This terrific picture of the Pacific Explorer unloading tuna from its trip to Costa Rica comes to us through the generosity of the Bez family of Seattle. It came back from its disastrous Costa Rico adventure with about 2,200 tons of frozen tuna, about two-thirds of its capacity.It was late June or early August of 1947, and after a blistering series of hearings in the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.
The San Deigo-based American Tuna Association had instigated the hearings, irate that other boats were entering the fishery they had pioneered. They were indignant that Bez had made a deal with the Restoration Finance Administration, which owned the boat. They saw it as a sweetheart deal, one that gave Bez and his boats an advantage in the cut throat world of tuna fishing. While the San Diego boats meddled, the Costa Rica government first barred, then allowed, purse seine fishing, the Pacific Explorer had sailed around in the warm water, trying to keep its ice cold enough to preserve tuna until they could be returned to Astoria for processing.
In March of 1948, the Pacific Explorer made its long-delayed cruise to Alaska. It returned to Astoria with canned crab and fish fillets, worth more $1 million. But $4.1 million had been spent, while the operating losses reached $1.3 million. The Restoration Finance Corporation auctioned off the Pacific Explorer in 1951, for $181,387. The Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Pacific Explorer a success and published the voyage’s data on catching and processing of crab and bottomfish.
Since then, the Pacific Explorer faded into obscurity, and Nick Bez, one of the pioneers of both the fishing and aviation world in the Pacific Northwest, went into the shadows as well. He launched Alaska Southern Airways in 1931 and sold it three years later to Pan Am, with a promise that the company would maintain service to Alaska.
[i] SPI, July 27, 1948.