The Albatross and Redfish

One of the things I love about history is way that bits of information connect and illuminate. I’ve been reading about the  Scorpaenidae family of fish, as I get started on my next research project (take a look at our research projects page). And several of the articles I’ve looked at have a common footnote or citation, Gilbert, 1890. And that means some of the earliest scientific work on Sebastes alutus, or Pacific Ocean Perch, or POP, or Redfish–that work was started by Charles Gilbert as one of the four cruises onboard the Albatross.

In a previous post, An Oregon Fisheries Timeline, I wrote about the start of fisheries science in Oregon, with a cruise by the famous federal research ship, the Albatross. In 1888, the U.S. Fish Commission sent the Albatross to conduct investigations in the North Pacific Ocean during the fall of 1888 and the summer and fall of 1881. The summary of their findings was published in the Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, vol. viii, in 1888. The survey is described as “extensive,” but few fishing spots were developed.

Launched in 1882, the Albatross was the world’s first large deep-water oceanographic and fisheries research vessel.  It had a distinguished 40-year career, and much of it was documented in a special issue of the Marine Fisheries Review, in 1999. As I’ve written before, the Marine Fisheries Review is the premier source of information about the history of American fisheries. And among the best papers published by editor Willis Hobart are the series of articles that retired Seattle biologist J. Richard Dunn has written about the early days of West Coast fisheries science.

Several of those papers are about Charles Gilbert (1858-9-1928).  Gilbert was the brilliant student of David Starr Jordan (1851-1931), the ichthyologist, president of Stanford University, and noted peace activist.  When Jordan became president of Leland Stanford Jr. University in 1891, Gilbert was one of his first appointments.

Jean has a wonderful piece about Gilbert in a book called Collection Building in Ichthyology and Herpetology, a special publication of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in 1997 (edited by Theodore W. Pietsch and William D. Anderson Jr.) The article describes four voyages in 1890 that Gilbert made on the Albatross;  he described 20 new genera and 172 new species of fish.

Some of them were Pacific rockfish, like Sebastes alutus. It’s nice to see the footnote and think about the man who was responsible for it, and the knowledge that emerged from the first scientific surveys of Pacific fish stocks.

One of the reasons I set up this project was that there is a huge amount of information about Pacific fisheries, in a variety of places, much of it now available on the web.  All of Jean Dunn’s articles are available through the Marine Resources Review, published by NOAA. He write about the early work of W. F. Thompson, John Cobb and the founding of the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington, and about Charles Gilbert.


About finleyc

I'm a writer and a historian of science. I'm interested in the intersection of science and policy in the oceans, and especially around fishing.
This entry was posted in Carmel Finley, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Resources About Fishing, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, World History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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