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AFSC Historical Corner:  Fish and Wildlife Service Vessels Since 1940

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
unknown Fish and Wildlife Service boat
An unknown Alaska patrol boat identified only as "FWS No. 6".  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Effective 30 June 1940, the Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) and Bureau of Biological Survey merged as part of the Interior Department's new Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

As a result, the existing BOF Alaska vessels were transferred to the FWS. By 1944, the FWS had also added the newly built Heron, the three-masted schooner Black Douglas, and the Alaska Game Commission's Seal and the three "bear" boats.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. involvement in World War II required the military use of many FWS vessels for patrol and transportation duties.

At the end of the 1940s, several boats were added to the FWS's Alaska fleet, many fresh from shipbuilding yards, such as the  Auklet IISablefishJohn R. Manning  and  John N. Cobb.
(Note: The Manning and Cobb are presented in the Newer Research Ships section.)

With the beginning of the 1950s came the disposal of some long-used BOF boats, like the  AukletScoter,  and  Penguin.  Another significant occurrence at this time was the federal approval in 1951 for the transfer of the fleet maintenance operations base from its location at the north end of Lake Union (Seattle, Washington), to Juneau, Alaska, where the new port facility would accommodate maintenance division offices and the 37 FWS vessels included in the move.

FWS fleet
The FWS Alaska fleet at the Lake Union dock in Seattle, ca. 1940s.  The vessels pictured (left to right) are thought to be the
ScoterCraneEiderWidgeonKittiwake,  &  Teal.
  Photo print provided by V. Lundquist (AFSC).  Photographer unknown.

FWS Boats Acquired 1940-58
(length,  yr built)    
1940   Heron (II) **   (58 ft, 1940)
1941*   Brown Bear   (115 ft, 1934)
1941   Black Douglas   (140 ft, 1930)
1942   Swan II (Seal)   (66 ft, 1926)
1942*   Grizzly Bear   (58 ft, 1934)
1944   Black Bear   (33 ft, 1934)
1948   Washington   (100 ft, 1946-47)
1949   Alaska   (100 ft, 1947)
1949*   King   (42 ft, 1944-46)
1950*   Kittiwake II   (73 ft, 1944)
1951*   Sablefish   (38 ft, 1949)
1951   Auklet II   (57 ft, 1951)
1951   Ibis II   (24 ft, 1951)
1956*   Skipjack   (43 ft, 1943)
1957*   Capelin   (40 ft, 1939)
1957*   Albacore   (40 ft, 1938)
1957*   Mackinaw   (52 ft, 1927)
1958   Shad   (44 ft, 1958)
*    Earliest known year of service
**  Heron is listed here due to the extent of
      FWS Alaska service, despite qualifying
      also as a BCF "newer research ship".
Note:  This list does not include the 1950s
FWS Pribilof Islands tendersPenguin II
and  Dennis Winn.

In 1956, the FWS reorganized into the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and under it was created the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) – a descendant from the original U.S. Fish Commission. The Alaska FWS boats were now controlled by the BCF for marine research. While a few remained with the USFWS, most were turned over to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) after Alaska's 1959 statehood. Some survived into the 2000s.

unknown U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat
Unknown patrol boat at the  Little Port Walter field station  identified as "USFWS No. 11".  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

The vessels featured in this section were initially obtained by the Fish and Wildlife Service primarily from 1940 through the 1950s, however for some of them, the actual year of their acquisition is unfortunately unknown. These boats spent the bulk of their federal service with either the FWS/USFWS or the ADFG.

The other boats that were acquired around 1950 and thereafter, were owned and retained past Statehood by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries for use in Alaska – some lasting into the more recent years of the National Marine Fisheries Service (since 1970 under NOAA). These vessels are described on the Newer Research Ships section pages.

Unfortunately, the available history for several of these old vessels is sparse. Though a few boats are known to have been restored, and still exist as of 2013, the fate of many others, especially after 1940, is unknown. Your help is needed in providing the missing pieces and historical stories for these government fisheries vessels that had operated in Alaska. You are welcome to contact  Victor Lundquist  (

The Pluto at the Little Port Walter field station in 1959.
Bill Heard (AFSC, retired), photographer.

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