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AFSC Historical Corner:  BOF Launches & Small Craft;  Puffin, Ibis, Sea Gull

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 launch
Unknown U.S. Bureau of Fisheries launch.
Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Beginning in the early 1920s, the Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) was employing a growing number of shallow-draft launches and other small craft – in addition to their fleet of larger saltwater vessels – for Alaska fisheries enforcement and other work. These small boats, and those that were frequently chartered, patrolled primarily on the more protected waters of rivers, streams and bays – often by the wardens and stream guards (or "watchmen") assigned to each district. In the vast Bristol Bay region, several numbered launches were used to canvass the area (see below).

For the protection of spawning salmon, the boats also frequently ran on streams and rivers to abolish predatory trout and remove debris and other obstructions to salmon spawning (and marine navigation). Their shallow draft and smaller size made them quite suitable for these tasks.

Originally, several of the smaller craft used in Alaska were chartered from the local commercial canneries and hatcheries in each region. In 1922, as many as 18 small boats were chartered in the Southeast district alone. During the 1930s, the Bureau increased its fleet of small vessels with outboard motors, such as skiffs and dories, and chartered fewer.

The Puffin,  1919 - ?

One of the earliest known launches owned by the Bureau was the 25-foot Puffin. She was carried onboard the BOF steamship Roosevelt as the ship's launch. When the Roosevelt was sold in 1919, the Puffin began working independently in Alaska.

In July of 1919, the Puffin set off from Seattle, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska, under her own power, but broke down along the way due to engine failure. She was loaded on a freight steamer in Canada and arrived at Ketchikan nearly a month later. When repairs and alterations were made, the Puffin began her stream protection work in various parts of Alaska, including Juneau, the Taku River, and Prince of Wales Island. She logged approximately 1,500 total miles in 1922.

During 1923, the Puffin was not in service for the fishing season. Determined as being too small for patrol work, she was transferred later that year to the Bureau's Division of Fish Culture for use at the McDonald Lake-Yes Bay hatchery. For 10 years she served as tender to the hatchery, making the necessary shuttle trips to and from Ketchikan with supplies and personnel.

The Puffin was replaced by the Bureau's vessel Merganser in 1932 and spent the remainder of the year reassigned to fisheries patrol around Ketchikan. The Puffin was laid up in Seattle throughout 1933. Her history beyond then is unknown.

The Ibis,  1923 - ?

The Ibis at Chignik on southern side of the Alaska Peninsula.
Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1926.

The Columbia River model Ibis was purchased in spring 1923 by the BOF and brought to Chignik, Alaska, aboard the Columbia River Packers' Association (CRPA) ship Tonawanda for fisheries patrol work. That year she was also used by Warden Charles E. Petry to oversee the building of a salmon counting rack on Chignik River.

In September 1928, the 30-foot Ibis left Alaska aboard the CRPA steamer Memnon bound for Astoria, Oregon, where her hull was renovated, her 12-horsepower Atlas heavy duty engine was overhauled, and general repairs were made. She returned to Chignik in April 1929.

The small gas boat only patrolled for a few months each year during the active salmon fishing season and was otherwise stored out of the water. It is known that her BOF service lasted until the formation of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1940 – and possibly beyond, since a 30-ft. "Ibis" is listed as a FWS boat through 1946 in the annual "Mechant Vessels of the U.S.".

The Sea Gull,  1924 - 1926

Purchased in 1924, the 31-foot Sea Gull was the BOF's second smallest named vessel – after the Ibis (above) – in Alaska at the time. She performed fisheries patrol on the Copper River flats until being destroyed by an accidental fire on 18 June 1926.

Bristol Bay Launches, since 1924

(Note: years in parentheses below are known periods of Alaska service)

  Bristol Bay map
Major bays and rivers patrolled by launches in the Bristol Bay area.

Launch No. 2  was used for enforcement duty on the Naknek River in eastern Kvichak Bay, (1926-31) and lower Kvichak Bay (1927). On 27 July 1935, she was decimated by an explosion. Her 80-horsepower engine was salvaged and overhauled for use in Launch No. 4.

Launch No. 3  patrolled Nushagak Bay and River in northeast Bristol Bay (1926-31), the Wrangell district (1938) and on Olga Bay in the Kodiak area (1939).

Launch No. 4  operated on the Ugashik River in southeast Bristol Bay until after the close of the commercial fishing season in 1924 when it was completely destroyed by an accidental fire. She was replaced the following year by Launch No. 5. It appears that a new Launch No. 4 could have been put to use in the 1930s, since there is mention of her receiving the reconditioned engine from the destroyed Launch No.2 in 1935. It is also reported that Launch No. 4 patrolled in Prince William Sound (1938-39) and was enhanced by a new 160-horsepower engine installed in August 1938.

Launch No. 5  was of a Columbia River type design, powered by an 8-horsepower Frisco Standard engine. She was initially assigned to the Bristol Bay district in 1925 to replace Launch No. 4, which was lost to fire. During the next 15 years she patrolled in Ugashik River and Bay (1925-26), Igushik River in Nushagak Bay (1927), Egegik River in eastern Bristol Bay (1929-31), and the Ketchikan district (1938-39).

  launch number 7
Launch No. 7  patrolled on the Kvichak and Naknek rivers.
Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1926.

Launch No. 6  ran on the Ugashik River/Bay (1926-31) and later in the Juneau and Wrangell districts (1938-39).

Launch No. 7  was a 36-foot cruiser model semi-tunnel type boat powered by a 40- to 60- horsepower Red Wing engine. Her shallow draft, power, and speed allowed the boat to easily ascend streams and access flats. She was able to patrol large areas of Bristol Bay during closed fishing periods, parts of which had previously been unreachable. From 1925-31 she patrolled around Kvichak Bay/River and Naknek areas, and was used in connection with the Kvichak weir operations.

Launch No.8  operated in the Ugashik River and Bay (1926-31), also serving as tender to the Ugashik weir.

Launch No. 9  ran in the Kvichak Bay and River (1931).

Launch No. 43  was assigned to the Afognak hatchery (1924-26). She was also used in the Kodiak-Afognak district during part of each year for fisheries patrol work.

See also:  Scoter, the Agency's Bristol Bay boat  and  Naknek River marine ways

The Heron - flagship research launch,  1931 - 1935

Related topic:  Stream watchmen

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