Nick Bez and his clear conscience

“The tuna business is largely concentrated in Southern California. That industry, which 2015-03-21_1248always shows surface indications of bursting apart violently from internecine squabble, is capable of uniting almost instantly to give the most ruthless competition, in either the production, processing, or marketing field, to an outsider trying to come into the tuna business….A newcomer to the business, without deep roots of fisheries know-how, can confidently expect to be crucified before he gets his feet under him.” [1]

The quotation comes from a letter written by Wilbert McLeod Chapman in 1947. We have no doubt that he was referring to Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer. We have been searching for ages for the right place to deploy that quotation, which we really, really like, and we are pleased to use it at last.

Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer

Nick Bez and the Pacific Explorer

There are so many things in the three issues of The Fisherman’s News that we hardly know where to start. There are complaints about fish from Iceland, Sen. Warren Magnuson is worried about the Americans giving fishing boats to the Soviets,  and more American built boats are going to fish in China.

But there is no question of where to start and that’s with Nick Bez and the headline: “My conscience is clear,” says Nick Bez regarding Pacific Explorer.” Where to start?

In January of 1947, after a final outfitting in Astoria, the Pacific Explorer, accompanied by twelve trawlers rigged for purse-seine fishing, set off on its shake-down cruise, to Costa Rica.

The American Tuna Association, which represented the bait boats, was furious. It put pressure on its congressional delegation, calling for an investigation into the contract between the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Bez. Rep. Thor Tollefson, chairman of the House Merchant Marine-Fisheries Subcommittee, called on the RFC to explain “why a research fishing vessel, equipped and paid for by the government, is hauling tuna out of Costa Rica waters in competition with San Diego and San Pedro boats.”[1]

The result of the hearing was that the Explorer was ordered back to Astoria while the contract was re-written. It sat for seven months, waiting for the heat to die down, before it was sent to Alaska to fish for king crab. The Fisherman’s News clipping is interesting, because this is the publication we have seen where Bez says, “I did not want to go in with the government and explore the Bering Sea.”

It is likely that Bez was more interested in fishing for tuna rather than for king crab. He certainly intended to send the Explorer to the Marshall, Marina, and Caroline Islands, where the Japanese had mounted a lucrative tuna fishery in the 1920s. While one of the boats built to fish with the Explorer, the Alaska, was sent to the Line Islands, but the tuna project was mothballed after a disappointing trip to the Bering Sea.

[1] Chapman to George H. Owens, Sept. 24, 1949, Chapman papers, 1852, Box 15, Folder Number 23.


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, American Tuna Association, Environmental History, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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