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AFSC Historical Corner:  George B. Kelez,  Oceanographic High-seas Vessel

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George B. Kelez
Bureau of Commercial Fisheries vessel George B. Kelez.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Vessel Details
Year built: 1944
Location built: Decatur, AL
Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding
Designer: Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding
& Drydock Co. (Wisconsin)
Other names/id: FS-400  (Army, WWII)
T-AKL-30  (Navy)
CRS 41 & R 441  (NOAA)
Earl "Bull" Shepard,
Rest Express, Mon Repos,
Monrepos Express, MV Croyance,
Smuggler's Point  (post-NOAA)
Length: 177.5'
Breadth: 32'
Draft: 10'
Tonnage (tons): 550 gross, 216 net
Original engine: 900 bhp GM
Average speed: 10.5 knots
Cruising range: 7,300 miles
Known skippers: Trygve Mathisen  (1960s)
Roy L. Robeck  (1972)
Federal service: 1962 - 1972  (fisheries)
1972 - 1980  (cont. w/NOAA)
Disposition: unknown

Built by Ingalls Shipbuilding (Decatur, Alabama) in 1944 for the U.S. Army, this AKL-type steel-hull cargo ship was designed by the Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. (Wisconsin), with Nickum & Sons Consultants (Seattle, Washington). This coastal frieghter was originally designated the FS-400 by the Army; then used during World War II in the Central Pacific under the control of the U.S. Coast Guard; then transferred from the U.S. Army Transportation to the U.S. Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service on 1 July 1950 and designated the AKL-30. She was then struck from the Naval Register in 1961 and declared excess property at Mare Island, California, that summer.

Following a thorough inspection in late 1961, the surplus AKL-30 was acquired by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF). She was renamed the George B. Kelez after George Bothwell Kelez (born 1908), one of the agency's pioneering fisheries researchers in Alaska who, while on duty along with four other wildlife employees, died in a plane crash on 1 September 1954. Note: Following the crash, one lone severely-injured survivor was rescued after treking 1.5 miles over rugged beach and signaling a plane – participating in the search was the Fish and Wildlife Service boat Grizzly Bear.

In February 1962, the Kelez was towed from California to Seattle where she underwent 4.5 months of activation and conversion for fisheries research use, costing about $100,000. Most of the work was done by the ship's crew, which entailed the purchase and installation of new equipment, such as fishing/oceanographic devices, and specialized electrical and refrigeration systems. Modifications were also made to the captain and crew quarters.  (read more on the activation: .pdf, 570 KB *)

The vessel's dedication cememony took place on 20 July 1962 in Seattle. Among the participants were George Kelez's mother and brother. A dedication plaque aboard the vessel (see below) read: "Wherever this living ship goes, there goes also the spirit and faith of George B. Kelez, who dedicated and gave his life to conservation of our fishery resources". Mt. Kelez, in the Brooks Range, Alaska, was also named after him earlier in 1954.

The Kelez's six-week shakedown cruise in late July 1962 took her to the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands for experimental salmon gillnetting. Based out of Seattle, the converted vessel now allowed the BCF, for the first time, to conduct oceanographic and high seas salmon studies during the winter season. Previously, chartered vessels were used for spring and summer work, but they were too small for safe winter operations far offshore and lacked the adequate space for laboratory studies and for gear storage and repair that was available with the Kelez.

Throughout the decade, several salmon fishing cruises were made by the Bureau's Biological Laboratory with the Kelez around Bristol Bay and other Alaskan waters. In addition, the ship took part in several experiments during the mid-1960s for determining ocean current flows by making use of both drift bottles in the subarctic Pacific region and radio-transmitting, oceanographic data-gathering buoys released 300 miles off Washington's coast. In early 1966, the vessel participated in the first winter oceanographic measurement of the Alaskan Stream – a current which closely relates with the formation of the salmon fishing ground – in the western subarctic region of the North Pacific.

During the early 1970s some of the cruise activities conducted by the Kelez included:

A summer 1971 cruise in the North Pacific to collect salmon and trout samples which were later analyzed for genetic and maturity studies
  George B. Kelez
The NOAA ship George B. Kelez.  Captain Robert A. Pawlowski, NOAA Corps, photographer.  NOAA Photo Library.
A 21-day cruise in fall 1971 off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia to sample ichthyo- and zooplankton populations and field test certain gear (net systems, on-board larvae holding facilities, a seawater chemical concentration autoanalyzer, and a method of computer processing salinity and water temperature data)
A 39-day cruise in early 1972 in which 2,400 sablefish were tagged in southeastern Alaska
A 22-day cruise in spring 1972 in the Kodiak region to examine oceanographic and environmental conditions, and to test the operation of shipboard data acquisition devices
A spring 1972 cruise in Puget Sound and off the Washington coast in to determine suitable structure, towing speeds, and trajectories for zooplankton sampling gear (paired "Bongo" nets)
A 1972 summer cruise in the Gulf of Alaska to study the distribution and abundance of Pacific salmon

Limited funding during the first three years of the new NOAA reorganization (1970-72) led to reductions in vessel operations and oceanographic studies. Cutbacks near the end of 1972 resulted in the R/V George B. Kelez being decommissioned and taken out of fisheries service, though she remained a NOAA ship into the 1980s. In March 1973, she was reactivated and sent to southern California on temporary loan to the Geological Survey. Late the next year, the Kelez moved to the East Coast and was based at NOAA's Atlantic Marine Center at Norfolk, Virginia. Bids for repair work to the vessel opened on December 6.

Following the work she was used from 1976-1980 primarily in connection with the Marine Ecosystems Analysis (MESA) New York Bight Project, in which benthic sampling was done to monitor and research the short-term ecological effects of ocean dumping. During this time the Kelez was listed with NOAA's Environmental Research Laboratories (1976-77) and Office of Marine Pollution Assessment (1978-79). In January 1980, 35 scientists from 13 countries took part in open-ocean sampling aboard the Kelez in Bermuda as part of an intergovernmental project to gather oceanographic data on the effects of common pollutants.

The ship was apparently purchased in April 1982 by the the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship and renamed the Earl "Bull" Shepard. She was used by the school until being sold in February 1994 and over the next 10 years likely had other names such as the Rest Express, Mon Repos, and Monrepos Express. In 2005, the same vessel was spotted rusting away at Moss Point, Mississippi, under the name MV Croyance, out of San Lorenzo, Honduras (see photo below). Within a year she was acquired by the Omega Protein Corporation and then renovated into a menhaden fishing vessel named the Smuggler's Point.

George B. Kelez
The "MV Croyance - San Lorenzo" (right) at Moss Point, Mississippi, in 2005.
Officer Kirk Pellegrin (Pascagoula, Mississippi, Police Dept.), photographer.  NOAA Photo Library.

George B. Kelez photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery

The Dedication Plaque
In 1962 the inscription on the plaque placed aboard the Kelez was read aloud during the dedication ceremony:

"United States Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Motor Ship George B. Kelez"

"To inspire those who man her and those who follow her course in the great international seas, this research ship is hereby dedicated to the honor of George B. Kelez, Fishery Research Biologist and Alaska Fishery Administrator of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries and Fish and Wildlife Service from 1930 to 1954.  This ship and her scientists will further the research ideals and objectives on the high seas and in Alaskan waters which motivated his entire career. Wherever this living ship goes, there goes also the spirit and faith of George B. Kelez, who dedicated his life to conservation of our fishery resources.  We are proud of the name, proud of the vessel and proud of the crew.  May our Lord protect and guide you."

Signed by Samuel J. Hutchinson, Regional Director, 20 July 1962.

Additional reading:

* French, Robert, R. 1963. Activation of U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Research Vessel George B. Kelez, p. 6-13. In Commercial Fisheries Review, August 1963, 25(8).  (.pdf, 570 KB,  pages extracted from document on the Internet Archive website,  last accessed 12-8-14).


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