Blurbers blurb about my new book!

finleyOne of the many nice things about publishing a book is that the press solicits people to say nice things about it, for printing on the back cover. These mini-book reviews are called blurbs, and the people who write them are called blurbers.

It’s still two months until the book will be out (Feb. 27 for those you counting the days) but the University of Chicago Press has finished the book jacket design and decided on these quotations for the book cover. John R. McNeill is one of the best American Cold War historians. Arthur McEvoy wrote the iconic The Fisherman’s Problem. And Ellen Pikitch is one of my oldest friends, director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, and, incidentally, this year’s winner of the Oscar Elton Sette award from the American Fisheries Society for Outstanding Marine Fishery Biology.

In this compact and highly readable book, Finley argues that overfishing since the 1950s is less a tragedy of the commons than a tragedy of the Cold War. She shows how geopolitics, science, law, and greed combined to generate a scramble for the oceans and a regime of overfishing that lasts to this day. A welcome addition to several scholarly literatures.”—J. R. McNeill, author of Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

Finley makes her point—that government subsidies to deep-sea fishing are a main cause of the current catastrophe—dramatically clear. Her descriptions of the damage that factory trawlers did to the ocean floor and the speed with which they wiped out fisheries in the ’60s and ’70s are especially powerful. Relevant not only to people who are interested in fisheries and oceans, but also to those concerned with global resource crises generally, this interdisciplinary, pragmatic book surpasses most of the work of historians in this area. Synthesizing scientific material with international law and politics, as well as the internal affairs of government agencies and private businesses, Finley links the fisheries story to the ‘great transformation’ of global ecology in the postwar period by way of the technology, policy, and politics of food production. All the Boats on the Ocean is a significant, original book.”—Arthur McEvoy, author of The Fisherman’s Problem: Ecology and Law in the California Fisheries, 1850‒1980.

“Those of us who thought we understood how the oceans plight came about will find much that is new in this thoroughly researched and highly engaging work. Weaving history, politics, and science, Finley shows how the seeds of the current predicament were sown during the Cold War Era, as government subsidies fueled the rapid acceleration of fishing. Her call for a reinterpretation of the role of fishing within government is long overdue. A must-read.”—Ellen Pikitch, Stony Brook University.


Posted in Cold War, Environmental History, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, History of Science, History of Technology, Marine Policy, Maritime History, Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY), Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rachel Carson Center, Soviet environmental history, World History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We dust! We clean! We re-organize!

President Harry Truman goes fishing, photo courtesy of Truman Presidential Library and Life magazine

President Harry Truman goes fishing, photo courtesy of Truman Presidential Library and Life magazine

We are telling a lot of stories here at the Pacific Fishery History Project, and since we have trouble keeping them straight, we’re sure it’s a problem for our loyal readers. Postings tend to be more than a little random. The blog is like a small town where Bob and I know everybody, but nobody else knows anybody. The blog is home ported (so to speak) in Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. But it is Astoria in 1947, a very particular point in time in terms of fisheries development .

I set the blog up six years ago, as I was writing my first book, All the Fish in the Sea. I wanted OSU Press to republish George Moskovita’s memoir. I knew it would need an introduction and I needed to learn more about Pacific fisheries history. As I read, I started to write little posts. One of the early readers was a retired federal scientist, Bob Hitz, who always wanted to write a book about his adventures onboard the federal research ship John N. Cobb. He started with a blog post and now he’s writing his book.

Between us we’ve written about 150 posts about the development of fisheries and fisheries science after World War II. Most of our posts fall into eight main categories, but all of the posts are connected, either by the people, the boats, the fish, or other events. For the first time, we’re doing an inventory of our material, and linking posts together. Our posts are labeled, CF means I wrote the post, BH means it came from blog. We also include the date of original publication.

Most of the scholarly attention and journalistic interest in fisheries is devoted to the Atlantic Ocean, where fisheries developed over hundreds of years. Development in the Pacific was completely different, with fisheries starting and crashing; sometimes in less than a decade (check out our posts on Oregon’s first fishing crash). There are some West Coast fish (salmon springs to mind) with a rich and considerable literature. Our interest is in the industrial fishery and the science around it.

1) Our story begins in 1945, when President Harry Truman visited Seattle and went salmon fishing. The man rowing the presidential rowboat was Nick Bez, one of the richest men in the Northwest, owner of canneries and gold mines and the world’s largest fish processing boat. There are currently a dozen blog posts that tell the story of one of the Northwest’s most popular businessmen.

2) Exploratory fishing is also a major theme of the blog. The Soviets, the Japanese, and the Americans all engaged in exploring for new fish stocks after World War II. This was the process that brought the Soviets to Oregon, where they decimated POP stocks.

3) Fish. We are interested in fish. We have a series of posts about California sardines and Oregon pilchards, and how the California fishery stimulated fishery development in Oregon. We also have a long series of posts on Sebastes Alutus, which are also known as redfish, roses, Pacific Ocean Perch, or POP.

4). Scientists. I am a historian of science and I am interested in how science is created, and the context in which it is done. There are three pages here, dealing with a variety of modern fishery scientists, then posts on Dayton Lee Alverson and Jergen Westheim.

5) Boats. We like boats. And pictures of boats. The main boat in the blog is the federal research vessel John N. Cobb. Now retried from service, the Cobb was the primary research vessel on the Pacific coast since it was built in 1950. Our blog posts here divided in the history of Cobb, and Bob’s adventures on the Cobb. We also have a page for the Pacific Flyer, .

6) George Moskovita is one of the constant threads that runs throughout the blog. George fished for sardines in California in the 1930s, was one of the first fishermen to trawl out of Astoria in 1940, and he helped develop the shark fishery during World War II. Oregon State University has republished George’s memoir.

7) The Soviet Fishery of the 1960s. Some of the blog’s best posts are by Bob Hitz, who was one of the federal scientists studying the Soviet fleet.

8) Post-war global fisheries development. We’re primarily interested in West Coast fisheries, but we also have considerable interest in post-war fisheries in general.

For a general introduction, let’s start with Astoria, Oregon, in 1947.

Astoria, 1947, (CF, originally published Oct. 25, 2015)

Towards a curriculum in Pacific fisheries history, (CF, published July 4, 2015)





Posted in California sardines, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Oregon pilchards, Overfishing, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history' | Leave a comment

Still another voice from Astoria in the 1930s

The cover for Lyle Anderson's brief biography of his career

The cover for Lyle Anderson’s brief biography of his career

We love it when families retrace their involvement in the fishing industry. The family of Lyle Anderson, who worked at Bioproducts in Warrenton, have been compiling information about their father’s career as a chemist making fish oils, pet food, and fish hatchery food.

The biography is short but it details the start of Bioproducts, a small Oregon company, “started on a shoestring in the Great Depression.” The company was started by Dick and Eben Carruthers. They raised money to get through school by packing salmon eggs for sports fishermen.

With the help of a Reconstruction Finance Corporation loan, they were able to lease a plan in Astoria, to make Vitamin A from fish livers.

We’ll be returning to this fascinating little stories in future blog posts.

Posted in California sardines, Columbia River Packers Association, Environmental History, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Pacific Fishing History Project | 1 Comment



China Rockfish from Orr’s Guide, p. 32

By: Charles R. (Bob) Hitz       Blog 41                                             Nov 9, 2016

I was aboard the John N. Cobb one evening in August, 1960 during my first exploratory trip when we anchored alongside Triangle Island, the westernmost island of the Scott Islands group located off Cape Scott at the northwestern end of Vancouver Island, Canada.  It gave the crew a chance to sport fish and I was struck by the variety of rockfish caught.  I still remember seeing my first China Rockfish (S. nebulosus), its blue-black body color with a vivid yellow strip down the side.  The intensity of the different colors displayed by rockfish when they came out of the water was amazing.


Sally Collins holding a Chinook Salmon Collins Photo

When we were on the grounds and had a successful tow, we’d sort the trawl-caught fish into groups.  One of them, rockfish, could be comprised of one or more of the 53 species found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean.  They were recorded as either red or black with the exception of one red species, Pacific Ocean perch (POP) S. alutus, which had recently became commercially important.  I was fascinated by the different color patterns of the rockfish.  They were not as vivid as sport-caught fish but were still very noticeable.


Bruce Collins holding a red Vermilion Rockfish, Collins Photo

Bruce Collins, a family friend, loves to sport fish and makes a trip with his family to thewest side of Vancouver Island at least once a year seeking chinook and silver salmon.  They are very successful and he showed me a picture of his wife, Sally, holding a chinook salmon she caught.  He mentioned they caught a number of rockfish and showed me photos which reminded me of those fish I saw many years ago – the wonderfully vivid colors when they came out of the water alive.  He returned them to sea so they could continue to live.  We know they are slow-growing and that many rockfish live to be 50 to 100 years old.  There are pictures of Bruce holding a red Vermilion Rockfish (S. minialus), and a red striped species called the Tiger Rockfish (S. nigrocinctus) held by their son Scott.  The photo of the subdued brown one Bruce is holding is difficult to identify from only the picture because of the dark brown blotch on the rear part of the gill cover indicates it is a Brown Rockfish, (S. auriculatus) whereas the color streak on the 3rd dorsal spine which is found on the Copper Rockfish, (S. caurinus).  It could be a hybrid, which are known to exist in Puget Sound where there is apparent hybridization of quillback (S. maliger), copper and brown rockfishes, making species identifications especially difficult (1).  If they had appeared in the 1960 trawl catch when I was aboard the Cobb, the red-banded one as well as the red one would be piled into the red category, and the brown one would go into the black.


Scott Collins holding a tiger Rockfish, Collins photo


Starting about the time I was hired we were required to identify each species in the catch, and with so many different rockfish we needed a key to identify some of them correctly.  Keys in those days were based on different characteristics of individual species and the two keys we used were Clemens and Wilby’s “Fishes of the Pacific Coast of Canada” (2) and Phillips’ “A Review of the Rockfishes of California” (3).  In 2008 after the Cobb was decommissioned I actually found a copy of the Clemens and Wilby book we had used.  On the inside of the cover in my handwriting I found, “Exploratory Fishing – U.S. Fish & Wildlife” written when I was on a trip in 1960.

Both keys used the “true and false” method for identifying a fish.  If we came across one we weren’t sure of we would go to Clemens and Wilby’s key, starting with Item 1 which reads “1 (6) Mouth in a circular sucking disk; jaws absent; nostril, 1, median.”  If the fish we were trying to identify was a rockfish the statement would be false, so we skipped, down to item 6 which states; “6 (1) Mouth not in circular sucking disk; jaws present; nostrils, 2”.  True, so then we could go to item 7, answering each of the descriptions which matched or skipping until we reached item 268 (315), which states; “Spines in anal fin, III, conspicuously large, stout, second and third usually longer and stronger than first; rays, 5 to 9,” which is true and we have reached Family Scorpaenidae – Rockfishes.  Then we could go down one line to item 269, answer those questions and continue down the lines until we had identified the rockfish we held.


Bruce Collins holding a Hybrid Rockfish Collins Photo

If we couldn’t name the rockfish in the Clemens and Wilby key which listed 24 species of Sebastodes in Canadian waters, we would turn to Phillips’ key which lists 49 species in California waters.  His key is only for the family of Scorpaenidae – Rockfish, and the print was even smaller.

You can imagine trying to identify a fish by following a key like this on an open deck in rain and wind, the vessel rolling and pitching from ocean swells and chop.  Inspecting fish while wearing bulky foul weather gear and trying to read fine print was extremely difficult and keeping the book dry almost impossible.  If you got out of the weather and went down into the hold where the scientific lab was located and could concentrate on the small lines of text I, for one, would become seasick and have to get back up onto the deck.  I thought there had to be a better way for identifying rockfish in the field.

In those days the keys were put together in the depository where the preserved specimens


Hitz’s Key,page 5, Hitz Drawing

were kept, and measurements and counts were made on individual specimens.  Most were preserved in formaldehyde, which leached out natural color.  Color photos of each species would have been the ideal way to produce a field key, but the cost of printing a colored pamphlet was prohibitive and there weren’t many colored photos of rockfish available.

Once I was back at the office I selected the 53 species that I believed existed along the northeastern coast of the Pacific, placed each name on a half-size sheet of typing paper and then divided those into 4 categories by body color; Striped Rockfish, Black Rockfish, Red Rockfish and White/Red-Spotted Rockfish, putting those identification tabs along the outside margins of the page.

Deciding that a pen and ink scale drawing of the profile of each fish was the way to go, I used Phillips’ publication (3) as a guide to make the drawing, using the black and white photo he had of individual fish to get the outline and the measurements and counts that he listed for each species to make sure of the accuracy of the drawing.


Hitz’s Key pages 36 & 37, Hitz Drawing

Once that was completed, one or two characteristics that separated an individual from the rest of the group were selected, condensed to a few words and placed on the page next to its profile.  A line was drawn from the text to the profile so that the identifying characteristic that identified the fish could be easily recalled in the field.  The page was finalized by placing the tabs that represented the individual fish on the margins of the page.


Orr’s Guide page 8

One of the four colored tabs which matched the color of the fish was put on the outer edge of the paper.  Head spines were used to separate the rockfish in the old keys, they were divided into two groups, weak or strong head spines, placed at the top of the page and one was selected to match the fish.  A drawing of the top of the head showing the location of the 8 pairs of head spines was also added to the page.  The head spines present for an individual fish were note on its page.  At the bottom there were three tabs representing the relationship of the 2nd anal fin spine to the 3rd that the old keys used to help separate the rockfish.  They were longer than 3rd, as long as 3rd, and shorter than 3rd.  The tab that represented the fish aided identification.

A number of drafts were tried in the field until the final one was laid out on an 8.5” x 11” standard sheet of paper.  This was divided in half, placing one fish on the right side and another on the left and folded to make a 5.5” x 8.5” pamphlet.  It could be put in a pocket and used when there was a question about the identification of a group of rockfish within the trawl catch.  If the pamphlet got wet and slimy it would dry out with time and if not, you could get another one.  It was finally published as the U. S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Circular 203 in March 1965 (4) with a total of 53 species of Sebastodes listed, and IT WORKED.

After NOAA was formed in 1970, the observer program expanded and individuals were trained to go out on foreign vessels to monitor those catches, taking a circular with them.  It was modified in 1977 and again in 1981, adding 4 species for a total of 57 species, and the generic name was changed to Sebastes instead of Sebastodes.  Additional copies were made.

In October 1998 Orr, Brown and Baker published a new guide, which improved the old circular by replacing many of the drawings with color profile photos of each species of rockfish.  In the introduction Orr states; “Primarily designed as an aid in field identification, this guide follows the basic format of Hitz’s (1965) ‘Field Identification of the Northeastern Pacific Rockfish (Sebastodes),’ the first guide to successfully use color as a major characteristic to identify species of Sebastes.”  In August 2000 a second revision (5) was made and almost all the drawings were replaced with color photos, making the identification of individual fish easier.  Those publications listed a total of 66 species of Sebastes in the northeastern Pacific Ocean increasing the count by 13 from the 53 that I used in 1965.


  • Love, M. S., M. Yoklavich, & L. Thorsteinson (2002). The Rockfishes of the Northeastern Pacific.  The Regents of the University of California, 404 p.  (p. 144, caurinus, description and p. 129, S. auriculatus description)
  • Clemens, W. A., & G. V. Wilby (1961). Fishes of the Pacific Coast of Canada.  Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin No. 68, 443 p.
  • Phillips, J. B. (1957). A Review of the Rockfishes of California (Family Scorpaenidae).  California Fish and Game, Fish Bulletin No. 104, 158 p.
  • Hitz, C. R. (1965). Field Identification of the Northeastern Pacific Rockfish (Sebastodes). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Circular 203.
  • Orr, J. W., M. A. Brown & D. C. Baker (2000). Guide to Rockfishes (Scorpaenidae) of the Genera Sebastes, Sebastolobus, and Adelosebastes of the Northeast Pacific Ocean, Second Edition.  NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-117, 47 p.
Posted in Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, World History | 1 Comment

Our new cover!

all-the-boats-in-the-ocean-flatcoverWe cannot say how pleased we are with the cover to the new book! We are simply thrilled and grateful to Christie Henry, our editor at the University of Chicago Press, and her team for coming up with this fantastic design that really drives home what the book is about–the post-war industrialization of fishing, the explosion of factory processing boats throughout the oceans, and the subsequent decline of fish stocks. We’d also like to thank Karin Ellison and her magic fingers for technical help she gives to the blog.

We don’t know who did the art work but we suspect the artist may have been influenced by one of the few online photographs of the Soviet fishing fleet. We’ve used this on our blog before (and, truth be told, probably will again). There really has not been a great deal written about the impact of the Soviet factory trawler fleet in the world’s oceans, despite the magnitude of the impact the fishery had on fish stocks (including our poster fish, Sebastes alutus.  The most factual information about the Soviet fishery, especially in the Pacific, is found here on the blog, and on our most important posts, (all by Bob Hitz).

Soviet fish processing ships

Soviet fish processing ships

It was not just the Soviets that build a huge fleet of factory processors, many nations did, including Japan, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, and a host of Eastern European states. Governments provided subsidies to modernize and industrialize, moving fisheries from salting to freezing, and the creation of new fish forms. Fishing was great for local economies, but, unfortunately, not so great for local fish stocks.

In some ways the new book is a lot like the old book (some characters are back, Wilbert Chapman, Nick Bez, and the world’s largest fish processing vessel, the Pacific Explorer. The Cold War is also back with a look at what it meant for fish stocks.

sebastesThe thrust of the book is different. We look at how cod from Iceland and tuna from Japan eroded  fisheries in New England and Southern California. The scope of the book is much different, about how fishing acted as a territorial claim in the oceans, at a time when colonial empires were ending on land and being re-created in the ocean. Fishing was one of the first global industries, over the centuries, and the rapid expansion after World War II was driven by trade policy at the national level.

So that’s what the new book’s about, how we built so many boats. Out in February. And in the meantime, be warned that we might gush again about our beautiful cover!

Posted in boat building, Carmel Finley, Cold War, Environmental History, Fisherie subsidies, Fisheries economics, Fisheries policy, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Japanese fishing, Maritime History, Nick Bez, Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | 2 Comments

O. E. Sette and the birth of fisheries oceanography


NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004_NOAA Photo by Ray Boland

The R/V Oscar Elton Sette, 2004, off Maui, courtesy of NOAA

We have just been having the best time, rooting around and finding out all kinds of interesting stuff! It all started with our old friend, Dr. Ellen Pikitch, won this year’s Oscar E. Sette award for Outstanding Marine Fishery Biology at the American Fisheries Society this August. Ellen was deeply thrilled, but she was also puzzled. “It seemed crazy to me that I won this award named after O.E. Sette and I know nothing about him,” she told us. The award webpage had nothing, and a quick Internet search didn’t turn up the answer to her question—yes, he was a federal fisheries biologist who died in 1972 and NOAA named a research ship after him, but she wanted to know more about him than that.



Dr. Ellen Pikitch

Naturally, she turned to the blog for help, and while we certainly knew the name, we really didn’t know why Sette was honored by the naming of a research vessel and an award. We asked another old friend, Dr. Bill Pearcy, emeritus professor of oceanography at Oregon State University, who was given the Sette award in 1995. He knew Sette in the early 1950s when he was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii. He believes Sette’s scientific contributions deserve more recognition.


“Sette was a pioneer in integrating fisheries, oceanography and meteorology to understand the dynamic structure of the equatorial Pacific, and the importance of upwelling and frontal structures as they relate to tuna distribution and abundance,” Bill wrote to us.  “What we now call ecosystem science.”

Sette began his career by working for William F. Thomson at California Fish and Game in 1918.[1]  He did his undergraduate degree at Stanford under David Starr Jordan. He was 24 when the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries Henry O’Malley, hired him as Chief of the Division of Fishery Industries. Four years later, he was named Chief of the North Atlantic Fishery Investigations, doing pioneering work on mackerel recruitment and trying to understand why abundance varied so from year to year. It would be good training for his future work. His masters degree at Harvard was under Henry Bryant Bigelow.[2]

2016-08-25_1223The sardine crisis in California prompted the U.S. Fisheries Service to send Sette back to California in 1937, to head the new sardine research program. In 1943, he published what would become the research plan for CalFOFI, created four years later.[3]

When the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service set up a new office in Honolulu in 1949, Sette was named the director, as well as chief of the Pacific Oceanic and Fishery Investigations (POFI), with three new research ships to deploy to find out more about where to catch tuna.

Bill recalled seminars where everybody who attended was welcome to contribute. Sette drew out those around him. “He respected graduate students,” Bill said. “He wanted to know what we thought.”

The Honolulu office crackled with excitement. As the data began to flow in from the first cruises of the Hugh M. Smith, a young oceanographer named Townsend Cromwell began to piece together the physical and biological structure of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. He confirmed the existence of upwelling at the equator, and the Cromwell Current is named after him.

There were other important scientists at Honolulu with Sette, including Milner Baily Schaefer, who would be appointed the first director of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission when it was created in 1951.

Also at POFI with Sette and Cromwell was a recent graduate from the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington, Bell M. Shimada.  He divided his time between Honolulu and Tokyo, where he translated Japanese scientific documents on oceanography and fisheries into English. When Sette’s team published its landmark paper in 1953, the text was 50 pages, with 25 pages of bibliography, much of it translated from Japanese and European languages. It is a remarkable document showing the construction of what we now call fisheries oceanography.[iv]

Both Cromwell and Shimada were both killed a plane crash in 1958, en route to an new oceanography expedition. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched the NOAA Townsend Cromwell in 1966. The NOAA research vessel Bell M. Shimada is homeported in Newport, OR.

We enjoyed our time poking around and finding out about Sette the scientist, but we also found warm memories of Sette the man, as well.  He was a teacher who was able to draw the best from his students and from those around him. He valued informal meetings and personal contract. He was capable of synthesizing and finding meaning in great reams of information, long before the assistance of a personal computer. He was a gardener who raised butterflies, composted before it was fashionable, and took daily meteorology readings in his garden.[v] In other words, as Bill put it, he was a true scientist.

Almost 20 years after his death, the American Fisheries Society’s Marine Sciences Division decided to name its most prestigious award after him. Bruce Leaman, who was busy cleaning out his desk at the International Pacific Halibut Commission, managed to find the notes from the first meeting of the new Sette committee.  Gary Sakagawa suggested the award be named after Sette. There was instant agreement.

In 2003, NOAA named one of its research vessels after Sette. It was the former Navy Adventurous, a Stalwart-class ocean surveillance ship that had been in service since 1988. She is based in Honolulu and continues the research Sette and his team started in 1949, trying to understand the migration patterns of Pacific tuna, and the ocean world in which the great fish swim.

There is a sweep of history between the work that Sette started, to the many scientists who contributed to the understanding ocean processes that he conceptualized, and  to the work that Ellen Pikitch is doing in helping to create marine reserves, especially in the Pacific, where Sette did so much of his important work.

[1] J. Richard Dunn, “William Francis Thompson (1888-1965) and the dawn of marine fisheries research in California,” Marine Fisheries Review, 63 (2), 15-25.

[2] A. W. Kendall, and G. J. Duker, “The development of recruitment fisheries oceanography in the United States,” Fisheries Oceanography, 7 (2), 69-88, 1998.

[3] O.E. Sette, “Studies on the Pacific pilchard or sardine (Sardinops caerulea). 1-Structure of a research program to determine how fishing affects the resource.” U.S. Fish Wildlife Service, Spec. Sci. Rep. 19 :27 pages.

[iv] O.E. Sette, “Progress in Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations, 1950-1953,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Spec. Sci. Rep. Fish, 116, 75 pp.

[v] Powell, Patricia, “Oscar Elton Sette: Fishery Biologist,” Fishery Bulletin, 70 (3), 525-535, 1972.



Posted in Albacore tuna, California sardines, fisheries science, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, William F. Thompson, World History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Captain George Moskovita and the R/V John N. Cobb


The Moskovita family has been kind enough to forward a package of pictures, newspapers clippings, and a couple of reports to us. We will be forwarding the material, especially the pictures, to the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. But first we wanted to take a look at what George has saved.

His copy of the 1964 cruises of the John N. Cobb looks like it had spent at least some time on at least one of Moskovita’s boats. Moskovita was one of the early pioneers of trawling on the West Coast. In those days, fishermen had Lorans to tell them where they were on the water, but knowing when and where to set the net was considered an art and often a closely held secret, the fisherman’s little black book, as Bob Hitz had told us.

2016-08-12_1436One of the Cobb’s tasks, as part of the Exploratory Gear Group in Seattle, was to fish and record where fish were caught, then to make the information available to the fleet. The Cobb fished systematically, across a grid, recording what came up in its nets.

It is likely that Bob was on the cruises that make up the data for this small publication. The cruise data inside looks like a foreign language, and all but fishermen and scientists at the time, it was. We went through the book, hoping George had made some notes, or perhaps indicated where he might have set his nets and found fish.

It’s likely that the grid pattern turned up a lot of rockfish, especially S.2016-08-12_1436_001 alutus, in the waters along the West Coast. It was the dominant rockfish species in the area, and the fish were plentiful until 1966, when the Soviet fleet arrived and fished the stocks heavily, leading to a collapse. The projected recovery of rockfish off Oregon and Washington is about 2050.

History is about connections, and about uncovering relationships. It’s likely that George was excited to get the information contained in this document and that he might even have set his own fishing trips around some of the results. The report is another link in the ways that scientists and fishermen interacted, at a time when there was enormous excitement about the potential of discovering fish resources off the West Coast.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish | Tagged | Leave a comment

John Nathan Cobb, the man, not the ship

John N. Cobb

John N. Cobb

We here at the blog have written a great deal about the R/V John N. Cobb, but it occurs to us that readers might be interested in the human being behind the boat. He was an interesting man, a self-taught naturalist, writer, photographer, and the founder of the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington.

John Nathan Cobb (1896-1930) was one of twelve children born to a railroad engineer and his wife in Oxford, N.J. His first job, at the age of 16, was with a newspaper and he rose to become an editor. He passed a Civil Service examination in 1895 that qualified him as a typist and stenographer for the U.S. government. He accepted a position as clerk in Washington, D.C., with the statistical division of the U.S. Fish Commission. Within a year, he was appointed a field agent and his career in fisheries began.

The job called for him to travel throughout the Eastern seaboard, collecting statistics on the fish and shellfish catch. In 1901 he was assigned to investigate the fisheries of Hawaii, a project that put him in touch with David Starr Jordan. When the Fish Commission refused to transfer him to the West Coast in 1912, Cobb went to work for a San Francisco fish company. The following year, he began writing for Pacific Fisherman, the Seattle-based trade publication owned by Miller Freeman. Cobb stayed four years, and he continued to publish scientific work. He helped found the Pacific Fisheries Society in Seattle, patterned after the American Fisheries Society.
In 1913, Hugh M. Smith, the Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries,

A newspaperman, Cobb was also an avid photographer

A newspaperman, Cobb was also an avid photographer

delivered a paper to the American Fisheries Society lamenting that professional training in fisheries was available in Ireland, France, and Japan, but not in the U.S. There was not a single American university or college “where even the rudiments of an education in fishery technique may be obtained,” despite the fact that one out of every 80 individuals in the country was directly dependent on the fishing industry.

The following year, Smith suggested to the University of Washington that a school of fisheries be established to equip young men and women “for practical work in the service of the federal government, the various states, and private establishments having to do with artificial propagation, the curing and marketing of fishery products, and the administration of the fishing industry.”[1]

Founded in 1862, the University of Washington was already offering courses in ichthyology through the Zoology Department, but supporters wanted an actual fisheries school. They included Miller Freeman, publisher of Pacific Fisherman, and Trevor Kincaid, head of the university’s Zoology Program. Kinkaid presented a paper to the Pacific Fisheries Society outlining a proposed program. The organizational structure was modeled on the world renowned Imperial Fisheries Institute in Japan, where practical instruction and research had been underway since 1897. Kincaid suggested a two-year program with a concentration of classes in administration, technology or fish culture during the second year. Six years later, the school was established in 1919, with John N. Cobb (1868-1930) as its director.


The Cobb launching, BCF photo

Cobb laid out his vision for the school in 1920, not to train fishermen or scientists, but something in between, “men of executive ability with a thorough understanding of the fisheries.” According to biologist J. Richard Dunn, Cobb’s approach to the school reflected his experience with the fishing industry and reflected the practical needs of the commercial industry.

It would be a program in applied fisheries science and management. For Cobb, the salmon industry needed scientists, but it also needed men to run the fish companies and manage the growing complexity of the annual Alaskan fishery. The faculty remained small, with a great deal of turnover, probably the result of the low salaries.

There were two tracks of study, fish culture and fisheries technology. Enrollment was strong during the first decade, ranging from 30 to 117 students a year. The first graduating class was in 1922, and the first Master of Science degree in 1924. By 1928, he could boast that 40 graduates had found work in some branch of the fisheries.

When the R/V John N. Cobb was built in 1950, there could have been little disagreement that the vessel be named after the man who did so much to establish West coast fisheries research.

[1] Robert R. Stickney, Flagship: A History of the Fisheries at the University of Washington (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1989), 1.

[1] J. Richard Dunn. “John Nathan Cobb (1868-1930): Founding Director of the College of Fisheries, University of Washington, Seattle” Marine Fisheries Review 65, no. 3 (2003): 5.

Posted in boat building, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Soviet Invasion of POP – 1966

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz                                                     Bobs Posting 40 June 29, 2016

Hitz drawing

Hitz drawing

Nineteen sixty six was a catalytic year in many ways with the appearance of the Soviet Fleet off the Washington and Oregon coasts. The massive fishing power of that fleet devastated the Pacific Ocean perch (POP) populations off these states in four years, 1966 to 1969, and brought a lot of changes. The first one was extension of the 3 mile limit to 12 miles in 1967 in an attempt to save the Pacific Hake or Pacific Whiting (PW) fish flour fishery that was in its infant stage of development. That got the politicians’ attention and later became law, with the 200 Mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) effective in 1977.
Fig  2Rockfish research was increased after 1966 and still continues.

Two government-funded stern trawler factory ships of the Sea Freeze class operated in 1969 and 1970 in competition with the Soviet stern trawlers. The U.S. fishing vessels went through a major change when the Soviet vessels could not fish due to the changed U. S. laws. A “joint venture” was formed where U.S. vessels would catch fish and transfer the full codends at sea by disconnecting and floating them to the Soviet stern factory trawler. They would be pulled up the stern ramp and dumped through a hatch to the factory belowdecks to be processed.

Later the U.S. vessels would build their own stern factory trawlers. The observer program was formed so biologists accompanied the fishing vessels or factory ships to record the catches, especially on foreign vessels. The Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife’s Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research group was abolished when the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was formed in 1970.

Fig 3

Count of Soviet Ships Off Washington and Oregon in 1966, Hitz 1970 drawing

The fisheries’ research vessels were transferred to a national fleet, the NOAA fleet and administered from two different locations in country, the Atlantic Marine Center (AMC) in Norfolk Va., and Pacific Marine Center (PMC) in Seattle. I, with the R/V John N. Cobb, was transferred to PMC and the vessel was moored at the docks at Lake Union where my office was located, along with the other ships that made up the fleet. This was a major change for me and meant that my involvement with actual field biology at sea was at an end and now my shore job was management of the fisheries vessels.

Fig 4

Hitz drawing

After I retired and became interested in the history of exploratory fishing, in 2010 I looked up Dr. Don Gunderson, a University of Washington professor who had accompanied me on one of the Cobb’s cruises in the early ‘60s. He referred me to The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific” (1) published in 2002, a monumental reference on rockfish. I couldn’t believe the amount of research that had been done on this group of fish since 1966.

I was interested in one rockfish, POP or Sebastes alutus and found that there were 106 publications listed. One was listed in 1890, where Gilbert collected the species when the vessel Albatross visited the Pacific Coast. Starting in 1957 to the end of 1966 there were 12, or an average of 1.2 publications per year, and from 1967 to 2001 there were 92 for an average of 2.6 publications per year, doubling the publications.

Fig 5

Hitz drawing

Don himself studied the POP and had published a number of papers on POP between 1971 and 1977, based on his dissertation for his doctorate degree. In 1987 Ito, Kimura and Wilkins put together a paper (2) for the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the history of POP using some of Don’s findings. In their presentation was a table listing the total catch in metric tons, which is the unit used worldwide in recording landings of fish by year taken in the EEZ area off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and the east side of Vancouver Island south of Cape Scott.

They included foreign catches, particularly those of the Soviets. Metric tons have been converted to pounds landed by year and are presented in a graph showing the results the Soviet fleet had on this resource. In 1966, the first year the fleet appeared, there was a rapid increase in the catch to 61 million pounds which caused a lot of concern and became the catalytic year of change. The catch increased in 1967 and peaked with a little over 82 million pounds of POP landed and then there was a rapid drop to about 13 million pounds in 1969, the start of the collapse of the POP fishery.


Fig 6

Count of Soviet ships off Wash. and Or. in 1967, Hitz 1970 drawing

Before the fleet arrived in 1966 the Soviets had exploratory vessels scouting the Washington and Oregon coast. The Soviet side trawler Adler had been observed slowly working south along the 100 fathom contour off Washington in May 1965. Then in April 1966 the first of the fleet arrived off Oregon (3). The number of Soviet fishing vessels put on these grounds changed the fisheries. They targeted two different resources, the POP and PW populations and then moved to the Washington coast in June, where the fleet reached its’ maximum number of about 100 vessels by July. Side trawlers dominated the fleet. In September they worked both Washington and Oregon waters, with the majority leaving by December. The fishing vessels that actually caught the fish can be divided into two groups; the side trawlers classified as RT, SRTM, SRTR and SRT, and the stern trawler factory ships which are classified as BMRT and RTM.

Fig 7

Count of Soviet Ships off Wash. and Oregon in 1968

In 1967 a much larger fleet dominated by the side trawlers arrived in April and May off Oregon as they had done the year before and shifted to the Washington coast in June. Most of the fleet again departed by December. In 1968 there was a major change in the fleet composition, an increased number of stern trawlers used off Oregon and Washington and a decrease of side trawlers (4). I’m sure that the Soviet fleet had quotas they had to meet, whether they were fishing POP or PW and I assume that they were concentrated on PW because of the declining catch rate of POP.

POP and PW live in different parts of the ocean. PW migrate into Oregon and Washington waters in the spring and summer of the year, where they are caught with trawls on or near the bottom of the ocean on the continental shelf in less than 100 fathoms of water. They leave the area by winter. The majority of POP live on the top of the continental slope in waters generally deeper than 100 fathoms and are slow growing, some reaching 100 years of age. As Lee Alverson had predicted there was a huge untapped resource of POP in the 1960’s, but the Soviets found them off the Washington and Oregon coasts and in four years about wiped them out with their distance water trawler fleet. Hopefully the POP are being restored now. Pacific Whiting, on the other hand, is a prime resource today that is being harvested by the U. S. fleet.

(1) Love, Milton S., Mary Yoklavich, and Lyman Thorsteinson 2002. The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. (404).
(2) Ito, Daniel H., Daniel K. Kimura, and Mark E. Wilkins 1987. Status and Future prospects for the Pacific Ocean Perch Resource in Waters off Washington and Oregon as Assessed in 1986. Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Bin C15700, Seattle, Washington 98115. April 1987.
(3) Hitz, Charles R. 1970. Operation of the Soviet Trawl Fleet off the Washington and Oregon Coasts during 1966 and 1967. U.S. Department of the Interior, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Washington, D. C. March 1970, Circular 332, pp 53-75.
(4) Hitz, Charles R., 1969. Soviet Hake Fleet Keeps Up Pressure. National Fisherman, April 1969, Camden, Maine 04843.

Posted in Charles Gilbert, Cold War, Dayton Lee Alverson, Exploratory Fishing Base, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Washington Trawl Fishing Log

Brad Pattie, 2015, Bob Hitz photo

Brad Pattie, 2015, Bob Hitz photo

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz Bob’s posting 39 May 13, 2016

I had the opportunity to visit Brad Pattie recently. I’d heard that he was ill with cancer so I called him, and during our discussion we touched on what he did during his career with the Washington State Fisheries Department (WSFD).

In 2012 his son Jody Pattie, who I met at a church retreat, asked me if I wrote the “Catalog of the Russian Fleet” that his dad, Brad, used when he was with the WSFD (Washington State Fisheries Department) and I said that I did. So I made arrangements to visit Brad on October 23, 2012, after losing track of him over the years, and we shared memories of the flight we made together over the Soviet vessels in 1967.

Fig 2

Debbra, Greg, and Gene, WSFD, Hitz Photo


After I posted the information we had put together I contacted Gene DiDonato, Brad’s boss in those days, who was retired. In July, 2013, Gene and I made a trip to the WSFD in Olympia, Washington where we met with Debbra Bacon and Greg Lippert, part-time WSFD historians, whom he had contacted before our trip. I’d hoped they could come up with reports of the flights and they did, all twelve of them.

Fig 3

Report On Flight No. 1, WSFD Document

The First Flight, which was made on July 17, 1967, had my name on it as an observer. After so many years some memories fade while others remain and I remember the airplane, but not the airport from which we took off and returned. That turned out to be Olympia airport and not Boeing Field, Seattle from which all the later flights had originated and returned. I’d also estimated that we observed at least 30 Russian vessels that day, but the report shows that we saw 50. Brad Pattie was on 10 of the flights: he missed two of the last three but made the last flight with coworker Nick Pasquale on October 4, 1968.

Fig 4

Bucket being filled with petrale sole, Brad Pattie photo


During our latter two visits on September 19, and October 10, 2015, Brad and I talked about his job with the WSFD. Not only had he recorded information on those flights, he also had the job of checking the fishing log kept by the skippers of individual vessels in the Washington trawl fleet, matching the information to their fish tickets required by the state, giving the pounds of fish landed. This is the system that Lee Alverson was involved with when he worked for WSFD between 1954 and 1958 after resigning from the Federal Exploratory Fishing group (FEFG). He also developed an interview system with a voluntary fishing log before returning to FEFG as the director (1). As far as I know the log is still in use today.

Brad was hired by the WSDF in 1963 and went to work in the trawl program with Ed Holmberg, Nich Pasquale and Jerry Reeves. The team visited the trawl fleet to review the logs as they returned from their two week trips and were unloading the catch at one of the fish processing plants in Seattle, Everett, Bellingham or Blaine. Each haul was recorded in the log, giving its location, depth and duration as well as the estimated weight of each species taken and the total combined weights.

Fig 5

Rockfish lifted to the dock, Brad Pattie photo

When the vessels arrived at the processing plant the catch was unloaded, the weight of each species was noted and a fish ticket issued. The catch was sorted when the fish were first caught and was stored in the fish hold in separate bins. To reduce spoilage, individual fish were packed in crushed ice. While at sea only the fish that the processing plant would buy were saved. The skipper’s log indicated what part of the catch was returned to the sea.

At the fish plant a large bucket was lowered into the hole and loaded with fish stored inside bins. Only one type of fish was placed in the bucket since the fish house had different prices for different fish. The loaded container was lifted up to the dock, dumped into a cart and moved to the scale and weighed. The crushed ice used to preserve them remained in the hole until it was later dumped overboard. Once the vessel was unloaded, the total weight of all the fish was added up and a fish ticket issued. The skipper received a check from the fish house for the entire catch. Brad said that the skippers’ estimates in the logs were very close to the fish ticket when it was issued.

Fig 6

Washington State Yearly Catch figures of POP, Hitz drawing


Brad and the team collected this data in 1966 when the Washington State landings of Pacific Ocean perch (POP) peaked. The Western Flyer was part of the Washington trawl fleet, as Kevin Bailey pointed out in his book (2) that Dan Luketa had converted her to a trawler after the California sardine fisheries collapsed. I am sure she arrived at the Main Fish Company in Seattle full of POP from Queen Charlotte Sound during this time as Brad remembers the New Washington and Morning Star, both converted sardine seiners, unloading at Bornstein Fish Company in Bellingham with record catches of POP taken from the same fishing grounds in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Fig 7

New Washington and Morning Star, Pattie photo

Brad gave me a number of Washington State Annual reports and from them I learned that in 1952 POP was separated out of the rockfish category which grouped all the rockfish together. He and the team recorded the rise of the POP landings until its peak in 1966 with a little over 17 million pounds. Debbra Bacon sent me a copy of Washington State Technical Report No. 68 (3), which gave the landings of Washington POP from 1966 to 1979. Using this information and the annual reports I plotted the annual catch per year of POP landed in the state of Washington. After 1966 the team started to define which individual species of commercial rockfish made up the group of rockfish, and observed the declining landings of POP in Washington due to the arrival of the Soviet fishing fleet in 1966 and the tremendous effect it had on this resource which became the catalytic year that changed the industry.

Fig 8

Sea Freeze Pacific in Bellingham, Wa. Hitz Photo

The Western Flyer was converted to a king crabber and entered the expanding Alaskan king crab fisheries because of this decline. Once the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was put into effect in 1977 by the Magnuson Fishery Management Act of 1976, Brad said that the Canadian government let the U. S. trawl fleet continue fishing Queen Charlotte Sound for an additional two years before it was closed to them, because of the data obtained from the Washington Trawl Log system that the skippers kept and Brad and the team recorded.

I wondered why there was a second lower peak of little over 13 and a half million pounds of POP landed in 1970 when the resource was declining. I thought about my trip on the Sea Freeze Pacific in 1969 when I was invited as an observer on her first fishing trip. She sailed from Bellingham Cold Storage on Nov. 14, 1969 and returned there on Dec. 14, 1969 to unload the catch. She was one of two 290 foot factory stern trawlers built for the United States fishing industry under the 1964 Fishing Fleet Improvement Act and was designed to operate in the Pacific among the foreign trawlers fishing POP, using similar fishing gear and often fishing on the same grounds. This was a radical change for the Pacific trawl fisheries, a huge vessel that could catch and process the fish at sea.

I located a copy of the report I had written and found that I kept a fishing log for the skipper, the same one that Brad Pattie talked about that he and his team matched with the fish ticket when the vessel returned. The Seafreeze Pacific landed all its products in Bellingham from all five trips, although the vessel had also fished along the coast of Alaska during some of her trips which other US trawlers seldom did. I don’t remember actually filling out the log, but using copies of the reports I recalled the total catch of POP for all five cruises which came to 3,168,000 pounds. If this value is removed from the landing made in 1970 it would indicate the steady decline of the POP fishery. The Sea Freeze Pacific made a gallant effort at saving this fisheries, but it was too late and the excellent product it landed could not economically support the operations of running a large factory stern trawler.

Brad lost his battle with cancer, but before he passed away on Jan. 22, 2016 he wanted to share his experiences during his career in Fisheries, especially the rise and then the fall of POP in the U. S. market due to the Russian invasion of the resource during 1966 and 1968. We are fortunate to have his memories.

(1) Alverson, Dayton L. (2008), Race to the Sea, The Autobiography of a Marine Biologist, iUniverse, Inc. New York, Bloomington, 553 pp. (277-282)
(2) Bailey, Kevin M. (2015), The Western Flyer, University of Chicago Press, 146 pp.
(3) Tagart, Jack V. & Daniel K. Kimura (1982), Review of Washington’s Coastal Trawl Rockfish Fishery, State of Washington Department of Fisheries, Technical Report No. 68, April, 1982

Posted in Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, World History | Leave a comment