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AFSC Historical Corner:  1920 - 1929

Agency Timeline
Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.

A Focus on the Pacific Salmon Fisheries

tag and tong
Tong and tags used for salmon tagging.
Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1922.
Karluk River rack
The Karluk River weir/rack used for counting salmon ascending to the spawning grounds. Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1922.

During the 1920s, extensive investigations of the Pacific salmon began in the Alaska territory. Starting in 1920, tagging experiments were first conducted around the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island in an attempt to determine the feeding grounds and spawning streams.

Pacific salmon expert Dr. Charles Henry Gilbert and his assistant Willis H. Rich headed the work. Both men were former students of the noted ichthyologist/eugenicist/peace activist David Starr Jordan, who was president of Stanford University.

Consecutively numbered aluminum tags were attached to 4,000 sockeye salmon prior to their release – 20% were later recaptured. In Southeast Alaska, salmon tagging began in 1924.

In addition to tagging experiments, Gilbert began annual scale sampling of Pacific salmon in 1921 at Bristol Bay, Karluk Lake, and Karluk River; the most important Alaska salmon stream in terms of harvest. To facilitate this work, a salmon counting weir/rack was built across the Karluk River, near its mouth, (see photo left) and began receiving yearly maintenance. Nine years later, the weir was completely rebuilt in 10 days.

By 1926, additional Pacific salmon studies were conducted in Chignik under the leadership of Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) biologist Harlan Holmes. New investigations then began in 1929 on the sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay under Alan Taft (BOF) and on the Copper River under Seton Thompson (BOF). Pink salmon studies in southeastern Alaska began under Fred Davidson. Of the several various important stream weirs in Alaska, 10 were being maintained at this time.

In 1923 as part of an exhausting cross-country trek to meet Americans, Warren G. Harding became the first U.S. president to visit the Alaska territory. He delivered an ensuing public address on 27 July in Seattle, Washington. In his speech Harding stressed the importance of the Alaska fisheries industry, whose current product value is "more than double that of all metals and minerals", and called for conservation of the Alaska salmon through enforced regulations. Having strained health, President Harding died suddenly 6 days later.

With a focus on conservation through regulation, the 6 June 1924 Alaska Fisheries Act (White Act) amending the 26 June 1906 act, was passed by Congress and approved by U.S. President Coolidge. This new act (and its later revisions) authorized the Secretary of Commerce to limit catches, set seasons, and restrict (but not limit the amount of) gear in respect to the taking of all fisheries products from U.S.-controlled Alaska waters. It set a 50% escapement level for streams where fish could be counted or reliably estimated. The act also allowed Bureau employees to serve as peace officers, with powers to arrest persons and seize property in violation of the act. Bureau of Fisheries Commissioner Henry O’Malley then visited Alaska from July to September of 1924 to gather first-hand knowledge of the fisheries, so to best advise on any additions or modifications to the act.

The following year, the International Pacific Salmon Investigation Federation was established to address regional fishery problems through coordinated research and discussion. The organization consisted of the Bureau of Fisheries, the Biological Board of Canada and fish commissions from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

By the end of the decade, enforcement of Pacific salmon regulations was emphasized in 1929, when the Bureau employed 228 agents using 24 vessels. The experimental use of aircraft – a seaplane used by Bureau agents from Juneau and Ketchikan – was also introduced as an auxiliary patrol for the protection of the Alaskan fisheries.

Other significant events:

  • 1920 - On 31 May, an act was passed transferring the Agriculture Department's jurisdiction over walruses and sea lions in Alaska to the Department of Commerce. New regulations were approved by the Secretary of Commerce governing the killing of these animals within the territorial limits of Alaska.
  • 1920 - An elaborate plan was initiated by which certain vessels provided by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey were assigned to fishery patrol work in Alaska. The commanding officers and other officers were authorized to conduct searches, arrests, and seizures in connection with enforcing the laws and regulations.
  • 1920 - A stable elevated tripod platform for counting fur seals on the Pribilof Islands was used experimentally for the first time. It proved far superior to any elevating structure previously tried.
  • 1920 - In the Bristol Bay district, the Bureau of Fisheries and local salmon packers organized a cooperative expedition to eliminate predatory fishes in certain waters of the region.
  • 1923 - An investigation of the resources and biology of Alaska clams began and continued through 1924. These studies showed that in comparison with clams on the Washington coast, Alaska clams were fewer in number and grew significantly slower, requiring roughly twice the time to reach a marketable size. They were also less resistant to heavy fishing and slower to return to productivity when depleted.
  • 1924 - A 7 June act for the protection of the North Pacific halibut fishery became effective, establishing for the first time an annual closed season (for 3 months, beginning mid-November) on halibut fishing for U.S. and Canadian vessels. This legislation was provided for in the North Pacific Halibut Treaty, resulting from the 2 March 1923 convention between the U.S. and Great Britain.
  • 1924 - Bureau of Fisheries Assistant Agent E. M. Ball directed the preliminary studies of the shrimp fishery in Southeast Alaska, concerning the location, movements, and spawning period of shrimp, as well as improvements to fishing gear.
  • 1924 - Henry O'Malley, Bureau of Fisheries Commissioner and a member of the Halibut Commission, sent BOF biologist Harlan Holmes to Seattle to find working space for the Bureau. A small staff of Bureau employees worked at the University of Washington's Fisheries Hall, Number 4, until construction of the Montlake Laboratory was completed in 1931.
  • 1925 - Fishery research biologist George A. Rounsefell's annual biological herring investigations at several Alaska areas began in the spring. During the following year, studies became more extensive and a program started for the tagging of herring and subsequent tow-net collection of larvae. Rounsefell stated; "The growing use of herring for food and manufacture into oil and meal has aroused considerable anxiety concerning the danger of depletion."
  • 1926 - A detailed annual study of razor clam beds began in Alaska, in which collected data on growth rate was used to regulate the fishery based on the understanding of their life history.
  • 1926 - The extensive robbery of fish traps in Alaska was potentially curtailed by a 16-17 September trial ruling (United States v. Val Klemm, et al.), which defined that fish trap owners have legal property ownership over the fish caught within their traps while still in the water. This was not the general impression prior to the case. The defendants were found guilty of larceny and sentenced to 3 years in a federal penitentiary.
  • 1926 - Technological studies began on how to utilize the wastes and by-products that are generated during the short Pacific salmon canning season. That year, a record 6,652,882 cases of Alaska canned salmon were produced.
  • 1927 - The continued destruction of predatory trout near the Bureau's Yes Bay and Afognak hatcheries proved beneficial to the rearing of salmon fry.
  • 1928 - A very large Pacific herring return in the Aleutian Islands led to the development of a major fishery based in Dutch Harbor. Simultaneously there was a major collapse of the herring fishery in Southeast Alaska.
  • 1928 - The International Fisheries Commission issued its first report on Pacific halibut. Studies continued on the collection of eggs and larvae and environmental parameters.

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1930-1939  >>

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