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AFSC Historical Corner:  Fish Research

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Species Research
  - Salmon
  - Other Fish
  - Fur Seals 1,2,3,4
  - Whales / Whaling
  - Marine Mammals
  - Red King Crab
  - Invertebrates
Federal Hatcheries
Fisheries Management
Environmental and Ecosystem Monitoring
salmon egg experiment
Egg experiments at Olsen Bay, Alaska, ca. 1960.  Ted Merrell, photographer.

NOTE:  This page is under development,
            pending additional content.

Halibut:  In the late 1800s, the demand for halibut being fished along the East Coast rivaled that for salmon, mackerel and other oily fish. With the Atlantic stocks of halibut being depleted, the fishery in Alaska and along the Pacific coast began with crude and dissappointing attempts. Prior to 1894 profits were little if any, however, with perseverance and capital from interested New England fish merchants, the halibut industry slowly gained momentum. Seattle and Tacoma (Washington) were the primary towns were the catch of halibut was taken for transport to New York or Boston. Over time, new fishing banks were discovered, fishing competition increased, and improvements were made to the fishing methods, preservation of fish, transport by rail.

In 1923, over 12 million pounds of halibut were taken in Alaska and an agreement was established between the U.S. and Great Britain for the preservation of the fishery in the North Pacific.

In 1970, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (NOAA) reported that a record 420-pound, 8.5-foot halibut was caught by a long-line fishing vessel at Kodiak, Alaska. The fish sold for $125.

  The first commercial use of herring in Alaska was in the manufacture of oil and fertilizer. Fishing for herring in Alaska was initially done by beach seining. One large company began using a large seine net strung between 2 row boats 20-30 feet apart. In the late 1920s, a few were still fishing this way, however, most were purse seining from power boats crewed by 5-7 men – a method started soon after 1900. Gill-netting was also practiced in some areas.

  herring fishing
Herring purse-seiners in Red Fox Bay, Gulf of Alaska.
Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1926.

During the 1920s, the growing use of herring for food and manufacture into oil and meal began to cause concern over the depletion of the species. Between 1924-27, an average 160 million pounds were being taken annually. In 1925, the significant growth to the industry in Southeast Alaska was due primarily to the new herring fishery around Afohnak Island and the increased output of fertilizer and oil. Large commercial vessels were also being developed to serve as movable floating processing plants that followed the seasonal runs of herring.

Under George A. Rounsefell, biological investigations (spawning, migration, maturity age, fishery effects, etc.) of the species began in the spring of 1925, which included extensive studies on the segregation of the various races and the physical proportions of herring as a means of distinguishing races within the fish population. A tagging program was also undertaken in which 3,000 herring were tagged in 1927.

Pacific Cod:
  pending content.

  The systematics of the speciose genus Sebastes, rockfishes, particularly in the North Pacific, have challenged ichthyologists and others even casually interested in these fishes for well over a century. Fernholm and Wheeler (1983) detailed problems associated with the early descriptions of Sebastes. The first scholarly reference to a rockfish was by Linnaeus (1761) who included Norway and Italy as the range of a fish he described in 1758 and named Perca marina.
From:  Kendall, A. W., Jr. 2000. An Historical Review of Sebastes Taxonomy and Systematics. Mar. Fish. Rev. 62(2):1-23.  (.pdf, 1.13 MB).

Other fish:
  Walleye pollock, sablefish, sole, Pacific ocean perch, Atka mackerel, Pacific whiting (hake) – pending content.

Event items:

  • Hydroacoustic techniques to locate Pacific herring, 1978

    Schools of juvenile and adult Pacific herring occupied the same wintering grounds in southeastern Alaskan waters during a 3-year hydroacoustic survey. Other species including juvenile walleye (Alaska) pollock, also occupied the same waters. These factors made it even more difficult to accurately forecast the quantity of adult herring which could be harvested from these waters.

    During the winters of 1976, 1977, and 1978, NMFS biologists (from the Marine Fisheries Investigations - groups of the Center's Auke Bay Laboratory) made hydroacoustic surveys to assess the abundance of major stocks of Pacific herring in southeastern Alaska. The surveys were carried out in conjunction with herring surveys conducted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists, as part of a cooperative agreement for joint research on herring.

    At the same time as hydroacoustic surveys were being made we sampled schools of fish by midwater trawl to verify species composition and life stage of the fish. We occasionally noted schools with groups of fish that appeared (on the fathometer) distinct from the main part of the school. Typically, these segments were higher in the water column or closer to shore than the remainder of the school. The trawl samples we took from these distinct groups turned out to be juvenile herring."  (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center Monthly Report, Apr. 1978).

  • International collaboration on age readings for walleye pollock and hake, 1977

    During January [1977] the age reading unit at the Seattle Laboratory was involved with comparing age readings of walleye (Alaska) pollock by United States and Japanese readers and readings of Pacific hake by United States and Polish readers. Readings of pollock scales by Hirotsune Yamaguchi of the Far Seas Fisheries Research Laboratory in Shimizu, Japan, are being compared to Seattle Laboratory readings from otoliths of the same fish. Comparisons are being made of U.S. and Polish readings from otoliths of Pacific hake. The otoliths are from catches of a Polish research vessel in the eastern Pacific Ocean. A scientist from the Sea Fisheries Institute in Gdynia Poland, made the Polish age readings. The purpose of the comparisons is to assess the compatibility of the age determinations among the agencies.
    (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center Monthly Report, Jan. 1977).

  • Massive spawning concentration of walleye pollock found near Kodiak Island, 1980

    During a NMFS Marine Resources Monitoring Assessment and Prediction (MARMAP) cruise in the Kodiak Island region on the NOAA ship Miller Freeman, a mass of spawning walleye pollock was found in deep waters of Shelikof Strait. Half-hour drags produced catches of 20,000 to 30,000 pounds. The mass of fish covered an area roughly 70 miles by 5 miles. Studies were initiated to estimate the biomass by hydroacoustical means and to determine drift of eggs and larvae, oceanographic conditions, and schooling behavior.  (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center Monthly Report, March 1980).

  • Pot fishing and other techniques for capturing sablefish, 1971
    (see also:  "NMFS scientists develop new fish harvesting gear, 1971")

    "The sablefish, a relatively deepwater species, has been the object of considerable effort on gear research and resource assessment by NMFS scientists since 1969. This species is believed to be one of the larger underutilized fishery resources in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Pot fishing and other techniques are being developed for its capture.

    The NOAA ship John N. Cobb returned to Seattle on October 28 after completing a 17-day cruise in Oregon coastal waters off the Columbia River. A primary objective was to compare sablefish catches in an otter trawl with catches in pots (traps with a steel frame, 3 3 8 ft). Results indicated that pots are extremely selective for large fish. The average length of sablefish taken in pots was 66.6 cm compared to smaller trawl-caught sablefish (53.4 cm). The average weight of pot-caught sablefish was double that for trawl-caught fish (6.8 to 3.4 lb). The percentage of marketable sablefish by weight (4 lb or heavier) was 93.3% for those taken in pots and only 57.2% for those taken in the trawl. Several species of red rockfish and sole were common in the trawl catches but were never found in the pot catches."
    (From North Pacific Fisheries Research Center Monthly Report, Oct. 1971).

  • Longline sablefish index surveys, 1984

    To obtain better indices of sablefish abundance, longline gear may be used in addition to traps in future index surveys. With seven consecutive years of data (1978-84), the trap index has provided valuable information to fishery managers concerning the abundance and size composition of sablefish in southeastern Alaska. However, the survey has been limited by the fact that traps can only be fished where the bottom is relatively smooth. Much of the ocean off southeastern Alaska, its floor too rugged to be fished with traps, has not been sampled in the survey. Longlines, which are presently used in the commercial fishery for sablefish in Alaska, can be effectively fished on these rough bottoms. Therefore, in 1985, scientists at the Auke Bay Laboratory plan to experiment with using longline gear to survey sablefish stocks as a possible supplement to present trap index survey.

    The sablefish index survey may also be expanded geographically to include regions of the central and western Gulf of Alaska. The domestic sablefish fishery in these areas has developed rapidly, from essentially nothing in 1982 to a multimillion dollar industry in 1984. As in southeastern Alaska, fishery managers will need information on annual condition of sablefish stocks to provide rational and efficient fishery management of this valuable resource.
    (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Quarterly Report, July-Sept. 1984).

Additional reading  (species and topics highlighted in bold):

  • Thompson, W. F., and N. L. Freeman. 1930. History of the Pacific Halibut Fishery. Report of the International Fisheries Commission (IPHC). 61 p.  (.pdf, IPHC website, last accessed 11-19-14).
  • Alexander, A. B. 1912. Preliminary Examination of the Halibut Fishing Grounds of the Pacific Coast; with Introductory Notes on the Halibut Fishery, by H. B. Joyce (doc. 763). Wash. G.P.O. 56 p.  (.pdf, 2.83 MB).
  • Dunn, J. R. 2001. William Francis Thompson (18881965) and His Pioneering Studies of the Pacific Halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis. Mar. Fish. Rev. 63(2):5-14.  (.pdf, 1.52 MB).
  • Krause, Dr. 1912. Cod and Halibut Fisheries Near Shumagin Islands, p.259-260. In Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, Vol. 1., for 1881. Wash. G.P.O. 466 p.  (.pdf, 158 KB).
  • Rounsefell, G. A. 1930. Contributions to the Biology of the Pacific Herring, Culpea pallasii, and the Condition of the Fishery in Alaska (doc. 1080), p. 227-320.  (.pdf, 6.46 MB).
  • Cobb, J. N. 1916. Pacific Cod Fisheries, Appendix IV to the Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries for 1915 (doc. 830). Wash. G.P.O. 11 p. + maps.  (.pdf, 6.71 MB).
  • Cobb, J. N. 1927. Pacific Cod Fisheries, Appendix VII to the Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries for 1926 (doc. 1014, revision of doc. 830). Wash. G.P.O. p. 385-499.  (.pdf, 9.42 MB).
  • Francis, R. C., and A. B. Hollowed. 1985. History and Management of the Coastal Fishery for Pacific Whiting, Merluccius productus. Mar. Fish. Rev. 47(2):95-98.  (.pdf, 1.77 MB).
  • Allen, G. H. 2001. The Ragfish, Icosteus aenigmaticus, Lockington, 1880: a Synthesis of Historical and Recent Records from the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. Mar. Fish. Rev. 63(4):1-31.  (.pdf, 5.2 MB).
  • Stansby, M. E. 1988. Fish Oil Research, 1920-87, in the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA. Mar. Fish. Rev. 50(4):174-179.  (.pdf, 1.19 MB).
  • The Fish Collection at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History"  ("NOAA Celebrates 200 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship" website)

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