The Pacific Explorer–and its Four Fishing Vessels.

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz              Bob’s Posting 13           Nov. 25, 2013.


In my posting of Oct. 5, 2013 (1), I described Nick Bez’ involvement with the World War II Pacific Fishing Project, forming the Pacific Exploration Company which had a contract with the U.S. Reconstruction Finance Corporation to handle operations.  It also oversaw the final conversion of the factory ship and building four fishing vessels to harvest the resource.The project called for fishing vessels to harvest king crab and bottom fish from Alaskan waters in the summer and tuna in the southern waters during the winter.

After a delay, in December 1945 Pacific Exploration Company finally received a contract to build four fishing vessels instead of the original five the plan called for, since the bids were opened just before VJ-day of Aug. 4, 1945.  The four vessels were identical and were designed by H. C. Hanson, Seattle naval architect.   He worked closely with Leroy Christey, vice president and general manager of the Pacific Exploration Co., who was in charge of the Exploratory fishing operation in 1940 and 1941. (2)

The final design was a 100 foot convertible trawler-clipper.  All four would work with the

Pacific Explorer.  They were the largest combination vessels of their time and Harold Hanson described them in his paper presented to the FAO International Fishing Boat Congress held in Paris, France in 1953 entitled “Pacific Combination Fishing Vessels”. (3)  They were designed to catch fish and carry and preserve them in refrigerated holds.

hansenboatsThe vessels had to fish the commonly used methods to harvest the targeted species and the two used off South American to catch tuna were seining and bait fishing.  The first was to encircle a school of tuna with a seine net and the latter was to attract a school of feeding tuna to the stern by throwing live bait overboard.  Fishermen standing in racks close to the sea’s surface with a pole and line would hook individual fish and heave them back over their shoulders into the boat, hence the name bait boats or tuna clippers.

The vessels working in the Bering Sea had to be able to use two known methods of fishing, the first towing a net along the bottom using trawl doors to spread the net, called trawling.  The other one used by the Japanese before the war was to set nets similar to gill nets along the bottom which would soak, generally for about 12 hours, entangling king crab, and those were called tangle nets.  The four vessels were designed to trawl as well as to set the tangle nets over the stern and retrieve from the side.

The four identical vessels were named Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.  The first completed was Oregon in 1946 and it joined the Pacific Explorer off Costa Rica during her first trip.  The second vessel, Washington, also built in 1946, was scheduled to join them in Costa Rica but didn’t make it before Oregon and Pacific Explorer arrived back in Astoria. As described in my previous posting (1), I believe that as a government-subsidized vessel the Oregon was in direct competition with commercial vessels and during wartime, when the Pacific Fishing Project was drawn up that was fine, but in peacetime it was against the law.  As the newly built subsidized fishing vessels came on line they never again delivered their catches to the Pacific Explorer, but were used in exploratory activities or scouting for her.

Just before the Pacific Explorer arrived back in Astoria the newly finished Alaska, rigged for trawling, departed from there on July 21, 1947 for the Bering Sea.  Its mission was to scout out the commercial resource of king crab which were found in the original exploratory work conducted in 1941.  She returned on Sept. 16, 1947 with 50,000 pounds of cooked crab legs and information on the location of king crab and bottom fish in the area.

During the first six months of 1948 the Oregon, used as a bait boat and the Alaska as a seiner, explored the western Pacific for tuna. After they returned to the Hawaiian Islands.  Plans for sending the California and Washington to explore for resources off the west coasts of South America, Peru and Chile in 1948 were underway with both vessels crewed and ready to go, but because of lack of funds and other reasons the expedition was cancelled.  Apparently this was the end of the Pacific Explorer and her four fishing vessels, because the Washington and Oregon were transferred to the Fish and Wildlife service in 1948.  The Washington sailed on the first cruise for the Seattle’s newly formed U.S. Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research base on August 23, 1948 to the Bering Sea as Exploratory Cruise 1.  The Oregon sailed on an albacore exploratory trip on Exploratory Cruise 3 for the Seattle base and then she was transferred to Pascagoula Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico’s new formed exploratory base.  The Alaska was transferred to the State of California as a research vessel and apparently the California was sold to a fisherman in California.  As I understand it, the Pacific Explorer was sold and the vessel was scrapped.  Washington and Oregon were the first vessels owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct exploratory trips for the newly formed Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Base in Seattle.

(1) See posting of October 5, 2013 “Pacific Explorer-The First Trip-South America”.

(2) Pacific Fisherman, 1946, Pacific Exploration, Trawl-and-Tuna Fleet Contracted. January 1946, p. 37.

(3) Hanson, H.C. 1955, Pacific Combination Fishing Vessels” in the “Fishing Boats of the World” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Published in London, England pp. 187-202.


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 boat building, Exploratory Fishing Base, Fishing, History of Technology, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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