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AFSC Historical Corner:  Alaska Fisheries Vessels,  1882 - 2013

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
The Albatross, 1882
Early BOF Patrol Boats
FWS Vessels
Newer Research Ships
Pribilof Tenders
Launches/Small Craft
Charters/Other Boats
Vessel Links
The Miller Freeman
NOAA ship Miller Freeman fights 30-foot seas to rescue a disabled fishing boat in the Bering Sea.
Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Starting with the early explorations by the Fish Commission's steamer Albatross, federal fisheries activities in Alaska have been dependent on a variety of vessels. The immensity of Alaska and the diversity of responsibilities led to the use of many types and sizes of vessels to support federal fisheries research, enforcement, and other activities such as transportation, navigational maintenance, and search and rescue.

Some of the boats were built specially for these duties, while others were purchased, or obtained as transfers from other government agencies – i.e., military surplus vessels, or the "bear" boats received from the Alaska Game Commission. These vessels were then refitted or modified for fisheries service in Alaska waters.

Over the years, the original Fish Commission evolved into:  the Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) in 1904, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1940,  the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) in 1956, and in 1970, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as part of NOAA.

During these transition periods, most of the vessels were retained within the Bureau's Alaska fleet. Some, however, were transferred; for example, to the State of California, University of Washington, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) around 1960 following Alaska's statehood.

Featured  Sections
   The steamer Albatross, 1882-1921
   Early fisheries patrol boats, 1912-39
   Fish & Wildlife Service vessels, 1940-60
   Newer research ships, since 1949
   Pribilof Islands tenders, 1915-75
   Launches/small patrol craft, and others

Several of the vessels presented in the featured sections, such as the AukletEiderTealJohn N. CobbMurre II  and  Miller Freeman, proved to be the most notable workhorses, performing a variety of tasks and providing many years of continued fisheries service in Alaska.

As one digs deeper you also find a forgotten Alaska fleet of marine poaching enforcement and general support vessels. In fact, several generations of boats had connection with fisheries research in Alaska with each generation meeting the specific needs of Bureau activities. The service requirements often resulted in multipurpose boats not only used for the aforementioned activities, but for the transportation of cargo and passengers including government officials and dignitaries visiting Alaska.

Most of these boats and ships were designed, built, and launched without all the fanfare that is associated with the construction of modern fisheries vessels. Most worked hard and were hard-worked in Alaska waters for many years, some continuing on long after their government service. Like their humble beginnings, many of these fine vessels disappeared quietly at the end.

  launch run aground
An unknown launch finds itself on the rocks, 1915.
Photo credit: C&GS Season's Report Quillian 1915-77.  NOAA Photo Library.

The accounts within these featured sections are based on various information sources, many of which being agency reports that describe some of the vessels that were used in Alaska; including construction details, vessel specifications, years of operation, and primary and secondary responsibilities. Other resources have been newspaper and magazine articles, books, libraries, museums, FWS oral histories, fleet listings, and first-hand communications with some of the vessel owners themselves. Where possible, anecdotal information is also included to describe the outstanding contributions of these vessels made possible by the individuals who served aboard them.

Unfortunately, the available history for several of these boats is sparse. Although a few vessels are known to have been restored, and still exist as of 2013, the fate of many others is unknown. Your help is needed in providing the missing pieces and historical stories for these government fisheries boats that had operated in Alaska. You are welcome to contact  Victor Lundquist  (

Historical vessels presented in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery

Additional reading:

Anonymous. 1944. The Alaska Fisheries Patrol Fleet. Pacific Motor Boat, Nov. 1944. p.34, 37.
NOAA's Fleet: A History of Keeping Research at Sea Afloat  (NOAA Celebrates 200 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship website)
Troyer, Will. 2010. Bear Wrangler: Memoirs of an Alaska Pioneer Biologist. Univ. Alaska Press. 256 p.  (several first-hand accounts aboard FWS vessels in the 1950s).
Nelson, S. B. 1971. Oceanographic Ships Fore and Aft. [For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. in Washington]. 240 p.
(online reading sites:  Internet archiveOpen Library)

As the primary author and compiler of this historical vessel section I would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their valuable contributions of information and materials which greatly helped to make these pages as comprehensive as they are:
Chris Beaudin (Crane owner, Crane Adventures),  Robert Budke (BCF, retired),  Michael Burwell (Minerals Management Service),
"Snapper" Carson (former Crane owner),  Gary Duker (AFSC, retired),  Jon Franklin (Oregon owner),  Mark Freeman (Fremont Tugboat Co.),
Jack H. Helle (AFSC, retired),  David Janka (Auklet II owner, Auklet Charter Services),  Paula Johnson (AFSC, retired),  Bob Hitz (NOAA, retired)
the late John Lindsay (AFSC),  Mr. & Mrs. Walt Masland (Pelican owners),  Paul McIntosh (U.S. Forest Service, retired),  Kit Pingree (Teal owner),
W. R. Roebling (re: Black Douglas),  Robert Schwemmer (NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries),  Michael Skalley (Foss towboating author),
George Schneider (hobby-historian),  Bruce Wing (AFSC, retired),  and Michael Yourkowski (former Kittiwake II owner, Alaska Bear Tours)
–  Thank you, Victor Lundquist (AFSC, 2014).

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