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AFSC Historical Corner:  Newer Research Vessels Since 1949

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John R. Manning
The research ship John R. Manning, ca. 1950.
K. Yee, photographer.  NOAA Photo Library.
 
 

Explorations for evaluating new commercial fishing sites, along with the studies of new fishing methods and equipment, were formally established as a separate activity of the United States in 1949. The objective was to provide information to a fishing industry interested in expanding or diversifying to new species and locations.

Several regional exploratory fishing and gear (development) research (EF&GR) groups were created within the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to help provide information on potential fisheries: i.e., the North Pacific Fisheries Exploration and Gear Research Program within the Seattle (Washington) Technological Laboratory (1948); the Gulf Exploratory Fishery Program at Pascagoula, Mississippi (1950); a short-lived Exploratory Fishing Unit at the new Honolulu, Hawaii, laboratory (1950); and an EF&GR base in Juneau, Alaska (1960).

To obtain practical and commercially significant catch-rate and catch-composition data, commercial scale fishing surveys were conducted using chartered commercial fishing vessels or research vessels built especially for this unique purpose.

Research Vessels Acquired 1949-71
(length,  yr built)  
1949 Murre II  (86 ft, 1943)
1949* Sockeye  (40 ft, 1946)
1950 John N. Cobb  (93 ft, 1950)
1950 John R. Manning  (86 ft, 1950)
1962 George B. Kelez  (177 ft, 1944)
1967 Miller Freeman  (215 ft, 1967)
1969 Oregon **  (100 ft, 1946)
1971 Cripple Creek  (65 ft, 1953)
*    Earliest known year of service
**  The Oregon was also used for one year
      of Alaska service with the FWS in 1949

By 1949, the need for a dedicated EF&GR vessel in Alaska waters, and other areas, was recognized and construction planning for the John N. Cobb and John R. Manning was underway. In the interium, research cruises continued aboard the other FWS boats and chartered commercial fishing vessels – a practice still in use as of 2011.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the exploratory fishing expeditions focued on searching for sizeable populations of species such as tuna, salmon, halibut, shrimp, and scallops. While the FWS boats were used in Alaska waters, some cruised farther south along areas of the West Coast and even into the central and South Pacific Ocean. The 1956 reorganization of the FWS into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) led to the creation of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF). The BCF immediately assumed control of the FWS Alaska boats and continued using them primarily for marine research. The BCF then evolved into the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 1970 as a result of the reorganization that created NOAA in the Department of Commerce.
 

  USFWS emblem
The USFWS emblem on the stack of the George B. Kelez, 1963.  Archival photo by Mr. Steve Nicklas, NGS/RSD.  NOAA Photo Library photo.
 

Described in this section are a handful of the more modern vessels found on our roster of federal Alaska fisheries boats. In addition to the Cobb and Manning mentioned above, the Agency acquired two ships from the U.S. Army; the Murre II and George B. Kelez. During the late 1960s, the BCF also recieved the newly built Miller Freeman and the USFWS research vessel Oregon, an original Reconstruction Finance Corporation exploratory fishing boat from the late 1940s.

Unlike many of the other FWS/USFWS vessels of the 1950s, these research ships remained with (or joined) the fisheries Agency after Alaska's 1959 statehood – rather than transferring to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as most had done.

With time most of the NMFS boats were no longer needed and were disposed of. In 2008, the John N. Cobb's decommissioning left the Miller Freeman as the last operating vessel of those honored on these historic pages. The NOAA ship Oscar Dyson, launched in 2003, is representative of a new generation of state-of-the-art vessels used for fisheries research in Alaska.


Additional reading:

Wolf, R. S. 1971. Research Vessels of the National Marine Fisheries Service. U.S. Dep. Commer. NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS CIRC-362. 46 p.  (.pdf, 3 MB)
Capurro, R. A., A. M. Bargeski, and W. H. Myers (compilers). Oceanographic Vessels of the World; a Joint Publication of IGY World Data Center A for Oceanography and the National Oceanographic Data Center. Publication info Washington, D.C. Printed by U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, 1961-1966. Physical descrip. 3 v. (loose-leaf) illus. 29 cm. General Note Vol. 2-3 printed by the Hydrographic Office under its later name: U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office.
Greenwood, M. R. 1950. Exploratory Fishing and Gear Development, p.107-128. In R.R. Mitsuoka, R.E. Pearson, L.J. Rutledge, and S. Waterman (editors), Fifty Years of Cooperation and Commitment: 1931-81, the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS F/NWC-34. 294 p.   (.pdf, 2.12 MB).
 

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