Albacore tuna, the new Oregon fishery in 1937

Albacore tuna, image from the World Wildlife Organization

Albacore tuna, image from the World Wildlife Organization

It’s not often we get such a precise date for the start of a fishery. The Oregon albacore (Germo alalunga) fishery began on Aug. 11, 1936, when the California pilchard boat Robin caught a ton of fish off Coos Bay.[1] The fish were shipped to California for processing, but the next year, Oregon processors, including the powerful Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA), began processing lines to pack tuna. An important new fishery had come to Oregon, stimulated by the expansion of the California sardine fishery.

The 1930s were an enormously volatile time for Oregon fishermen. Monterrey pilchard boats arrived in Coos Bay in 1935, but the catches were erratic; many of the boats left in 1936. Would it be the same thing with the new albacore fishery? It was a question that fishermen were asking, but so were members of the Oregon Fish Commission.

The Commission was struggling to put its management on a more scientific foundation. It established a research division 1938 and appointed Dr. Willis H. Rich as temporary Director of Research, a position that would become permanent when funds were available.[2] The following year, the Fish Commission began publishing research, primarily work done by Rich when he was director of the Department of Biology at Stanford. It was not until 1939 that the Fish Commission began to publish research in “Contributions.” The focus was mainly on salmon, although Contribution No. 10, by Vernon E. Brock, in 1944, looked at the biology of albacore tuna.

The albacore catch went from less than a million pounds in 1936 to 14.5 million by 1940.[3]  Boats were being built and processing capacity expanding, but was it all going to be last?

After all, less than three decades ago, albacore had appeared off California, a fishery had developed; then, the fish had disappeared, for reasons that had not been determined.[4]

Brock’s paper included contact with Dr. Seiji Konda of the Higher School of Fisheries, Hakodate, Japan, who sent a number of issues of the Bulletin of the Japanese Society of Scientific Fisheries. He also sent a series of scales for analysis. The Japanese data included results from the research vessel Fuki Maru, operated by the Shizuoka Prefecture Marine Products Testing Station between January and May of 1937, about 500 miles west of Midway Island.[5]

Brock had begun sampling albacore at sea in 1937, measuring the length of the fish, the sex, and trying to determine the age; one conclusion was that the fish caught off Oregon were two years old.[6]

Brock was also in touch with another scientist who interests me greatly, Dr. Frances Clark, who headed the California Fish and Game Department’s fishery lab at Terminal Island. Clark provided Brock with data from sampling she had off Hawaii in 1929.

Just as fishermen were networking and expanding in the 1930s, so were scientists, collaborating on sharing data, setting up sampling, and participating in tagging studies.


[1] Vernon E. Brock, “Contribution to the biology of the Albacore (Germo Alalunga) of the Oregon Coast and other parts of the North Pacific,” Department of Research, Fish Commission of the State of Oregon, Contribution No. 10, 199-248.

[2] John C. Veatch, chairman, Fish Commission of Oregon, Contribution No. 1, Department of Research, Fish Commission of Oregon, forward, 1939.

[3] Brock, 199.

[4] Brock, 200.

[5] Brock, 225.

[6] Brock, 239.

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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 Albacore tuna, California sardines, Environmental History, fisheries science, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Oregon pilchards, Pacific Fishing History Project and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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