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AFSC Historical Corner:  Federal Marine Fisheries in Alaska

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.

The history of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) can be traced back to 1867 when Alaska, with its vast but untapped marine mammal and fishery resources, was purchased from Russia for $7.2 million. By 1872, U.S. Fish Commission scientists had conducted the first surveys of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, and in 1888 scientists aboard the U.S. Fish Commission vessel Albatross were conducting the first fisheries investigations off the Alaska coast. Over 125 years later, research at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center continues to expand and evolve from those early investigations.

Timeline Sections
All events
1741 - 1869
1870 - 1884
1885 - 1899
1900 - 1909
1910 - 1919
1920 - 1929
1930 - 1939
1940 - 1949
1950 - 1959
1960 - 1969
1970 - 1979
1980 - 1989
1990 - 1999
2000 - present
Agency timeline

These pages present the historical timelines and accounts highlighting many key events and subjects that have shaped the evolution of the Center as well as fisheries research in Alaska. These chronologies are being compiled using material originally published in the AFSC Quarterly Report (since 1982), its predecessor Monthly Report (1971-1982), yearly Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) reports and many other sources.

To complete the story, the name changes that the Center and its parent agencies have undergone since 1871 are also detailed here. Accounts are provided that trace the changes in the Center’s research divisions through several federal government reorganizations and as well as shifts in research responsibility. Photographs and images are also used to illustrate the science and activities of fisheries employees working in Alaska since the 1800s.

Historical sections:

  • Timelines:  Track the many historical events that helped shaped our history since 1841.
  • Facilities:  Learn about the science centers, research laboratories, and field stations.
  • Early Pioneers:  Meet some people who played key roles in agencies preceding the AFSC.
  • Research and Management:  See how the study of Alaska marine species and their environment, along with fisheries management (i.e., federal hatcheries) have evolved over time.
  • Technology:  Discover some of the inventions, tools, devices, and methods developed.
    Topics include aircraft, food preservation (i.e., canning and curing), and diving programs.
  • Vessels:  Find out about the many boats and ships used in Alaska for fisheries enforcement, research, surveying, transportation, rescue, and other areas of operation.


Wrangell cannery
A cannery in a scenic setting near Wrangell, Alaska in the late 1800s.  U.S. Fish Commission photo, 1898.

Additional reading:

  • Much of the historical information presented on these pages was found within the "U.S. Fish Commission Annual Reports" (1871-1940 and 1947-1979) – avaliable online in .pdf format from the NOAA Central Library website.
  • Jones, L. E. 1915. Report of Alaska Investigations in 1914. Wash. G.P.O., 155 p.  (.pdf, 17.45 MB).
    (a colorful account of the Alaska fisheries in 1914).
  • Goode, G. B. 1988. The First Decade of the United States Fish Commission: Its Plan of Work and Accomplished Results, Scientific and Economical. (originally published in 1883 in Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, Vol. II, for 1882. Wash. G.P.O. p. 169-178.). Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):130-134.  (.pdf, 889 KB).
  • Thompson, S. H. 1988. The National Marine Fisheries Service and Its Predecessor Agencies, 1871-1987: An Historical Overview. Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):135-137.  (.pdf, 533 KB).
  • Cart, T. W. 2004. The Federal Fisheries Service, 1871–1940: Its Origins, Organization, and Accomplishments. Mar. Fish. Rev. 66(4):1-46.  (.pdf, 14.4 MB)
  • Mitsuoka, R. R., R. E. Pearson, L. J. Rutledge, and S. Waterman. 1982. Fifty Years of Cooperation and Commitment: 1931-81, the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34, 294 p.  (.pdf, 29 MB).
  • Atkinson, C. E. 1982. Fishery Studies on the U.S. Pacific Coast, 1887-1936. In R. R. Mitsuoka, R. E. Pearson, L. J. Rutledge, and S. Waterman (editors), Fifty Years of Cooperation and Commitment: 1931-81, the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center, p. 5-8. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 1.27 MB)
  • Hobart, W. L. (editor). 1996. Baird's Legacy: the History and Accomplishments of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, 1871-1996. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/SPO-18, 48 p. (.pdf, 30.3 MB).
  • Kendall, A. W., Jr., and G. J. Duker. 1998. The Development of Recruitment Fisheries Oceanography in the United States. Fisheries Oceanography 7:69-88.
  • Bulletins of the U.S. Fish Commission (1881 to 1998).  (avaliable in .pdf format).  (NOAA Central Library website).

Related websites:

  • The History of Fisheries Stewardship.  ("NOAA Celebrates 200 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship" website).
  • 1970s Conservation and Stewardship Legislation.  ("NOAA Celebrates 200 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship" website).
  • 1850-1900 - U.S. Fish Commission. Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian.  Smithsonian website
  • Developing and Delivering the Promise of U.S. Fishery Management.  ("NOAA Celebrates 200 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship" website).
  • History of the National Marine Fisheries.  ("NOAA History - A Science Odyssey" website).
  • Stories and Tales of the Fisheries Service.  ("NOAA History - A Science Odyssey" website).
  • Fisheries Historical Page.  (NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center website).
  • Illustrations of the Fisheries and Fisheries Industries of the United States.  (NOAA Photo Library website).



This project was first envisioned for NOAA's 125th anniversary back in 1996, with construction of these pages beginning in 2007. They were first posted in June 2013, at which time the following individuals are to be recognized for their contributions. Their appreciation of history as a natural resource that should be shared has helped to bring together this chronicle of federal fisheries research and activities in Alaska.

  • NOAA (in no particular order):  Paula Johnson, Bill Heard, Jack Helle, Bruce Wing, the late John Lindsay, Chuck Fowler,
    Mark Zimmermann, Shannon Fitzgerald, Charles "Bob" Hitz, Dave Withrow, Russ Nelson, Sonja Kromann, Gary Stauffer,
    Adam Moles, Sally Mizroch, John Clary, Craig Wilson, Jim Peacock, Karna McKinney, Rebecca White, Susan Calderón,
    Jan Benson, Willis "Hoby" Hobart, Jackie Strader, and Robert Schwemmer (National Marine Sanctuaries);
    and to Gary Duker and Victor Lundquist for their concept, design, and development of this project.
  • Others (vessel owners, researchers, historians, etc.):  Mark Freeman (Fremont Tugboat Co.),  Kit Pingree (Teal owner),
    Mr. & Mrs. Walt Masland (Pelican owners),  David Janka (Auklet II owner),  Michael Skalley (Foss towboating author),
    Chris Beaudin (Crane owner),  "Snapper" Carson (former Crane owner),  Paul McIntosh (U.S. Forest Service, retired),
    Robert Budke (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, retired),  Karl House (Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society),
    A. Tarmann (Alaska State Library),  Michael Yourkowski (Kittiwake II owner),  W.R. Roebling (re: Black Douglas), and
    Michael Burwell (Minerals Management Service).

Note:  These pages represent a work in progress with some sections currently incomplete and uneven pending additional content as the material becomes available. Please address comments to:

The material provided on these historical web pages has been distilled from information and personal accounts published in many sources (e.g., recurrent federal reports, progress reports, press releases, books, newsletters, newspaper articles, websites, etc.) as well as from interviews with boat owners, retired skippers/crew, fisheries biologists and other staff. This historical information is a natural complement to our ongoing research activities and efforts to archive research collections, and is intended to present brief introductory summaries and snapshots versus a complete picture of fisheries research in Alaska. These accounts are subject to interpretation and no guarantee of accuracy is implied or assumed, particularly for remote links over which we have no control.

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