Fig 1 (1)

Cobb near the Ballard Bridge 2008                        Hitz Photo

By: Charles R. (Bob) Hitz       Blog # 42 Final                  Dec. 28, 2017

By December 2017 the John N. Cobb was finally getting the loving care that she deserved after she was decommissioned in 2008.  Since that date she has gone downhill.  She sat for about seven years under the Ballard Bridge, then was sold in 2015 to a new owner who began to modify her at Stabbart Maritime in Ballard on the ship canal, just inside the locks.  Wondering what happened to her, I looked her up in Wikipedia encyclopedia under the “R/V John N. Cobb” where the last sentence read; “She is located at Port Townsend, Washington pending seizure by the city and eventually will be scrapped.”  I called the Port and talked to Eric Toews, who invited me over to see her.  I made the trip there on Friday, July 15, 2016.

Fig 2

Cobb in 2015 in the Ship Canal                             Mike Webb Photo

Eric told me that the Wikipedia statement was incorrect, that they were going through the correct procedures for placing her for sale.  Once that was done they sold her to Ron Sloan of Reedsport, Oregon on April 26, 2017.  Ron was kind enough to E-mail me – “I just wanted to let you know I got the Cobb.  Deal was finalized yesterday.”  He is an albacore fishermen working out of Oregon, where the fisheries last from June to September each year.  He was then preparing to go fishing for the 2017 season, which is the time the weather is best to tow a vessel down the coast.

Fig 3

Cobb in Port Townsend 2016                                Hitz Photo

He had planned to tow her himself, but instead contracted another fisherman who towed her to her new home port of Winchester Bay, Oregon, arriving there on August 18, 2017, crossing the bar on a high slack tide.  In my opinion, towing a vessel down the coasts of Washington and Oregon is no laughing matter, so the vessel Sunnford and her skipper did a wonderful job.  Everything went well.

Fig 4

Start of the Temporary Cover 2017                        Sloan Photo

Before she left Washington I went over to Port Townsend hoping to meet Ron, but he wasn’t there.  However I met a retired engineer, Joe Johannes, who described what he had to do to get the Cobb ready to tow.  One of the problems was how to get the forward anchor winch operating after years of neglect.  That was important, because they had to disconnect the anchor from the chain, attach the tow rope to the chain and let it out to about 150 feet.  It would work as a shock absorber between the Cobb and the towing vessel so that the tow rope wouldn’t come out of the water due to ocean swells, violently jerking the vessels.  Then they had to retrieve the chain before they went across the bar into port.  The winch was frozen, and when he couldn’t get it to work, he took a sledgehammer to it which brought it to life once again.  The engine room was really dark because of the shore power and he needed to get light there so they could get one of the generators to operate, in order to have the correct navigation lights working during the tow.  Another major problem was to locate the steering gear which had been removed before Ron got the vessel, and reinstalling it before she could be towed.

Fig 5

Deck repairs inside the Cover 2017                       Sloan Photo

As soon as the fishing season was over allowing Ron to work on the Cobb, he built a temporary cover over the afterdeck to keep rain water out.  Once it was covered he sent me an E-mail; “The Cobb is finally stabilized! NO fresh water is entering the hull now.”  He also got the furnace working so that the interior was warm and dry and got the fresh water system fully operational, which gave them plenty of hot water to clean with.  He found the bilge full of oil that had to be removed and said it wasn’t fun, but had to be done.  He began to dismantle the main engine and replacing parts of the after deck which had started to rot.  He said that it is fortunate that he got her when he did – the rot hadn’t gotten to the deck beams.

Fig 6

Cobb and Nova 2017                                            Sloan Photo

Ron send a recent picture of the Cobb with NOVA alongside, she was one of his restorations and he uses her to fish for albacore.  It has a beautiful stern, completely different from the COBB’s cruiser stern.  Year 2017 has been a good one for COBB – she is loved once again and it shows.

Posted in boat building, 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 | Leave a comment

The John N. Cobb to go for tuna!

cobb comming home Aug 12, 20171.jpg 027


Oregon fisherman Ron Sloan has purchased the former federal research vessel John N. Cobb and recently towed it to Winchester Bay where it will be turned into a tuna vessel.

According to Bob Hitz, the Astoria vessel Sunnfiord towed the Cobb to Winchester Bay.

cobb comming home Aug 12, 2017.jpg 034

The Sunnfjord and the Cobb at Winchester Bay

As faithful readers know, the Cobb is really the star of the blog, the wooden research vessel Birth of the Cobbin 1950 (click the link for some beautiful pictures)!

Bob and I are both very excited about this and we’ll be eager to document what happens next with this iconic West Coast research vessel. We wish the Cobb and her new owners the best!

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A review of The Fish Market

51vbcKPeF4L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and your Dinner, by Lee van der Voo, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017.

I am utterly amazed by this book. Lee van der Voo has done something I thought was impossible, to write an understandable book about fisheries catch shares and have it be both accurate and interesting. There is voluminous literature on catch shares in many, many academic journals, all of it couched in the dense vernacular of social scientists, with their irritating acronyms and obtuse theoretical constructions. Even for somebody with an interest in the subject, it can be heavy lifting.

But van der Voo took it from the other direction, from the individual people who are involved in catch shares, and then worked back through their stories to show what catch shares has meant for some  fishermen and their communities. Environmental groups sold the idea of catch shares to corporations and politicians, promising private ownership of the resource would bring about sustainable fishing. She paints a powerful picture of how catch shares are changing fishing. By keeping her focus so tightly on people, she does not place catch shares into their wider ideological foundation, neoliberalism.

A1LkVOnvZBL._UX250_Neoliberalism is a political economic theory that supposes that human well-being can best be achieved by maximizing entrepreneurial freedoms within a framework of private property rights, individual liberty, unencumbered markets and free trade (Harvey 2007: 8).[1] The preferred neoliberalism option within fishing nations has been systems of catch shares, where individual fishermen or other groups are given rights to a certain percentage of the total catch. Catch shares have increasingly been implemented in Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia. The Canadian halibut fishery switched to it in 1991. After a long history of strenuous objections, a system of catch shares was implemented in several American fisheries, starting in the 1990s.

Van der Voo’s book describes the outcomes of several of these catch sharing programs, by interviewing people who have been involved; some were successful, others were not.  It was an absorbing read, but the conclusions were vague and unclear, not distinguishing that catch shares can be part of a governmental system, but that in some areas without strong governing body, will lead to inequities.

Fishing has always been a hard and difficult way to make a living. For centuries, fishermen have been poor, and in many areas of the world, they continue to be. For a first person account of modern trawling, check out the memoir of pioneering Oregon trawler George Moskovita.

In his review of my new book, Dr. Donald Gunderson suggested by my book and van der Voo’s bracket an era:

“Finley’s book represents a definitive analysis of the politics of world fishing from the 1940’s through the 1980’s, with the sharpest focus on the Pacific Ocean.  Van der Voo’s book explores the outcomes of several catch sharing programs that have been carried out globally since then, with a focus on the United States. Both make for fascinating reading.”

I found her book and her methods fascinating, a reminder of the importance of good and clear journalism in telling accessible stories about complex and important topics. And as a newspaper reporter turned historian, it’s nice to see that stories about people still have the ability to move readers.

[1] David Harvey, “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 610, NAFTA and Beyond: Alternative Perspectives in the Study of Global Trade and Development (Mar., 2007), pp. 22-44 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/06/2013 14:27


Posted in Fisheries policy, Fishing, George Moskovita, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Review of All the Boats, by Dr. Donald Gunderson

All the Boats on the Ocean: How Government Subsidies Created overfishing, 1945-1976, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

By Donald Gunderson

This book is a well-written, scholarly, and engaging history of state subsidies for the fishing industry. This carefully researched book explores the political and economic philosophies behind the subsidies that gave rise the development of those Soviet and Japanese fishing fleets that hit both coasts of the U.S. like a tsunami in the 1960’s, then mushroomed the size of U.S. “domestic” fleets in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


Dr. Donald Gunderson

As Finley shows, fishing subsidies are never just about fishermen or food.  They are just one component in a suite of tactics used to achieve broader (often covert) national economic and political goals. “Feeding the people” is usually a secondary goal.

The expansion of the Japanese fishing fleet after WWII was encouraged and abetted by the U.S. to help rebuild the Japanese economy and keep Japan out of the communist sphere. The Soviets expanded their fleet to show the world the superiority of communist industrial might as much as to feed their people.   The U.S. stance on “Freedom of the Seas” was more about freedom of U.S. naval operations than rights for U.S. tuna fishermen to fish as close as three miles from any nation’s coast.

Finley argues that the goal of achieving MSY (maximum sustainable yield) throughout the world’s oceans was happily endorsed by diplomats who probably didn’t even understand the conceptual framework behind it. It simply buttressed their position on freedom of the seas.  When the international community began to adopt 200-mile fishing zones in 1976, and MSY had achieved the status of a moral imperative in order to avoid “wasting “ fish needed by humanity, the U.S. had a new problem.  It could either subsidize the expansion of its domestic fleet and harvest MSY itself, or allow foreign fleets within their new 200-mile limit. They chose the latter of course, and the dynamics of pork barrel politics insured that the domestic fleet soon became much larger than necessary.

So what was the result of all these subsidy programs?  Since nobody had a clear idea of just what level of harvest might be sustainable, Japanese and Soviet distant water fishing was nothing less than a raid on global fish stocks.  They quickly depleted many stocks around the world, resulting in far too many boats chasing far too few fish.  The U.S. overbuilt its own fleet and depleted the stocks off the U.S. coast even further.

Finley gives a broad overview of global issues, and focuses on the Pacific coast of the U.S. to show how this played out at a personal level for the fishermen, processors, and scientists there.  She highlights the fate of Pacific coast “rosefish” (Pacific ocean perch) stocks, which have yet to rebuild from the overfishing that resulted.

Finley’s book shows clearly that subsidies to the fishing industry almost always develop a political life of their own, bloat the fishing fleet, and result in overfishing.  They are always a bad idea if sustainable fisheries are the only policy goal—which (as Finley shows) it usually isn’t.  We now know enough to ask,  “What is the real goal here?” whenever such subsidies are proposed

While the book represents a thorough analysis of fisheries policies through the 1980’s, it leaves out many subsequent developments, and closes with a fairly dark assessment of the current situation. Finley suggests that more marine protected areas need to be established, and that larger spawning stocks of older females must be maintained if fisheries are to be truly sustainable.

She may be correct here, but fails to recognize that there has already been considerable progress in achieving sustainable fisheries.  Overfishing on both coasts of the U.S. eventually led to the development of laws and management systems (surveys, stock assessment programs, observer programs etc.) that began the rebuilding process, and many U.S. stocks are currently being harvested at MSY levels.  “Rosefish” (Pacific ocean perch) stocks have been successfully rebuilt in Alaska.

Beginning in the 1990’s, the overcapacity of many U.S. fleets was reduced through buyback programs (requiring further subsidies) and “catch sharing” programs that allocate each year’s fishing quota among the vessels that remain in the fishery.

Lee van der Voo’s 2016 book “The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and your Dinner” describes the outcomes of several of these catch sharing programs, and serves as a good companion to Finley’s. Suffice it to say that most catch sharing programs have resulted in fisheries that are more sustainable and profitable, although participants with access to capital end up with the lions share of the benefits while many others are forced out of the business as collateral damage.

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the history, science, or management of marine fisheries read both of these books.  Finley’s book represents a definitive analysis of the politics of world fishing from the 1940’s through the 1980’s, with the sharpest focus on the Pacific Ocean.  Van der Voo’s book explores the outcomes of several catch sharing programs that have been carried out globally since then, with a focus on the United States. Both make for fascinating reading.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Cold War, Fisherie subsidies, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY), Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Further Scientific Career of the Western Flyer

flyerWe are enormously pleased to link to this article by by Colin Levings, Scientist Emeritus,  Department of Fisheries and Oceans, about his days on board the Western Flyer when it was chartered by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in  1962-63.

The article is provided by the Canadian Nautical Research Society and their publication, Argonauta, Summer 2016 (copyright © CNRS/SCRN and all original copyright holders).
Please link to the article here:


Colin Levings onboard the Western Flyer, authors collections

“I can still hear the whirring of the Iron Mike as it made port and starboard corrections to our heading. The trip across the Gulf from Cape Spencer to Kodiak in Alaska (about 600 miles) was the first time I had been on a boat out of sight of land.”

Colin Levings

We are pleased that more of our scientific colleagues are seeing the benefit that can come from documenting their career and their experiences. Scientists like Bob Hitz and Colin Levings had remarkable careers on the water, doing the basic research that is the foundation of our understanding of the oceans and the fish populations that live in it. The stories are entertaining, but they are also informative, as Colin’s story is, about his first trip to sea.

We could not have written All the Boats without the writing of Bob, his mentor, Dayton Lee Alverson, and Donald Gunderson, and Astoria pioneer trawler George Moskovita. Their stories brought rich detail to my narrative, and they helped me move from a local story to a more national, and ultimately global one. History is made up of many strands; narratives such as this one add a rich dimension to our understanding of how the science was constructed.

If you’re interested in more of our posts on science and scientists,  click here: Scientists

If you’re interested in more about the Pacific Flyer, click  here: Pacific Sardines and the Western Flyer.

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

Remembering J. Richard Dunn, 1934-2017

Passed away in Tacoma, Washington on March 22, 2017. Jean, a resident of Seattle since 1960, was born on June 27, 1934 in Coalinga, California, the only child of Jesse D. and Alice M. Dunn. He attended the local school, Oregon State University, and the University of Washington. Jean served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1959. A fisheries biologist, he worked for the State of Alaska, the University of Washington, and retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. He was an affiliate faculty member of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences of the University of Washington from 1984 to 2006. Jean enjoyed reading as well as writing history and he published a number of biographical and historical sketches of prominent fishery scientists. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha and leaves no survivors. There will be no service and internment will be at Lake View Cemetery, Seattle.

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Me and page 99

99I’ve never thought much about a popular Internet idea, that reading a page of a book can sum up the book. But thanks to Marshal Zeringue at the Campaign for the American Reader,  if you were curious about having to read the whole book, the answer is that you don’t have to! Just page 99!

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A warm welcome for All the Boats

It’s been an exciting week, with the book coming out. First Nature gave it a mention:


And then it was reviewed in Science.




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All the Science in an Ear Stone

sebastes1-e1338138425501With All the Boats on the Ocean being published in February, it’s time to think about how to carry on the story of the development of fisheries and fisheries science in the Pacific. I always thought I’d need a trilogy to tell the whole story. All the Fish is about the 1930s to the 1950s.  All the Boats brings that story to 1976 and the global expansion of territorial seas to 200 miles.

All the Science will bring the story to the present, more or less, or at least that is the current plan. Of course, there may be some glitches, such as my working title (I am assured the Press is going to want to change it, generally speaking you don’t put words like “science” in titles if you hope to sell books). And who knows what an ear stone is?

An ear stone is a bony growth in a fish’s ear. The proper name is otolith. They are hard, calcium carbonate structures located directly behind the brain of bony fish like Sebastes alutus. They  help with balance, orientation, and sound detection-much like the inner ear of mammals.

Hitz drawing

Hitz drawing, POP catches by the Soviets

Sebastes alutus, as all our alert readers know, is  better known by its many aliases, including Rosefish, Rosies, Redfish, and, more formally, Pacific Ocean Perch or POP.  The blog can really be said to be all about Rosefish and how they were almost eradicated by the Soviet factory processing fleets off Oregon in the 1960s. While there has been some recovery of the fish off Alaska, recovery off Washington, Oregon, and California has been pushed back to 2051.

To look at the story of the Rosefish, and their unique biology, is a way to trace how fisheries have globalized since the 1960s.

It’s also a way to talk about how fisheries science

George Moskovita and a load of Rosefish

George Moskovita and a load of Rosefish

has slowly uncovered the life story of these unusual fish. George Yost Harry Jr. Jergen Westrheim, and Dayton Lee Alverson were among the scientists first studying these fish. They suspected they might be be long-lived. George Moskovita fished for them, delivering the biggest load of his career to an Astoria cannery in 1965. Donald Gunderson was the first to study the impact of the Soviet fishing on the stock.

With new tools and technologies in the 1980s, scientists discovered that the fish can live for many decades, some to even 212 years. So the story of Rosefish is a story of the development of science. And that new science is in tension with the fisheries science  (MSY) that is at the heart of modern fisheries management today.

Fisheries are complex. They are hard to write about without being boring. Many of the issues are generally written about in a technical or academic style that is difficult to read.

One of the challenges in writing history is making it relevant, and telling a story in an engaging way that makes it easy for readers to follow. One of the best ways to do that is to hook your readers emotionally with the subject matter.  So All the Science about a fish, how it got fished, how it got studied, and what it all means to the way we understand our stewardship of the oceans and its fish stocks in the 21st century. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to tell that story yet, but the blog readers will be the first to know.

Posted in Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Another Astoria, 1947, moment


Nick Bez, left, with William L. Thompson, unknown man, Photo courtesy of the Columbia River Marine Museum

What I love most about writing history is the way information connects and how stories can be woven into frameworks for a greater understanding. History is not about the past, it is a powerful lens that allows you to understand the present and our place in it. The more history you know, the more grounded you can be. Since I’ve been reading through the almost 150 posts on this blog (many of them divided into story lines available here), I realized how many of the posts fit together, likes pieces in a jig saw. Yet if there is a single element that  ties all the posts together, it is Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, in 1947.

As someone who taught world history, I tend to focus on big frameworks in my work, looking at fisheries and fisheries science from national and international perspectives. But sometimes I read a detail that stops me short because it illuminates a lot in just a few words. I was struck by this sentence in  Lyle Anderson’s account of the early days at Bioproducts at Warrenton, in 1938. The Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA), the biggest fish company on the West Coast, was run by William L. Thompson.

“Some of the fishermen called him Tulie Thompson because in his earlier days as a fish buyer he acquired the reputation of down-grading trips of fish by calling them Tulies, which was the Columbia River name for a salmon in a run past its prime.”

It’s a line that incorporates a lot of information about the fish business on the Columbia in the 1930s–or the fish business anywhere, at any time.  Thompson sold his shares of the company to Nick Bez, who was elected chairman of the company. The CRPA also bought some shares in the Bez’s new Pacific Exploration Company.

The CRPA, or The Combine, as it was known locally, became the most powerful cannery on the West Coast.  It began operating in Alaska in 1902. By 1980, when the company shuts its doors and moved to San Diego, it was the largest employer in Astoria. Now, its old Hanthorn Cannery on the waterfront in east Astoria is Pier 39, an upscale boutique hotel.

It’s easy to romanticize the fishing industry, mainly, I think, because of all the wonderful pictures and the beautiful boats. One of the reasons why George Moskovita’s memoir is so important is that he describes a world of brutal hard work, dangerous conditions, and a struggle to cover costs and provide for a family. Guys like Tulie Thompson, downgrading the quality of their fish and paying a lower price, didn’t help.



Posted in Columbia River Packers Association, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Nick Bez, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged , | Leave a comment