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 year. 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 restring 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

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

The Western Flyer

The Western Flyer

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

Reviewed by Donald Gunderson

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

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

Kevin Bailey

Kevin Bailey

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

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

Donald Gunderson

Donald Gunderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R/V COMMANDO – College of Fisheries – Off Shore


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

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

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

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

Commando logbook (click to enlarge), Hitz photo

Commando logbook (click to enlarge), Hitz photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Butner looking to the side after hurricane, Hitz photo

On Butner looking to the side after hurricane, Hitz photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stabilizers, Hitz photo

Stabilizers, Hitz photo

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

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

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



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