit it was stimulating to connect and disconnect the flat link and to hook and unhook the doors.

Finally, in the sixth picture the doors are in the water and brakes will be applied to make sure that the doors shear out to the sides of the vessel. Cable is then let out by each winch operator at the same rate, according to meters on each side, with the winch operators calling out their readings to ensure that both sides of the gear go down evenly.

Trawl door pulled up (Hitz photo)

Trawl door pulled up (Hitz photo)

A sheet of paper in the pilothouse, referred to as a scope table, gives the length of trawl cable needed for a specific depth interval. Once the depth is defined for a drag the table shows the amount of trawl cable needed, and when the trawl winch operator reaches that amount the winches are stopped and the brakes are set. The net is towed along a specific depth contour for an hour before it is retrieved.

Trawl door in water (Hitz photo)

Trawl door in water (Hitz photo)

The Pacific trawl fleet has been stern trawling for years and the new vessels that Lee talked about set their trawls in a similar manner as the Cobb. The difference is in how the fish catch is retrieved, which made the side trawler obsolete in the distance water fleets which I will discuss in a future posting on Retrieving The Trawl – My first Cobb trip.




Posted in boat building, Dayton Lee Alverson, 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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Towards a curriculum in Pacific fisheries history

220px-SteinbeckCortezAs regular readers know, we often rail about the lack of history materials about the development of fishing and fisheries science in the Pacific. Most of the history on the development of fisheries has been focused on the Atlantic, where fishing developed over hundreds of years. In the Pacific, development was much faster. Technology was quickly transferred as the industry industrialized, starting with marine refrigeration in the 1930s. Development was even more rapid after World War II, as sonar, radar, and larger engines allowed boats to fish deeper water, and to move further from home.

That dismal state of Pacific fishery history is changing. We are starting to get some new books and the wonderful thing is that they all link together. History is like that, it connects everything.

the-western-flyer-3DOne of the foundation books about the development of Pacific science is also a literary classic. The Log of the Sea of Cortez was written by novelist John Steinbeck, about the six weeks he spent fishing with Ed Ricketts in the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) in 1940. Their vessel was iconic Western Flyer, and Kevin Bailey’s new book looks at the career of the boat, as it moved from sardine fishing to trawling to king crab.

George Moskovita would certainly have known the Flyer. When OSU issues his book this LivingOffThePacificfall, it will dovetail with both Steinbeck and Bailey, providing three books with unique but complementary elements.

George’s book can also be read in concert with Dayton Lee Alverson’s The Race to the Sea. While written primarily for his family, Alverson, one of the Northwest’s top biologists, adds to our picture of the growth of fisheries science during the 1960s. Both men lived in Astoria after the war. George was one of the first trawlers to fish for groundfish out of Astoria. Alverson, along with our old friend Jergen Westhreim, were among the first scientists to study West Coast rockfish.

2015-07-04_1319If you want some science with a philosophical twist, add to this growing pile Donald Gunderson’s The Rockfish’s Warning, a mediation by a fisheries scientist on his career, and what he has learned about fish and sustainability.

Our own work fits in here as well. All the Fish in the Sea traces how fisheries science was used by the U.S. State Department to further its Cold War objectives of restoring the Japanese economy. All the Boats on the Ocean, which is currently out for review and scheduled for publication some time next year.

What is important here is the growing body of work that scholars can draw on, to teach the environmental history of the Pacific Ocean. There is a lot of room for additional volumes, but this is a grand start.

Posted in California sardines, Carmel Finley, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Resources About Fishing, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob’s article for National Fisherman, April, 1969






Posted in boat building, Cold War, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Bob Hitz!

We wish to congratulate our friend and collaborator on his 82nd birthday. And he spent atHitz 1 (2) least part of the time engaged in messing with technology for the blog. He has given us a marvelous document, a compilation of articles about the Soviet fishery off the West Coast, published by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1970. There is a link:


This is a highly interesting document, not least for the pictures of Soviet trawlers and freezer ships taken by Bob, but for how it documents the science that was instigated by the presence of the Soviet fleet. This is like getting a whole bushel of truffles and a lot of champagne.  And it is not even our birthday, it is Bob’s.

We have written about the Soviet boats that began fishing for Pacific ocean perch in the2015-06-18_1319 Pacific in the 1960s.  There was an enormous public outcry about the Soviet boats and the fish they catching. This journal pulls together all the scientific information about another of the species the Soviets were targeting, Pacific hake, or the Merluccias family, which is found throughout the world’s oceans.

Hake were plentiful and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries wanted to get more fishermen like George Moskovita to fish for it. But the problem was the hake were not of a high quality, and boats like George did not have the ability to catch large quantities, the way the Soviets would be able to do. The scientists tried to create a demand and a market for hake, by turning it into a protein flour that was designed to solve the problems of world hunger.

Throughout the1960s, as the Soviet vessels appeared in American waters, this journal documents the response of the American scientific community. Bob’s paper, based on data from his observations, show how many vessels of each type were fishing off the West Coast.  We’ll be bringing more of this to the blog, but today we just want to express our thanks to Bob Hitz and to wish him a happy birthday and many more.

Posted in boat building, Cold War, 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, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history' | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sea Magazine interviews Charles R. “Bob” Hitz






Posted in boat building, Cold War, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Resources About Fishing, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Al Pruter with XBT , Hitz photo

Al Pruter with XBT , Hitz photo

By Bob Hitz, Blog # 32      June 3, 2015

I was hired as a permanent employee with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Base (EFGRB) – and reported for work on July 5, 1960. I was excited and anxious to see the R/V John N. Cobb. While waiting in the hall on the second floor of the Montlake Lab’s EFGRB office I met Al Pruter, who was also standing there to get fingerprinted as a new hire. Al was another WW II veteran and had met Lee Alverson at the College of Fisheries where they had been classmates. Lee had attracted Al from the Halibut Commission to be his deputy director in 1958. Al would become the most important mentor in my career, the quiet steady one.

When I interviewed Jergen Westrheim on April 2, 1968, we talked about Al. Jergen said

Map of Area, Hitz drawing

Map of Area, Hitz drawing

that Al was his classmate at the College of Fisheries, was an “A” student and if he didn’t graduate Phi Beta Kappa he should have. He was the smartest individual Jergen knew. He was also an excellent administrator and he and Lee made a wonderful team. Lee was good with groups while Al was better with individuals and was outstanding in writing and planning.

Al took me down to the Cobb about a week later to inspect it and in the middle of August I was assigned a trip with him. It was the second half of an exploratory bottom fish cruise (Cr. # 47) to Queen Charlotte Sound, B.C. Canada, one of the main fishing grounds for the US trawl fleet during that time. Reported areas off Cape Scot had been reported untrawlable, so our job was to discover possible towing areas within them and which commercial species were present.

Swell and Chop, Hitz Photo

Swell and Chop, Hitz Photo

On the trip north we had a number of bathythermograph or XBT casts to take to determine the surface water contours with depth along the outside of Vancouver Island. That’s why we didn’t take the inside passage on the east side of Vancouver Island, which would have been much more comfortable. I should have had a clue of what was coming when the cook replaced the tablecloth on the galley table with a rubber mat and installed a railing around the top outer edge of the table, which was designed to keep dishes on it and not in our laps when we got offshore.

The first job I had was to make XBT casts. An XBT is a long tube with fins on the end which is lowered from a cable down the side of the ship. Before it is deployed a coated glass slide is placed inside and as the unit descends, a needle traces the temperature vs. depth onto the slide. After the XBT is retrieved, the slide is removed and stored in a box. It was at night and we were offshore and I was seasick, so when I went out on deck to hook up the XBT, Al followed me to make sure that I was stable enough not to fall overboard while launching and retrieving it.

Al putting glass slide into XBT, Hitz photo

Al putting glass slide into XBT, Hitz photo

I had to load the slide into the XBT and attach it to the cable. The skipper or mate started the winch overhead, taking up the slack as I put it over the side into the water and letting it down to the desired depth. Hauling it back up and stopping it just below surface, I took a pole with a wire loop on its end and caught the cable so that when the XBT broke the surface it was kept from banging against the side of the rolling vessel. Once above the surface I would bring it aboard, disconnect the cable, place the XBT in the rack and retrieve the slide. I didn’t fall overboard and I accomplished my first task at sea.

Wet after deck, Hitz photo

Wet after deck, Hitz photo

The next morning the boat kept running northwest as we stopped periodically to make XBT casts along Vancouver Island. I went to breakfast, but because of the ocean swells I wasn’t feeling too good and hung back. There was a seat on the outside corner of the table closest to the galley door so I sat down there to eat, keeping my meal down but not feeling great. Still fighting seasickness I went outside by the portside door and leaned against the after side of the house and looked at the horizon, trying to forget the smell of toast and the taste of chalky milk. It was years before that image was gone from my mind. Later a crewman told me that I had sat in the skipper’s place. It was the closest to the bridge and in case of an emergency he could respond quickly. Not a good start for my career.

The after deck was wet as the seawater came in through the scuppers as the vessel proceeded through swells and chop toward Scott Island. I was at sea, aboard the John N. Cobb for the first time, and the statement that I heard at the office was going through my mind: “Go to sea and publish and you will be rewarded,” which was important because I had decided not to continue my education. I’d reached an impasse – getting through the foreign language. I had taken the test a number of times, but just couldn’t pass French. Even if seasickness was a problem for me it wasn’t as bad as taking that test again for the master’s degree. My education had already proved its worth – I was employed and aboard the John N. Cobb.

It was a thrill to be part of this crew, eight fisherman and two scientists, myself and Al. The vessel was a tool used by the scientific staff and the ship’s crew was made up of commercial fishermen and headed by the Captain, who had the responsibility for operating the vessel safely. The scientific staff was responsible for conducting the scientific part of the cruise and it rotated between cruises. Those trips were 3 to 4 weeks long and the scientists had two to three trips a year.

The chief scientists and the skipper worked together and the Base Director issued Project Instructions to both of them. This document gave the itinerary, when and where the vessel would leave and return to its home port, the area of operation, the Objectives, the Methods, the Records to be kept, and the scientific personnel assigned to the trip. I was assigned to the trip from August 15 to September 9, 1960 as part of the scientific team, myself and Chief Scientist Al Pruter.

The Cobb arrived on the grounds where they’d left off during the first part of the cruise (1) August 17, 1960. At the end of the first part a successful tow, # 44, had been made but the net malfunctioned, the catch was lost and they wanted to repeat the tow to determine what was there.   So haul # 45 was made for one hour at a depth of 83 to 88 fathoms. The estimated catch for this haul was 2,000 lbs. and the catch was brought aboard in one lift and sorted by species. The rockfish were divided into three groups: there were 700 pounds of red, 70 pounds of black and 140 pounds of flagged, whereas the rest of the fish catch was easily sorted into individual species. What species were the rockfish? Out came the fish keys, namely Philips (2) and Clemens and Wilby (3). We found that the red ones consisted of 200 lbs. of canary (S. pinniger), 500 lbs. of Pacific Ocean perch (S. alutus) and one bocacco (S. paucispinis), while the other two categories consisted of one species each, the silvergray rockfish (S. brevispinis) and the flag rockfish (S. rubrivincutus). So little was known about the rockfish at the time – I was on my way to an exciting career.


  • R. Hitz, H.C. Johnson, A.T. Pruter (1961). Bottom Trawling Explorations off the Washington and British Columbia Coasts, May-August 1960. Commercial Fisheries Review, June 1961, Vol. 23, No. 6, also U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service Sept. No. 620.
  • Phillips, J. B. (1957). A Review of the Rockfishes of California. California Fish and Game, Bulletin No. 104, 158 p.
  • Clemens, W.A. and Wilby G.V, (1961). Fishes of the Pacific Coast of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin No. 68, 443 p.





Posted in Cold War, Dayton Lee Alverson, 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, Resources About Fishing, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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