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AFSC Historical Corner:  Fisheries Research and Management

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Species Research
Federal Hatcheries
Fisheries Management
Environmental and Ecosystem Monitoring
lab work
Fishery technologist performs lab tests, 1947.
E. P. Haddon, photographer.  Auke Bay Labs photo.

As part of the 1880 U.S. Census, extensive fisheries surveys in Alaska and along the West Coast were initiated. These initial research ventures were followed by the first written account of the U.S. interest in fishing and canning, which identified that only scarce halibut and cod fishing was being done in Alaska waters – mostly uncharted at the time.

To better understand the potential for these fisheries, a series of annual surveys and oceanographic testing were conducted throughout the North and western Pacific Ocean using the U.S. Fish Commission's steamer, Albatross.

"The first systematic researches bearing upon the economic marine fishes of the western coast of North America were conducted in 1879 and 1880, by Dr. David S. Jordan and Prof. Charles H. Gilbert, for Washington, Oregon, and California, and by Dr. Tarletson H. Bean, for Alaska. Not having suitable facilities for investigating the fishing-grounds, the work of these naturalists was chiefly limited to collecting and studying the fishes obtainable along the shores and from the fishermen, but, nevertheless, exceedingly important results were accomplished by them."
From: Rathbun, R. 1894. Summary of the Fishery Investigations Conducted in the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea From July 1, 1888, to July 1, 1892, by the U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross. In Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, Vol. XII, for 1892. Wash. G.P.O.  (.pdf, 9.46 MB).

Research Sections
Marine species research
Early (federal) hatcheries
Fisheries management
Environmental and
ecosystem monitoring

In the early 1900s, research along the Pacific coast and in Alaska was centered at Stanford University in California, with Charles Gilbert assigned as scientist in charge. He was joined by Willis H. Rich in 1918 to work on Alaska salmon studies. In May 1931, the personnel and equipment from Stanford were moved into the new Montlake Laboratory in Seattle, Washington. Included in the move was the biological research program that had been working for the last 10 years on salmon runs in the Columbia River.

Other programs that transferred to Montlake were the Southeast Alaska/Prince William Sound herring investigations, and four the Alaska sockeye salmon programs that began in the 1920s at Chignik, Karluk, Bristol Bay and Copper River.

"The first major expansion of the Alaskan fishery research program at the Montlake laboratory occurred in 1938 when funds were made available for the beginning of a large, comprehensive program of study on the salmon runs in the Bristol Bay area of the Bering Sea. The program which developed was divided into two major parts. One part of the study was on the freshwater life history of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon and the environmental factors that would affect their survival. A field station and experimental area was established on Brooks River, near the outlet of the lake. This was a beautiful site for study in the Bristol Bay area; it was accessible by float plane from King Salmon , and the lake and river were large enough to provide normal access and spawning and rearing conditions, yet the site was small enough to allow studies of environmental conditions in some limnological detail. During the first year of study, an adult counting weir was installed in Brooks River, near the outlet of the lake, and the collection of samples of downstream young migrants was started , not only for Brooks Lake but in four other river systems of Bristol Bay as well. George Kelez was transferred from Chignik to take charge of this phase of the Bristol Bay studies."
From: Atkinson, C. E. 1988. The Montlake Laboratory of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and its Biological Research, 1931-81. 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. 19-46. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 2.77 MB).

Also check out:  the  "Technology"  section

Event items:

  • Exploratory Fishing and Gear Development operations, 1948

    "By 1947 it was apparent that an exploratory fishing and gear development unit was to be set up shortly. During 1948, exploratory fishing and gear development activities were initiated within the Seattle Technological Laboratory under Maurice Stansby. The aim was to organize a working group that would be ready to operate on the Pacific Coast as soon as the new activity could be developed. Funds totaling $92,680 were made available to the Laboratory for exploratory fishing operations on 1 July 1948." "Late in 1949 the Seattle Exploratory Fishing Project was officially transferred from the Technological Laboratory to function as a separate entity." (Greenwood, 1982 *).

  • Gulf of Alaska survey, 1971

    Center scientists and technicians continued their schedule of marine studies begun early in the summer aboard various research vessels. The NOAA ship John N. Cobb returned to Seattle on August 24 after completing a 52-day cruise off Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska.

    From July 13 to 18, the relations between the vertical distribution of shrimp and certain environmental features (such as amount of available light) were studied. Twenty-six tows were made in the Marmot Bay area with a vertical distribution sampler.

    The Cobb pollock survey began on July 20 - a total of 62 trawl hauls were made in 26 days. The survey covered a 4,500 square mile area off southeastern Kodiak Island. Most of the sampling (52 hauls) took place on Albatross Bank; 10 hauls were made in Shelikof Strait. Trawling took place at preselected stations within the depth range of 30 to 170 fathoms.

    The only substantial catches of pollock (500 to 1,800 pounds per 0.5 hour of fishing) on Albatross Bank were made in depths of 60 to 130 fathoms. Later the vessel returned to stations that had catches exceeding 1,000 pounds per 0.5 hour of fishing, and catches between 1,710 and 3,800 pounds were made in 0.5-hour tows. Hydroacoustic soundings revealed few-fish in waters less than 60 fathoms with greater numbers between 60 and 100 fathoms. Fishing based on relatively strong off-bottom acoustic signals produced catches between 1,200 and 2,600 pounds of mainly juvenile fish,(21-33 cm long). Juvenile pollock were taken with trawls both on and off the bottom. Adults were never taken in any great amounts-in trawls off the sea bottom, suggesting that the fish may have been confined to near bottom depths.

    In Shelikof Strait, off the mouth of Uganik Bay and Uyak Bay, few pollock were taken in off-bottom hauls. Bottom trawls in the same area produced catches varying between 22 and 2,100 pounds per 112 hour. Most fish were between 33 and 43 cm.

    The charter vessel Tonquin completed two research cruises. During the first cruise (July 6-August 2) samples of fish inhabiting the coastal waters were collected from Vancouver Island southward to Oregon, for the U.S. survey of heavy metals in fishery resources. Samples of Pacific hake were also collected to determine the relative abundance of year classes."  (From Northwest Fisheries Center Monthly Report, Jan. 1972).

  • First U.S. survey made of seamount marine life in the Gulf of Alaska, 1979

    In June and July 1979, RACE scientists aboard the chartered vessel Sunset Bay conducted the first survey by U.S. investigators to determine the kinds and quantities of marine life associated with seamounts (undersea mountains) in the Gulf of Alaska. During the 44 day cruise, nine of the shallowest seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska were surveyed. These nine seamounts rise abruptly from the ocean basin in depths of 1,000 to 2,000 fathoms to within 90-400 fathoms of the ocean surface. Exploratory fishing was successfully carried out over all of the seamounts except Applequist Seamount.

    Because there are few soundings of seamounts on charts, it was necessary to determine their depth and topography prior to conducting any exploratory fishing. This was done by plotting echosoundings along a series of transects – after the depths and topographical features of each seamount were recorded a decision was made on what kinds of fishing gear to use.

    The kinds gear available included sablefish traps, king crap trawls, midwater trawls, bottom setlines, lines fished lures near the surface, and a newly developed autonomous deep-sea camera system. Sablefish-traps and king crab pots were found to be the most useful for fishing on top of the seamounts. They could be deployed on comparatively rough and hard bottom and in confined spaces between the many pinnacles are typical for seamounts. Most of the area over the seamounts was judged to unsuitable for bottom trawling or was at or beyond the maximum depth capability for effective trawling from the Sunset Bay.

    Sablefish were caught in traps on all of the seamounts. Other fishes taken in the traps and pots were an occasional pectoral rattail, longspine thornyhead rockfish, and rougheye rockfish.

    A surprising feature of the survey was the large number of crabs that were caught. Deepsea red king crab, provisionally identified as Lithodes couesi, were caught on all of the seamounts, golden king crab were taken on Dickins, Patton, and Surveyor Seamounts, and snow (Tanner) crab (Chionoecete tanneri) were caught on all of the seamounts except Dickins. Many of the deepsea red king crab, golden king crab, and snow crab were carrying maturing clutches of eggs and that most of the sablefish were ripe, spawning, or recently spent. Additional studies are underway to examine the genetic relationship of sablefish found on the seamounts with those taken on inshore grounds over the continental shelf and slope.

    Dominant species in the bottom trawl were sablefish and rattail with a few small longspine thornyhead rockfish also being taken. One deepsea sole (Embassichthys bathybius) was caught while bottom trawling on Surveyor Seamount and another on Patton Seamount. They were the only flatfish caught during the survey.

    Catches in the midwater trawl mainly consisted of numerous species of small bathypelagic fishes and squids. deepsea smelts (Bathylagidae), lanternfishes (Myctophidae), and viperfishes (Chauliodontidae) were the most commonly taken of the small bathypelagic fishes. Among the rare species caught were spookfishes and barreleyes (Opisthoproctidae) and dreamers (Oneirodidae).

    Six near-surface hauls with the midwater trawl made directly over seamounts yielded 28 Pacific salmon. Several salmon were also caught on lures trolled near the surface over the seamounts. Although certainly not conclusive, this suggests that the seamounts may be preferred feeding or schooling places for salmon.

    The cruise also incorporated a newly developed autonomous camera to obtain information on the fauna, as well as geologic and topographic features of the deep-sea floor. The third leg 1979 Gulf of Alaska seamount survey was devoted to utilizing the modified still camera to determine distribution and abundance of marine life associated with the tops of some of the shallower seamounts. This was the first attempt by U.S. investigators to survey marine life on seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska with a modified free-vehicle photographic system. The modified autonomous deep-sea 35mm camera system consisted of photographic and auxiliary components.

    The photographs of the seafloor showed many interesting features of the geology and fauna of the seamounts. Geologically, differences in microrelief and sediment composition were revealed by the photographs. The deep-sea camera system also produced the first photographs of the marine life which inhabited these seamounts. Two species of rattail fishes (Family Macrouridae), tentatively identified as Coryphaenoides pectoralis and C. cinereus, were photographed on Quinn and Giacomini Seamounts. The largest number of rattails was photographed on Quinn Seamount. In addition to documenting the presence of rattails, the photographs also provided evidence of how the long slender tail of rattails is used in swimming. Other fish species were much less in evidence. Sablefish, one of the most abundant species captured in fish traps during the survey, were not photographed on any of the seamounts. Another fish species, a member of the genus Sebastolobus, was photographed on Patton and Giacomini Seamounts.

    The most prominent invertebrate species photographed on the seamounts were crabs. Red deepsea crabs were photographed on all three seamounts, while snow (Tanner) crabs were only photographed on Quinn and Giacomini Seamounts. Also pictured were the walking and resting postures of both crab species and the fine furrows in the soft sediment on Giacomini Seamount made by the dactyls: ("toes") of the crabs as they moved across the seafloor. Other photographed invertebrates included: hydroids; sponges; bryozoans (ectoprocts); polychaete worms (serpulid tubes); anthozoans (gorgonian skeletons, sea pens, and sea anemones); mollusca (the gastropod Fusitriton oregonensis, several chitons, and small scallops); and several asteroids (sea stars).

    The exploratory cruise from the Sunset Bay provided the first glimpse of marine life associated with seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska. The survey was carried out on but a few of the many seamounts that dominate the bathymetry seaward of the continental shelf in the Gulf of Alaska over a relatively short period in late spring-early summer. It would be useful to conduct more studies at other times of the year and over additional seamounts to better understand their effects on the fauna and oceanographic regime. "  (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center Monthly Report, Nov. 1977).

Additional reading:

  • * Greenwood, M. R. 1982. Exploratory Fishing and Gear Development. 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. 107-128. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 2.13 MB).
  • Alverson, D. L. 1982. History and Perspective of Exploratory Fishing. 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. 227-234. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 717 KB).
  • Olsen, S. 1982. Future of Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research. 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. 235-242. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 696 KB)
  • Dassow, J. A. 1982. Utilization Research, 1931-1981: a historical overview. 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. 193-206. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34.  (.pdf, 1.32 MB).
  • Dassow, J. A. 1988. Fisheries Utilization Research – 50 Years in Retrospect, Part I: Fishery Development. Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):138-149.  (.pdf, 8.67 MB).
  • Dassow, J. A. 1988. Fisheries Utilization Research – 50 Years in Retrospect, Part II: the Enduring Themes. Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):150-162.  (.pdf, 10.65 MB).
  • Dassow, J. A. 1988. Fisheries Utilization Research – 50 Years in Retrospect, Part III: Processing and Engineering Research. Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):163-173.  (.pdf, 7.94 MB).
  • Stansby, M. E. 1979. Federal Fishery Research in the Pacific Northwest Preceding Formation of Northwest Fisheries Center. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA, Natl. Mar. Fish. Serv., 35 p.

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