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

The DEEP SEA and the Fish and Wildlife Service


Deep Sea commissioning, FWS photo

Deep Sea commissioning, FWS photo

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz              Bob’s Posting 28                     Feb. 13, 2015

When I was on the Cobb between 1960 and 1970, Pete Larson, the skipper (1959 -1981) used to talk about Jose Franco, who was skipper 1956 -1957. He said that Jose came from the Deep Sea with Joe Dunatov, who remained on the Cobb as boatswain of the deck crew. In those days I was more interested in my job and didn’t pay much attention. Years later, especially talking to Tom Dunatov about his experiences on the Deep Sea, I became fascinated with the history of the two vessels.

Cod end coming aboard the Deep Sea, FWD photo

Cod end coming aboard the Deep Sea, FWD photo

It all started when the federal government’s Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was assigned the task of exploring Alaskan waters for king crab. The field work was conducted in 1940-41 and the report was completed in 1942 (1). In Blackford’s book (2) on the history of the Deep Sea he states that:

Part of the federal government’s survey was conducted in Raspberry Strait directly in front of Port Wakefield (in one instance, a single drag through the strait landed 2,000 crabs), and when the survey was completed much of the gear was left behind with the Wakefields. In return for the use of the nets and pots in further experimental fishing, the Wakefields turned over the logs of their work to the Department of the Interior. Using a small two-man dragger to catch the crabs, the Wakefield family canned king crab at their herring plant during the war years, putting up several hundred cases annually.”

This individual drag motivated Lloyd Wakefield to have a 36-foot trawler built by the

Hog Ring Attachment, F-1 Modification, F-2 Original

Hog Ring Attachment, F-1 Modification, F-2 Original. Boris drawing

Grandy Boat Co. of Seattle in 1942, the Prospector official hull number 241334, which was used to continue exploring for king crab around Kodiak Island. His son Lowell became interested in the project and experimented in methods of capturing, processing and preserving and found that frozen king crab had a better quality than canned. By the end of the war and after reviewing the FWS report, he put his ideas into forming a new company in 1946, Deep Sea Trawlers.

Lowell had radical ideas of the ship to be used to harvest and process the crab. He had a 140 foot vessel built, the design based on the lines of an east coast side trawler that had proven its sea worthiness on the Atlantic Ocean and further strengthened for breaking ice in the Bering Sea. His most radical idea was the internal design of the ship, to process an entire catch of king crab at sea and preserve it by freezing. It was completed, named Deep Sea and sailed on her first trip to the Bering Sea in 1947.

Before the Deep Sea was finished, in 1946 the company chartered the newly refurbished 150 foot trawler Bering Sea. That vessel was formerly a converted mine sweeper used during WWII which had originally been built as a trawler in Savannah, Georgia in 1919. Severe weather was encountered, hampering the operation, and while the vessel was found to be unsuitable for the Bering Sea, fishing potential was good. Lowell Wakefield was on that expedition in charge of the operation and the first mate on this cruise was Jose Franco, who became skipper of the Cobb.   Franco was also an investor in the Deep Sea organization and a well-known fisherman (2).

Stress on the cod end; A-Modification, B-original, Boris drawing

Stress on the cod end; A-Modification, B-original, Boris drawing

Lowell Wakefield invited a FWS Fisheries Engineer, Boris O. Knake, an expert based at the FWS Technological Laboratory, Boston, Mass., to accompany the Deep Sea on her first voyage in 1947 as a technical adviser. He was invited back for her second trip in 1948 (2). Boris had been skipper of an east coast side trawler, was an expert in trawl nets and had special talent for using pen and ink drawings in his reports. He suggested a number of modifications, one of which was a change in the cod end, and he worked on that with the crew of the Deep Sea before departing on the second trip.

King crab are bottom dwellers and when caught in a trawl net they are a dead weight when the net is retrieved. When the heavier crab catch is lifted out of the water the weight increases and the cod end bulges into a balloon shape, stressing the hog ring fasteners keeping the ropes uniformly spaced, which can part, losing the catch. A modified cod end places the strain on the rope instead of the hog ring.

The modified cod end is made up of four panels joined together to form a tunnel at the end

Attaching Hog Ring, Boris drawing

Attaching Hog Ring, Boris drawing

of the net. Each one is made on a pegboard where the ropes are strung between pegs. Once all the ropes are strung, each rope is clamped by a hog ring where it crosses another. In my recent discussion with Tom Dunatov he said that his dad had had a cottage business in the basement of his Seattle home for years after Tom arrived in the US from Croatia in 1947. He made panels for the Deep Sea and the company’s trawlers, Shelikof and Foremost, and Tom told me that as a kid, when he and his brothers came home from school, they worked on a peg board in the basement, attach the hog rings where the ropes crossed, and there were 1,081 hog rings per panel.

In 1949 the Deep Sea was chartered by the FWS second exploratory cruise and it helped out both organizations. Washington was found to be unsuitable for exploratory work and it was sold and as the Cobb was under construction, there was need for a vessel to continue the work. Deep Sea was available in early summer of 1949 to continue exploration of the Bering Sea where the Washington left off. Don Powell, a new scientist who had been recently hired in the newly formed FWS Seattle office of Exploratory Fishing, was assigned to the charter. I think that that’s where he came into contact with Jose Franco and Joe Dunatov, or at least learned about them so that when he became director of the unit and needed their expertise he could contact them.

Peg Board for Stringing Ropes, Boris drawing

Peg Board for Stringing Ropes, Boris drawing

In 1949 the Deep Sea made its first profit and was the turnaround for the company’s future success. In Blackford’s book (2) he states; “The year 1949 was a major turning point for the Deep Sea Trawlers. Partly because of their good fortune in finding large schools of crabs and partly because they solved certain technical problems in processing the crabs, the men of the Deep Sea put up a pack of 404,000 pounds in 1949, more than twice as much as in previous years. The Fish and Wildlife charter brought in additional revenue for the company, some $21,000 in sorely needed cash.”

No wonder Lowell Wakefield thanked Lee Alverson at one of the meetings they attended years later for what FWS had done during the early days when exploratory fishing was important to the country.

  • Fiedler, R. H. & F. F. Johnson, Editors (1942) Report of the Alaska Crab Investigation. U. S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Fishery Market News, May 1942 Supplement, Vo. 4, No. 5A.
  • Blackford, Mansel G. (1944) Pioneering a Modern Small Business, Wakefield Seafoods and the Alaskan Frontier, Jai Press, Greenwich, Connecticut. (page; 5, 8, 13, 19, & 25)





Posted in boat building, Carmel Finley, 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, World History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Fish flour

Fish flour

One of the nice things about being a historian is that you get to gad around and go interesting places, like Austin, Texas, which happens to be the home of the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential library. The library, you will be interested to hear, has lots of interesting little documents around fishing.

A word about the building first. It’s really very impressive, like a pharaoh’s tomb, very simple, seven stories, reflection pond in front with a spraying fountain. On a hot Texas day, it’s a pleasant place to sit in the shade and listen to the fountain.

But on to the fishy documents. Presidential libraries have wonderful staffs, they  know everything that happened during an administration, and when you ask for anything LBJ Librarythey have on “fish,” they respond with a large pile of documents. Among the many folders were the minutes of a marine policy committee that met regularly at the White House. There was an agenda for each meeting, and at the top of every agenda, were three letters, FPC, or Fish Protein Concentrate.

The 1960s was a very contentious time for American fishermen. As Bob Hitz has told us, Soviet factory trawlers were in the Pacific, as well as the Atlantic, catching Pacific Ocean Perch.  There was a growing chorus of complaints about the foreign boats that were much newer, larger, and more sophisticated than most American fishing boats. The foreign boats were heavily subsidized their governments. The Soviets badly needed protein to feed their people, and their massive new fishing fleet was a direct challenge to American ocean supremacy during the Cold War.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson

As the foreign boats continued to fish, there was a growing chorus of complaints. But the Department of State and the Defense Department did not want to restrict fishing, because then other nations might restrict American boats fishing off their coast–and if American fishing boats could be banned, perhaps that would lead to further restrictions on military vessels.

“The United States should be the leading fishing nation of the world because it has all the qualifications for this position,” the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries argued stoutly argued in 1968.[1] 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 ought to be the best in the world, wasn’t. Fish imports had rocketed from 33.2% in 1957 to 76% in 1968, valued at $823 million. The Soviets had invested more than $4 billion since World War II.[2] American investment was a tiny fraction of that.

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. had not created direct loans to fishermen to expand

President Kennedy and Stewart Udall, University of Arizona photograph

President Kennedy and Stewart Udall, University of Arizona photograph

the fleet. While fishermen had been eligible for low-interest loans since 1935, the Eisenhower administration found that no boat loans had been made.[3] With the arrival of the Kennedy Administration in 1960, and the creation of the New Frontier theme, fishery officials were looking for a way to get noticed. They came up with an idea, Fish Protein Concentrate, or FPC, and it caught the attention of Kennedy’s new Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall.

If ever there was a magic bullet designed to cure a multiple ills, it was FPC. It would encourage the use of ocean resources, improve the economic status of American fishermen, and, perhaps most importantly, enhance the world image of the U.S. in helping to alleviate world hunger, all with an odorless, tasteless, protein-rich powder.

There is quite a bit of literature, especially technical literature on FPC, which was warmly embraced by the academic community, charged with creating and trying to prefect the final product. The push for FPC created a technological imperative, ignoring questions of how practical the product could be. The idea was to take low quality, cheap fish and turn them into a dried product that could be stored without refrigeration and used to alleviate malnutrition. “Nutrition activists, politicians, regulatory agencies, and private industry came into conflict in a manner most often detrimental to the implementation of FPC as a nutrition supplement,” wrote two scientists who documented the battle, Ernst R. Pariser and Christopher J. Corkery.[5] Their language is restrained, considering it was their outrage over watching the FPC legislative process that impelled them to write their book.

The objective was to create a universally accepted, greyish-white, odorless, tasteless product, which created both technical and economic problems. It was a high-technology enterprise, reflecting massive amounts of capital, energy, and expertise, all of which were lacking in the developing world where it was going to be deployed. It was costly to produce, only provided a supplement to nutrition, and ignored that some developing nations had no history or culture around eating fish. The Kennedy Administration budgeted $50,000 to start an investigation, a tap that turned into a torrent,

The controversy began immediately. The Food and Drug Administration, prodded by the dairy industry concerned that it might impact their non-fat milk sales, bared FPC from being sold in the U.S. When it finally did approve it for sale, it was restricted to small bags. But the real problem was that the technology to create the product did not exist–and given the political opposition, it could not be created, at least cost effectively.

The project had proposed that a hungry child could get a nutrition supplement for a fraction of a cent; a 1973 study found that it cost $5.08 to produce a pound of the stuff.[6]


[1] Michael Weber, From Abundance to Scarcity, (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002), 79.

[2] Edward Wenk Jr., The Politics of the Ocean, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 303.

[3] Memorandum for Dr. Gabriel Hauge, Nov. 23, 1956, Positive Measures to Ease the Groundfish Situation, Subject Series, Box 94, Folder, “Trade Agreements and Tariff Matters, Fish 94),” Eisenhower Presidential Library.

[4] Ernst R. Pariser and Christopher J. Corkery, Fish Protein Concentrate: Panacea for Protein Malnutrition? (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978), 23.

[5] Praiser and Corkery, xiii.

[6] Comptroller General Report to Congress, Fish Protein Concentrate Program, May 25, 1973.


Posted in Cold War, Environmental History, Fisherie subsidies, Fisheries policy, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ballad of the Hake, by Herb Shippen

Pulling in a hake net, photo courtesy of Oceana and youtube

Pulling in a hake net, photo courtesy of Oceana and youtube

We are close to finishing our book, which means we have been thinking a lot of about the 1960s and the foreign boats showing up off the coast of Oregon and Washington, as Bob Hitz has told us about. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about subsidies to encourage the development of fishing, and one of them was the hake plant at Aberdeen, Washington.

Soviet factory trawlers were off Alaska in 1959 and they moved steadily south, catching our poster fish, Pacific Ocean Perch, or POP. And when the POP was gone–in less than a decade–the Soviets moved to another plentiful West Coast fish, Pacific hake.  Dr. Donald Gunderson has provided us with a song called “The Ballad of the Hake,” written by Herb Shippen.

Pacific hake are plentiful off the West Coast, and in the 1960s, they attracted a great deal

Pacific Hake

Pacific Hake

of attention by the federal government, which wanted to turn them into Fish Protein Concentrate, or FPC.

The idea was to take low quality, cheap fish and turn them into a dried product that could be stored without refrigeration and used to alleviate malnutrition. The objective was to create a universally accepted, greyish-white, odorless, tasteless product, that could be used to supplement nutrition in Third World countries.

It was a high-technology enterprise, reflecting massive amounts of capital, energy, and expertise, all of which were lacking in the developing world where it was going to be deployed. It was costly to produce, only provided a supplement to nutrition, and ignored that some developing nations had no history or culture around eating fish. In a flush of enthusiasm, an experimental plant was build in Aberdeen, Washington, and a dozen trawl boats were paid to catch hake and deliver it to the new plant. One of them was our old friend, George Moskovita.

The Ballad of the Hake

It started out one summer day in 1964

Captain George Moskovita

Captain George Moskovita

Lee said the hake are swarming so I hear

But they’re in midwater and can’t be caught in spite of all our lots

NcNeely go ahead and plan some brand new gear.


The net it was tremendous, full sixty feet across

The doors were hydrofoils of mammoth size

Complete with telemetry and special cables too

It filled the Cobb’s reel right up to the sides.


Zuanich came from Everett, Evich from Bellingham

Puretich came from Gig Harbor in the south

They caught the hake at such a rate they almost swamped their boats

But they hurried north and pumped them out at Moore’s


Patashnik said they sure tastes fine, I’ve eaten quite a lot

Those parasites don’t bother me at all

We buried Max along the shores of Saratoga Pass

One dark and dreary rainy night last fall


Cobb early 1960s, Hitz on the bridge, USFW photo

Cobb early 1960s, Hitz on the bridge, USFW photo

The fish biologists they came with board and knife in hand

They said we need some otoliths of hake

For without them how can age be known and hence mortality

And without this there won’t be take to take


The plankton nets were dragged the length and breadth of Puget Sound

Hake eggs and larvae pickled by the jar

And now the hake are in sad straights it certainly is clear

That over-sampling helped to put them there


The hake no longer can be seen in Saratoga Pass

The drag boats shun Port Susan’s barren floor

Hake eggs and larvae are no more in all of Puget Sound

And the fish meal plants are closing up their doors


Oh, the fish meal plants are closed up tight, they haven’t any hake

The wind and rain blows through their hopper doors

The year class strength is almost down to naught, mortality is one

And those hake biologists are no more


From Neah Bay to Blanco, the Cobb ran sounding lines

Thick schools of hake were found most everywhere

But when they set the CPT, twas the jellyfish they got

And Heater said let’s try it over there


A plant was built in Aberdeen to process coastal hake

The subsidies were hailed both near and far

Ten boats delivered to the plant for two months of the year

But they never reached six hundred tons per day


Along the coast of region one for hake eggs we did search

Aboard the Kelez and the John N. Cobb

We dragged the plankton nets along from Brookings to Cape Scott

But all we got was lantern fish and cod.




Posted in Carmel Finley, Cold War, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Fisherie subsidies, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, World History | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments


Charles R. (Bob) Hitz              Bob’s Posting 27                    Jan. 30, 2015

Bob's last command, photo by Bob Hitz

Tom’s last command, photo by Bob Hitz

Captain Tom Dunatov, one of the last NOAA civilian masters of the NOAA fleet, passed away on Friday December 5, 2014. He was a good friend and neighbor and he will certainly be missed. He and I would have tea at his home in Stanwood, and our conversation would often turn to fisheries.

I found our careers followed each other’s, his actually involved with fishing the vessels and mine with science and management of them. He and I were drafted into military service during the same year, 1954 during the Korean conflict, he became one of the first persons to be drafted into the Navy after WW II and I into the more common Army draft. In 1960 I was hired by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Seattle Montlake Lab’s newly designated branch of Exploratory Fishing, and Tom was hired by the same group but into the Biological Branch the following year, 196l.

George B. Kelez, BCF photo

George B. Kelez, BCF photo

During 1961 to 1970 he was involved with the R/V George B. Kelez, a 177 foot WW II military cargo ship similar to the one that was filmed in “Mister Roberts.” It was an ideal vessel to gillnet salmon in the Northeastern Pacific and was found to be an excellent platform for setting and retrieving gillnets during winter storms in the Gulf of Alaska. I didn’t know Tom well during those years, but knew his dad, Joe, who was the boatswain on the Cobb, the vessel I went to sea on. I would run into Tom off and on during those years, primarily at the annual Christmas party.

Tom Dunatov, Family photo

Tom Dunatov, Family photo

I really got to know him when the fisheries vessels were absorbed into the NOAA fleet in 1970. Those were trying years, since some of the vessels used were deactivated and the Kelez was one of them. The stories that I heard about the winter storms she went through, winds of over 100 mph day after day and problems of icing were fascinating and scary, she certainly proved herself for the mission she had. Tom had worked up to the mate position after he earned his Coast Guard license and was transferred to the Cobb. A proud moment for him because he was the second generation of Dunatovs to serve on the Cobb, and a prouder moment when he became the master. During the last few years I have learned about his early history as well as his dad’s on the Deep Sea. Events that occurred from 60 or 70 years ago had become hazy though, especially about what his dad did prior and during that time.

One of Tom’s comments made about the Deep Sea was that they put in tons of concrete for

Tom and son Paul, photo by Bob Hitz

Tom and son Paul, photo by Bob Hitz

ballast to make the ship safe. My knowledge about the Deep Sea was that she was an excellent sea boat since her lines were taken off an east coast side trawler that had proved itself in the Atlantic. So why would they add so much ballast to a vessel that was proven to be safe?

I found a book by M. G. Blackford (1) which, to my surprise, was a detailed history of Deep Sea, and I found on page 29 the following quote:

Fig 5JPG

Tom and Shannon on the Cobb, Bob Hitz photo

On one of the first voyages the crew discovered ballasting difficulties. In the expectation that the Deep Sea would soon have a heavy load of crab deep in the holds, the vessel had been designed to carry only a minimal amount of ballast. Traveling north from Seattle, the ship ran into a full gale and began rolling. With little ballast, the vessel was “very tender,” and at the height of the storm, as Blackford remembered, the Deep Sea rolled over and “hung there on her side with a heavy sea bursting over her deck and through the companionway between the galley and processing room.” Although the ship did eventually right itself, it was, he concluded, “a startling experience.” Upon the return home, tons of concrete and steel boiler punching were poured into the vessel’s holds for increased stability, after which the Deep Sea proved to be extremely “solid” and “seaworthy.”

I wanted to ask Tom more about the timing, whether his dad was on the vessel when it occurred or if he himself was involved when the ballast was put into the ship when he was hired as part of the deck crew, but was never able to.

Valerie on the Cobb, Bob Hitz photo

Valerie on the Cobb, Bob Hitz photo

A few months before his death we had a couple of wonderful experiences. His son Paul had brought his gillnetter down from Copper River, Alaska to Blaine, Washington. We had talked about it over the years and we had our opportunity to drive to Blaine to see it in late summer. The boat was a wonderful design, an aluminum bow picker powered by twin water jets and was designed for speed as well as efficient handing of the fish caught. It was immaculate, everything in its place. After viewing his boat, Paul asked his dad and me if we could go with him on a 50 foot yacht that he had to get to the Bellingham Shipyard and of course we both said yes. It was a wonderful trip past Birch Bay, down Hales Passage and into Bellingham Bay. Tom was put in command when Paul had to make his rounds to check the engineroom. This was to be the last time he was at the controls of a vessel and there was a smile on his face.

Another smile was when we visited the Cobb at Lake Union Park in September. It is difficult for a couple of older folks to get on and off a ship that hasn’t a gangplank, so I wanted to get Tom down to the Cobb where we could board her safely. The best time was when Shannon Fitzgerald made arrangements for the Cobb to have an open house at Lake Union Park and have it rigged to receive visitors. Tom sat again at the galley table in the skipper’s place where meals were served and talked to Shannon. I am sure he enjoyed the visit.

A few weeks after Tom’s passing, his daughter Valerie and her son Luka, visiting from Croatia, were able to board the Cobb for one last visit.

  • Blackford, Mansel G., Pioneering a Modern Small Business: Wakefield Seafoods and the Alaskan Frontier. 1979 Jai Press In.













Posted in 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 , , , , , | 2 Comments


Charles R. (Bob) Hitz    Bob’s Posting 26           Jan. 16, 2015

Pacific Halibut, by Charles Hitz

Pacific Halibut, by Charles Hitz


When I checked out Bernie Skud’s blog at <>, in the upper left hand corner I found my drawing of a Pacific halibut which brought back memories of a wish from my college days. I was fascinated with the old pen and ink drawings the naturalists did of fish during the early surveys of the world oceans, where they found new species which they described, preserved and cataloged. Charles Darwin’s cruise on the Beagle from 1831 to 1836 and the U.S.F.C Steamer Albatross’ explorations during 1888 are examples and I have always been interested in doing such detailed drawings.

Deck layout

Deck layout

In the early part of the 1970s I was told that the new director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), Bernie Skud, was interested in having a detailed pen and ink drawing of the Pacific halibut, so I called him and made arrangements to discuss it. Bernie said that while there was a drawing of the Atlantic halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus, there was no drawing of the Pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis and could I draw one, as well as a typical halibut vessel and the gear it used in the fisheries. I said I would try.

It was fun going though the pictures of the Pacific halibut, getting the proportions right and then putting a pencil drawing together for review by the halibut biologists. I remember that I was surprised at the number of minor changes they found in the details. I assumed that just as in humans there is difference between individuals it must be the same with animals. They all look alike until you look at enough of them and probably start to see the subtle individualities. Finally I got it so they all agreed on the drawing and I completed it by inking.

The vessel drawing was also a fascinating project. I decided to draw an Alaskan seiner or combination vessel instead of the halibut schooner or larger sardine seiner. The deck arrangement and personnel are similar on all the vessels. When hauling they run parallel and left of the long line as the fish are taken aboard and placed in the checker. I had fortunately learned that a live halibut laid in the checker with the white side up is docile, whereas one with the dark side up can be wild. When I was at sea on the Cobb in the Gulf of Alaska on one of my earlier trips, I had the job of tagging halibut.   A large live halibut was laying in the checker dark side up and I started to straddle it to place a tag on its gill cover when Connie, a Norwegian halibut fisherman part of the Cobb’s crew said; “Bob, if you want to keep your manhood I would suggest that you stand to one side of it.” I fortunately did, after which the halibut had a fit. When Connie rolled it over it quieted down and he rubbed its belly. I swore it purred. So in the vessel drawing I drew the fish the dresser was preparing on the hatch cover with the white side up.

Deck equipment

Deck equipment

Drawing the different parts of the deck gear was interesting, especially how the hook was attached to the end of the gangion and how the other end was joined to the groundline. The rest of the equipment apparently was drawn correctly because it was accepted by IPHC. Now the fishery has changed, with a more complex system of automated longlining where the hooks are baited mechanically and the gear is set and retrieved by more efficient gear. The vessels are larger and are enclosed, protecting the crew and machinery.

The drawings were first published in the IPHC issue of “The Pacific Halibut: Biology, Fishery, and Management” Technical Report No. 16 (Revision of No. 6) Seattle, Washington 1978. They again appeared in the 1987 revision of Technical Report No. 22. In 1998 revision, No. 40, the individual deck equipment was not included.


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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Environmental History, Fisheries economics, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet fishing, Soviet history' | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The labor problem with king crab

Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933),

Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933),

“We’re on our way to hell, mate!”[1]

That’s the opening line of a gripping short story about life on a Japanese king crab canning boat in the 1930s. The story was written by Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933), one of the most famous writers of the proletarian school in Japan in the 1920-1930. He was a prolific writer, with a passionate commitment to the liberation of peasants and workers from conditions of servitude, and his early death—he was tortured by the police—made him a national tragic figure.

The Cannery Boat

The Cannery Boat

He began to write The Factory Ship (or The Cannery Boat, it has been translated under both titles) in 1928. Two years earlier, he had read a newspaper account of the inhuman treatment inflicted on workers of a factory ship ironically named Hakuai (Brotherly Love) Maru. The men, who had been hired to process crabs caught in the Okhotsk Sea, were paid an adjusted wage ranging from six to eighteen sen (100 sen=1 yen). Punishment for infractions of rules was severe; the men (some only in their early teens) were beaten, branded, or strung up. When the ship returned to its home port of Hakodate, the workers brought complaints against the captain, superintendent, and foremen. The whole story was reported in the press. The men responsible for the brutality were fined or sentenced to prison terms.

KanikosenWhen Takiji read the expose, he urged a friend who had been investigating the working conditions of industrial workers to extend his research to include the workers on the factory ships, and Takiji himself set about writing a story about life on such a ship. In a note submitted to the publisher, Takiji wrote:

 Capitalism, intending that labor remain unorganized, has ironically created a situation where it has caused it (almost spontaneously) to organize. I have attempted in this work to show how inexorably capitalism infiltrates the new territories and colonies to carry out a primitive exploitation and, with the backing of the powers that be and the armed forces as guards, watchmen, and bullies, carries out a never-ending series of brutalities. And how rapidly do the capitalists succeed in their enterprises!”

One version of the book makes it clear the boat is poaching, in Soviet waters; the other

Geisha crab was exported to the U.S.

Geisha crab was exported to the U.S.

version does not. The workers on the cannery boats came from poor farmers from the northern island of Hokkaido, who depended on the extra labor during the winter. They were not paid much, but it was an important source of income.

One of the interesting things about the short story are the comments about the link between the military and fishing. This is the supervisor’s pep talk to the workers, which captures the “divine mission” of Japanese fisheries expansion:

 “We’re small, but I’ll be damned if we’ll go down before those big stupid Russkies. Our Kamchatka operations involve canning sardines and salmon as well as crabs. From the international standpoint, we’re way ahead of the other nations in this area. And this ship also has an important role in the problems of overpopulation and food in Japan. I don’t know if what I’m saying makes any sense to you. Anyway, just remember that we are going to fight our way through the northern sea for this mission even at the risk of our lives.”


Kobayashi has had a bit of a resurgence in Japan, an recent online search found these two links:



(downloaded July 28, 2014)





[1] Takiji Kobayashi, The Factory Ship and The Absentee Landlord. (Seattle and London, University of Washington Press. 1973).


Posted in Carmel Finley, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Japanese fishing, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Overlooking king crab


King Crab held by crew of Kiska. photo by Ed Best

King Crab held by crew of Kiska. photo by Ed Best

We must say we have really overlooked the importance of king crab in the development of fisheries in the North Pacific. The development of crab canning vessels, first by the Japanese, and then by Soviets, were significant developments in the modernization and industrialization of fishing.

We’re reading a couple of interesting papers which have given us some background on king crab. We thank Dr. Robert S. Otto, a retired federal biologist, for a recent paper on the history of king crab. More about Dr. Otto here:

Japanese crab was exported to the U.S. under the Geisha label

Japanese crab was exported to the U.S. under the Geisha label

According to his reconstruction, the Japanese pioneered canning crab in the 1880s and1890s. They began to export canned crab to the U.S. by 1906. The market was strong, and by the 1930s, it was a significant source of foreign capital. Otto estimates that between 1924 and1939, the Japanese exported more about 3.1 million cases of canned crab to the U.S., with a nominal value of $48 million. Converted to 2010 U.S. dollars, he calculates the crab was worth $674 million.

Much of that crab was taken at Bristol Bay, which meant that the crab had, in essence, been American crab. [1] The Americans had fished in Bristol Bay since the 1880s, but only for salmon. It was the presence of the Japanese fishermen that pushed Congress to appropriate funds in 1940, for Americans to explore the potential of king crab. Bob Hitz has written about this here and here.

Floating canneries developed so fishermen could follow the crab, as they were depleted locally (We cannot resist point out that there is a pattern here.) The floating canneries could also follow the crab on their migration. [2]

The Russians began fishing for crab on the Primorye Coast in 1908. Like the Japanese, they built floating canneries that would follow the crabs to new water as local catches decreased. They copied the Japanese model and built their first factory crab ship in 1928. By the 1930s, Japanese and Soviet crab landings were 30 million crabs by 1930. It was a high-value product and an importance source of foreign currency.

Both the Soviets and the Japanese resumed their floating canneries after the war. They signed a fisheries agreement in 1956, leading to an enormous expansion of capacity in the region, a topic we are exploring as work on our next book.



[1] Fishery Market News, “Report of the Alaska crab investigations,” May, 1942, 3-8.

[2] “Technology of crab meat canning,” Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Translation Series 1523, Ottawa, 1970.

Posted in boat building, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Japanese fishing, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You teach this stuff?

fishing-for-stories1-225x300It’s not easy being a historian who specializes in stuff that most people think is dead boring. But fish and fisheries science have a long and colorful history, and  that history has a lot to say about how many fish there will be in our future.

Fishing has always been an integral part of coastal life, first for the Native Americans who lived here, and then for the white settlers. How did the fisheries develop?

We’ll be looking at some of this during winter term  in Fisheries and Wildlife 549, A History of Fisheries Science. This is a three-credit graduate class taught Oregon State University’s  ecampus.

S. alutus

S. alutus

We are watching this winter as fishermen and coastal communities have united in the fight to keep a Coast Guard helicopter stationed in Newport.  It was a similar story in 1966, as fishermen and their communities came together to protest when a fleet of Soviet factory processing ships arrived off Oregon,  hammering stocks of Pacific Ocean Perch–a fish that local trawlers called rosefish, or rosies. Within a few years, rosies were gone. And despite the decades, the stocks have not rebuilt off the Oregon coast.

Soviet fish processing ships

Soviet fish processing ships

Coastal residents joined fishermen in demanding that Congress do something to remove the Soviet ships before all the fish were gone.  The State Department and the Department of Defense fought a 200-mile bill, fearing that if fishing was restricted in coastal waters, other nations could restrict American fishing boats–and that could be a precedent to restricting American military vessels. It was the Cold War; fishing was just one of the many proxy wars involving the United States and the Soviet Union. Fishing is local; at the same time, it is acted upon by national and international forces.

It took a decade to convince Congress to pass the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (FCMA), or the 200-mile limit bill. That landmark legislation has been modified twice and Congress will hold hearings on another round of changes this winter.

History is not about the past. History is a powerful analytical framework to understand the present.  It’s hard to craft solutions for declining numbers of fish in a warming sea without knowing how things got to be this way.

So, yes, we teach this stuff, that’s what the blog has been doing since we started it with some seed money from Oregon Sea Grant in 2011.  Teaching a class is the next step. Then we’ll be repackaging some of the blog content into electronic books, which we intend to distribute through Creative Commons, which means they will be free to download.

The more we know about fish and fisheries history, the more we’ll be able to create policies that will sustain the fish, as well as the fishermen, and the coastal communities, that have always depended on them.

Posted in boat building, Carmel Finley, Cold War, Environmental History, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment