A Review of All the Boats, by Dr. Donald Gunderson

All the Boats on the Ocean: How Government Subsidies Created overfishing, 1945-1976, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

By Donald Gunderson

This book is a well-written, scholarly, and engaging history of state subsidies for the fishing industry. This carefully researched book explores the political and economic philosophies behind the subsidies that gave rise the development of those Soviet and Japanese fishing fleets that hit both coasts of the U.S. like a tsunami in the 1960’s, then mushroomed the size of U.S. “domestic” fleets in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


Dr. Donald Gunderson

As Finley shows, fishing subsidies are never just about fishermen or food.  They are just one component in a suite of tactics used to achieve broader (often covert) national economic and political goals. “Feeding the people” is usually a secondary goal.

The expansion of the Japanese fishing fleet after WWII was encouraged and abetted by the U.S. to help rebuild the Japanese economy and keep Japan out of the communist sphere. The Soviets expanded their fleet to show the world the superiority of communist industrial might as much as to feed their people.   The U.S. stance on “Freedom of the Seas” was more about freedom of U.S. naval operations than rights for U.S. tuna fishermen to fish as close as three miles from any nation’s coast.

Finley argues that the goal of achieving MSY (maximum sustainable yield) throughout the world’s oceans was happily endorsed by diplomats who probably didn’t even understand the conceptual framework behind it. It simply buttressed their position on freedom of the seas.  When the international community began to adopt 200-mile fishing zones in 1976, and MSY had achieved the status of a moral imperative in order to avoid “wasting “ fish needed by humanity, the U.S. had a new problem.  It could either subsidize the expansion of its domestic fleet and harvest MSY itself, or allow foreign fleets within their new 200-mile limit. They chose the latter of course, and the dynamics of pork barrel politics insured that the domestic fleet soon became much larger than necessary.

So what was the result of all these subsidy programs?  Since nobody had a clear idea of just what level of harvest might be sustainable, Japanese and Soviet distant water fishing was nothing less than a raid on global fish stocks.  They quickly depleted many stocks around the world, resulting in far too many boats chasing far too few fish.  The U.S. overbuilt its own fleet and depleted the stocks off the U.S. coast even further.

Finley gives a broad overview of global issues, and focuses on the Pacific coast of the U.S. to show how this played out at a personal level for the fishermen, processors, and scientists there.  She highlights the fate of Pacific coast “rosefish” (Pacific ocean perch) stocks, which have yet to rebuild from the overfishing that resulted.

Finley’s book shows clearly that subsidies to the fishing industry almost always develop a political life of their own, bloat the fishing fleet, and result in overfishing.  They are always a bad idea if sustainable fisheries are the only policy goal—which (as Finley shows) it usually isn’t.  We now know enough to ask,  “What is the real goal here?” whenever such subsidies are proposed

While the book represents a thorough analysis of fisheries policies through the 1980’s, it leaves out many subsequent developments, and closes with a fairly dark assessment of the current situation. Finley suggests that more marine protected areas need to be established, and that larger spawning stocks of older females must be maintained if fisheries are to be truly sustainable.

She may be correct here, but fails to recognize that there has already been considerable progress in achieving sustainable fisheries.  Overfishing on both coasts of the U.S. eventually led to the development of laws and management systems (surveys, stock assessment programs, observer programs etc.) that began the rebuilding process, and many U.S. stocks are currently being harvested at MSY levels.  “Rosefish” (Pacific ocean perch) stocks have been successfully rebuilt in Alaska.

Beginning in the 1990’s, the overcapacity of many U.S. fleets was reduced through buyback programs (requiring further subsidies) and “catch sharing” programs that allocate each year’s fishing quota among the vessels that remain in the fishery.

Lee van der Voo’s 2016 book “The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and your Dinner” describes the outcomes of several of these catch sharing programs, and serves as a good companion to Finley’s. Suffice it to say that most catch sharing programs have resulted in fisheries that are more sustainable and profitable, although participants with access to capital end up with the lions share of the benefits while many others are forced out of the business as collateral damage.

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the history, science, or management of marine fisheries read both of these books.  Finley’s book represents a definitive analysis of the politics of world fishing from the 1940’s through the 1980’s, with the sharpest focus on the Pacific Ocean.  Van der Voo’s book explores the outcomes of several catch sharing programs that have been carried out globally since then, with a focus on the United States. Both make for fascinating reading.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Cold War, Fisherie subsidies, Fisheries policy, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY), Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Soviet environmental history | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Further Scientific Career of the Western Flyer

flyerWe are enormously pleased to link to this article by by Colin Levings, Scientist Emeritus,  Department of Fisheries and Oceans, about his days on board the Western Flyer when it was chartered by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in  1962-63.

The article is provided by the Canadian Nautical Research Society and their publication, Argonauta, Summer 2016 (copyright © CNRS/SCRN and all original copyright holders).
Please link to the article here:



Colin Levings onboard the Western Flyer, authors collections

“I can still hear the whirring of the Iron Mike as it made port and starboard corrections to our heading. The trip across the Gulf from Cape Spencer to Kodiak in Alaska (about 600 miles) was the first time I had been on a boat out of sight of land.”

Colin Levings

We are pleased that more of our scientific colleagues are seeing the benefit that can come from documenting their career and their experiences. Scientists like Bob Hitz and Colin Levings had remarkable careers on the water, doing the basic research that is the foundation of our understanding of the oceans and the fish populations that live in it. The stories are entertaining, but they are also informative, as Colin’s story is, about his first trip to sea.

We could not have written All the Boats without the writing of Bob, his mentor, Dayton Lee Alverson, and Donald Gunderson, and Astoria pioneer trawler George Moskovita. Their stories brought rich detail to my narrative, and they helped me move from a local story to a more national, and ultimately global one. History is made up of many strands; narratives such as this one add a rich dimension to our understanding of how the science was constructed.

If you’re interested in more of our posts on science and scientists,  click here: Scientists

If you’re interested in more about the Pacific Flyer, click  here: Pacific Sardines and the Western Flyer.

Posted in Carmel Finley, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, World History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Remembering J. Richard Dunn, 1934-2017

Passed away in Tacoma, Washington on March 22, 2017. Jean, a resident of Seattle since 1960, was born on June 27, 1934 in Coalinga, California, the only child of Jesse D. and Alice M. Dunn. He attended the local school, Oregon State University, and the University of Washington. Jean served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1959. A fisheries biologist, he worked for the State of Alaska, the University of Washington, and retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. He was an affiliate faculty member of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences of the University of Washington from 1984 to 2006. Jean enjoyed reading as well as writing history and he published a number of biographical and historical sketches of prominent fishery scientists. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha and leaves no survivors. There will be no service and internment will be at Lake View Cemetery, Seattle.

Posted in Pacific Fishing History Project | Leave a comment

Me and page 99

99I’ve never thought much about a popular Internet idea, that reading a page of a book can sum up the book. But thanks to Marshal Zeringue at the Campaign for the American Reader,  if you were curious about having to read the whole book, the answer is that you don’t have to! Just page 99!

Posted in Pacific Fishing History Project | Leave a comment

A warm welcome for All the Boats

It’s been an exciting week, with the book coming out. First Nature gave it a mention:


Click to access 543177a.pdf

And then it was reviewed in Science.


Click to access 1030.1.full.pdf



Posted in Pacific Fishing History Project | Leave a comment

All the Science in an Ear Stone

sebastes1-e1338138425501With All the Boats on the Ocean being published in February, it’s time to think about how to carry on the story of the development of fisheries and fisheries science in the Pacific. I always thought I’d need a trilogy to tell the whole story. All the Fish is about the 1930s to the 1950s.  All the Boats brings that story to 1976 and the global expansion of territorial seas to 200 miles.

All the Science will bring the story to the present, more or less, or at least that is the current plan. Of course, there may be some glitches, such as my working title (I am assured the Press is going to want to change it, generally speaking you don’t put words like “science” in titles if you hope to sell books). And who knows what an ear stone is?

An ear stone is a bony growth in a fish’s ear. The proper name is otolith. They are hard, calcium carbonate structures located directly behind the brain of bony fish like Sebastes alutus. They  help with balance, orientation, and sound detection-much like the inner ear of mammals.

Hitz drawing

Hitz drawing, POP catches by the Soviets

Sebastes alutus, as all our alert readers know, is  better known by its many aliases, including Rosefish, Rosies, Redfish, and, more formally, Pacific Ocean Perch or POP.  The blog can really be said to be all about Rosefish and how they were almost eradicated by the Soviet factory processing fleets off Oregon in the 1960s. While there has been some recovery of the fish off Alaska, recovery off Washington, Oregon, and California has been pushed back to 2051.

To look at the story of the Rosefish, and their unique biology, is a way to trace how fisheries have globalized since the 1960s.

It’s also a way to talk about how fisheries science

George Moskovita and a load of Rosefish

George Moskovita and a load of Rosefish

has slowly uncovered the life story of these unusual fish. George Yost Harry Jr. Jergen Westrheim, and Dayton Lee Alverson were among the scientists first studying these fish. They suspected they might be be long-lived. George Moskovita fished for them, delivering the biggest load of his career to an Astoria cannery in 1965. Donald Gunderson was the first to study the impact of the Soviet fishing on the stock.

With new tools and technologies in the 1980s, scientists discovered that the fish can live for many decades, some to even 212 years. So the story of Rosefish is a story of the development of science. And that new science is in tension with the fisheries science  (MSY) that is at the heart of modern fisheries management today.

Fisheries are complex. They are hard to write about without being boring. Many of the issues are generally written about in a technical or academic style that is difficult to read.

One of the challenges in writing history is making it relevant, and telling a story in an engaging way that makes it easy for readers to follow. One of the best ways to do that is to hook your readers emotionally with the subject matter.  So All the Science about a fish, how it got fished, how it got studied, and what it all means to the way we understand our stewardship of the oceans and its fish stocks in the 21st century. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to tell that story yet, but the blog readers will be the first to know.

Posted in Environmental History, fisheries science, Fishing, George Moskovita, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Ocean fishing, Overfishing, Pacific Fishing History Project, Rosefish, Sebastes rockfish, Soviet environmental history, Soviet fishing, Soviet history', World History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Another Astoria, 1947, moment


Nick Bez, left, with William L. Thompson, unknown man, Photo courtesy of the Columbia River Marine Museum

What I love most about writing history is the way information connects and how stories can be woven into frameworks for a greater understanding. History is not about the past, it is a powerful lens that allows you to understand the present and our place in it. The more history you know, the more grounded you can be. Since I’ve been reading through the almost 150 posts on this blog (many of them divided into story lines available here), I realized how many of the posts fit together, likes pieces in a jig saw. Yet if there is a single element that  ties all the posts together, it is Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, in 1947.

As someone who taught world history, I tend to focus on big frameworks in my work, looking at fisheries and fisheries science from national and international perspectives. But sometimes I read a detail that stops me short because it illuminates a lot in just a few words. I was struck by this sentence in  Lyle Anderson’s account of the early days at Bioproducts at Warrenton, in 1938. The Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA), the biggest fish company on the West Coast, was run by William L. Thompson.

“Some of the fishermen called him Tulie Thompson because in his earlier days as a fish buyer he acquired the reputation of down-grading trips of fish by calling them Tulies, which was the Columbia River name for a salmon in a run past its prime.”

It’s a line that incorporates a lot of information about the fish business on the Columbia in the 1930s–or the fish business anywhere, at any time.  Thompson sold his shares of the company to Nick Bez, who was elected chairman of the company. The CRPA also bought some shares in the Bez’s new Pacific Exploration Company.

The CRPA, or The Combine, as it was known locally, became the most powerful cannery on the West Coast.  It began operating in Alaska in 1902. By 1980, when the company shuts its doors and moved to San Diego, it was the largest employer in Astoria. Now, its old Hanthorn Cannery on the waterfront in east Astoria is Pier 39, an upscale boutique hotel.

It’s easy to romanticize the fishing industry, mainly, I think, because of all the wonderful pictures and the beautiful boats. One of the reasons why George Moskovita’s memoir is so important is that he describes a world of brutal hard work, dangerous conditions, and a struggle to cover costs and provide for a family. Guys like Tulie Thompson, downgrading the quality of their fish and paying a lower price, didn’t help.



Posted in Columbia River Packers Association, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Nick Bez, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Fishing History Project | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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