We are close to finishing our book, which means we have been thinking a lot of about the 1960s and the foreign boats showing up off the coast of Oregon and Washington, as Bob Hitz has told us about. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about subsidies to encourage the development of fishing, and one of them was the hake plant at Aberdeen, Washington.
Soviet factory trawlers were off Alaska in 1959 and they moved steadily south, catching our poster fish, Pacific Ocean Perch, or POP. And when the POP was gone–in less than a decade–the Soviets moved to another plentiful West Coast fish, Pacific hake. Dr. Donald Gunderson has provided us with a song called “The Ballad of the Hake,” written by Herb Shippen.
Pacific hake are plentiful off the West Coast, and in the 1960s, they attracted a great deal
of attention by the federal government, which wanted to turn them into Fish Protein Concentrate, or FPC.
The idea was to take low quality, cheap fish and turn them into a dried product that could be stored without refrigeration and used to alleviate malnutrition. The objective was to create a universally accepted, greyish-white, odorless, tasteless product, that could be used to supplement nutrition in Third World countries.
It was a high-technology enterprise, reflecting massive amounts of capital, energy, and expertise, all of which were lacking in the developing world where it was going to be deployed. It was costly to produce, only provided a supplement to nutrition, and ignored that some developing nations had no history or culture around eating fish. In a flush of enthusiasm, an experimental plant was build in Aberdeen, Washington, and a dozen trawl boats were paid to catch hake and deliver it to the new plant. One of them was our old friend, George Moskovita.
The Ballad of the Hake
It started out one summer day in 1964
Lee said the hake are swarming so I hear
But they’re in midwater and can’t be caught in spite of all our lots
NcNeely go ahead and plan some brand new gear.
The net it was tremendous, full sixty feet across
The doors were hydrofoils of mammoth size
Complete with telemetry and special cables too
It filled the Cobb’s reel right up to the sides.
Zuanich came from Everett, Evich from Bellingham
Puretich came from Gig Harbor in the south
They caught the hake at such a rate they almost swamped their boats
But they hurried north and pumped them out at Moore’s
Patashnik said they sure tastes fine, I’ve eaten quite a lot
Those parasites don’t bother me at all
We buried Max along the shores of Saratoga Pass
One dark and dreary rainy night last fall
The fish biologists they came with board and knife in hand
They said we need some otoliths of hake
For without them how can age be known and hence mortality
And without this there won’t be take to take
The plankton nets were dragged the length and breadth of Puget Sound
Hake eggs and larvae pickled by the jar
And now the hake are in sad straights it certainly is clear
That over-sampling helped to put them there
The hake no longer can be seen in Saratoga Pass
The drag boats shun Port Susan’s barren floor
Hake eggs and larvae are no more in all of Puget Sound
And the fish meal plants are closing up their doors
Oh, the fish meal plants are closed up tight, they haven’t any hake
The wind and rain blows through their hopper doors
The year class strength is almost down to naught, mortality is one
And those hake biologists are no more
From Neah Bay to Blanco, the Cobb ran sounding lines
Thick schools of hake were found most everywhere
But when they set the CPT, twas the jellyfish they got
And Heater said let’s try it over there
A plant was built in Aberdeen to process coastal hake
The subsidies were hailed both near and far
Ten boats delivered to the plant for two months of the year
But they never reached six hundred tons per day
Along the coast of region one for hake eggs we did search
Aboard the Kelez and the John N. Cobb
We dragged the plankton nets along from Brookings to Cape Scott
But all we got was lantern fish and cod.