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AFSC Historical Corner:  Swan, Tern & Coot,  Yukon River Patrol Boats

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The Swan,  1918 - 1924

Swan  Details
Year built: 1917-18
Location built: Fairbanks, AK
Length: 36'
Breadth: 6'
Power: 20 hp engine
River speed: 6-13 mph
Disposition: sold in 1924

The Swan was added to the Bureau of Fisheries's (BOF) Alaska fisheries fleet for a brief time when she was commissioned in July 1918 for field work and transportation duties along the Yukon River.

The Swan was built for the Bureau during the winter of 1917-18 in Fairbanks, Alaska. She was specifically designed for river use, with sleeping accommodations for two. In a 4.5 mph river current she achieved 6 mph upstream, 13 mph downstream, and consumed an average 2.5 gallons of fuel per hour.

In addition to her eventual patrol work, the Swan offered valuable transportation along the Yukon to various BOF agents, as private boats had been relied upon prior to this. During his extensive 1919 salmon investigations of the river, Bureau of Fisheries inspector Calvin F. Townsend traveled over 4,000 miles aboard the Swan  (see "Commercial Salmon Fishing..." box below).

The Bureau soon realized that the 36-foot Swan lacked the size to patrol in the exposed waters at the river's mouth. She was consequently limited to service in the upper Yukon and its tributaries. For the winter months she was hauled out at Nenana, located about 50 miles downriver from Fairbanks. After only three years of service, the Swan was held in reserve on the Yukon and not used. In 1924 she was finally condemned. Her engine was removed to replace the one in the BOF launch Puffin. The Swan's hull was then sold for $75.
 

The Tern,  1920 - 1929

Tern  Details
Year built: 1920
  Location built: Fairbanks, AK   
Length: 38'-40'
Breadth: 7'
Draft: 2'
Engine: self-starting
35-50 hp gas
Disposition: sold in 1929
  Tern
The Tern.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1926.
 

The Tern was built in April of 1920, costing an estimated $3,100. The well-used boat patrolled on the Yukon from Fairbanks to the lower river and delta waters. In 1922 alone, she covered 5,015 total miles.

Following each fishing season, the Tern was usually dry docked for winter storage. She was condemned and sold in 1929.
 

The Coot,  1929 - 1946  (known service)

Coot  Details
Year built: 1929
Location built: Bellingham, WA
Builder: George Wrang
Designer: H. L. Coolidge
Length: 50'
Breadth: 11'
Draft: 3'
Tonnage: 21 tons gross
Engine (gas): 100 hp HSR-6
Hall-Scott gas
Known skipper: Cal Townsend
(1929)
Disposition: unknown
  Coot
The Coot.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1930.
 
 

The 50-foot Coot, having a shallow 3-foot draft, was longer than both of the Bureau's preceding Yukon patrol boats, Swan and Tern. Powered by a 100-horsepower Hall-Scott gas engine, the vessel's design accommodated seven persons and included a transom stern and a 'skeg' aft (stabilizer keel extension).

Construction of the draft cruiser for the BOF was contracted early in 1929 with George Wrang of Bellingham, Washington, and by the end of spring the Coot was ready for duty.

In June, she was transported north to St. Michael, Alaska, aboard the commercial steamer Derblay and placed into service for the 1929 summer fishing season. the Coot replaced the Tern for the Yukon patrol. In August that same year, the Coot transported Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, a Czech anthropologist and Smithsonian curator, down the Yukon River. Dr. Hrdlicka was in Alaska at the time making investigations in connection with his study of the American Indian.

The last year of known federal service for the Coot was 1946, with the Fish and Wildlife Service.  
(Merchant Vessels of the United States 1946, p.794., U.S. G.P.O., Washington: 1946)

 
Commercial Salmon Fishing and Enforcement on the Yukon River
Commercial fishing on the Yukon River emerged in 1918 with the experimental operation of the Carlisle Packing Company's cannery located near the river's mouth. The company quickly learned that the large supply of river salmon supported the continuation of their canning business, however, the region's inhabitants strongly objected, fearing the fish population was being threatened. At the time, nearly 11,000 persons and over 6,000 of their dogs along the Yukon were dependant on the river's salmon.

A public hearing was thus held in Seattle, Washington, in November 1918 to decide what restrictions, if any, should be imposed on the taking of the river's salmon for export purposes. The hearing resulted in the prohibiting of commercial fishing above the Clear River junction with the Yukon and limitations on the yearly canning production to 30,000 cases of packed salmon, 1,000 barrels of pickled salmon, and 200 tierces of mild-cured salmon.

In 1919, four salteries were also operating on the lower river. That year, the commercial take of salmon on the Yukon was 469,949 – about 62 per cent in excess of the established regulations. Residents along the river continued their protests that the salmon runs were being depleted.

The Bureau of Fisheries wanted to understand what impact commercial fishing would have on the Yukon salmon populations. In 1919, they sent one of their agents, Inspector Calvin F. Townsend, to the region to investigate the situation. In his travels along the river, Townsend assessed the salmon runs and interviewed local residences and traders about their relationship to the salmon. Another thorough study was made in 1920, this time including Dr. Charles H. Gilbert (Stanford University) and Henry O'Malley (BOF field assistant). As a result of these investigations and another public hearing, the Secretary of Commerce issued an order on 18 December 1920 restricting fishing on the river, and within 500 yards of the mouth, to non-commercial local use only.

To enforce these restrictions, the Bureau begain utilizing its own vessels, specifically for monitoring the fishing grounds of the district each year during the few summer months of active salmon fishing. The BOF patrol vessels Swan, Tern, and Coot served successively, except in 1920, when both the Swan and Tern patrolled the Yukon River and tributaries together. During the non-fishing seasons, these two boats were usually hauled out of water for winter storage. Military posts for obtaining fuel were provided in agreement with the U.S. War Department.

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