Oregon pilchards and California sardines

It’s suddenly spring and I have two taCoos Bay Harborlks coming up, so I’ve been scrambling to pull together some additional information on the early Oregon fisheries. I’m speaking on Thursday, May 6, at the Mill Casino in Coos Bay, as part of a fund-raiser for the Coos Bay museum. The curator, Vickie Wiese, sent me some wonderful old photographs to use in the talk. I am posting two of them: the Coos Bay boat basin in the early 1930s (it’s undated), and a second shot of a purse seiner that is almost sinking at the dock with the weight of the catch. As you can see, it’s labeled one night’s fishing for pilchards in Coos Bay, Oregon.

            As I’ve already written, anthropologist Janet Gilmore says ocean fishing off Oregon took off after 1935, when four processors from California arrived in Coos Bay, accompanied by a fleet of 7

One night's fishing

One night's fishing

5 purse seine boats.[1] According to Pacific Fisherman, the four processors were from Monterey, and one of them included Kurt Hovden, who is mentioned in my review of Connie Chiang’s book, Shaping the Shoreline.  Hovden, a graduate of a Norwegian fisheries school in 1905, is credited with modernizing the California sardine industry. He’s an interesting example of the speed with which technology traveled within the industry.

            Having read Arthur McEvoy’s wonderful book, The Fisherman’s Problem, I know the outlines of the California sardine story. But it was extremely interesting to read the 1934 issues of PF and catch the headlines, “Reduced Abundance of Sardines Predicted by California Officials.”[2] The November, 1934 issue carried a story, “Astonishingly Heavy Sardine Fishing Hangs Up New Reduction Records.”[3]

             “With every record smashed to bits, the California sardine reduction industry wound up 1934 and, with scarcely a halt for the holidays, went into 1935 at a fast pace,” PF reported breathlessly in the 1935 Yearbook issue.[4] In all, there were 25 reduction plants operating in California, including four floating processors in Northern California. The industry produced 15 million gallons of oil and 3,405 tons of meal. Fishermen got $7 a ton; after August, the price went to $7.50 a ton.

“The fishermen did exceptionally well in spite of the fact that there was a very large concentration of gear,” especially in Monterey. The sardine oil sold for 17 cents a gallon, an increase over the 1933 price of 4 cents a gallon. The increase may have because the U.S. imposed an excise tax on fish oil.[5]

            It is against this backdrop that the four Monterey companies, looking for a new supply of fish, head north to sleepy little Coos Bay, Oregon. Oregon has recently passed a “pilchard law” that authorized the reduction of sardines, according to the May, 1935 issue.[6] But it frustratingly does not say who went to the legislature to get the law changed: was it the California companies? Or was it an Oregon company? Or agricultural interests? This is an area where I will do some additional research. Was there opposition to turning sardines into oil?

            By June, PF is reporting that the new season has started, with reduction plants operating in both Alaska and Oregon. “The venture into pilchards operations off the Oregon coast is a matter of the keenest interest to the industry and will be watched very closely indeed.”[7]  The same issue reports that three plants will be operating in Coos Bay and two on the Columbia River. The three Coos Bay plants will be operated by the Hovden Food Products Corporation, Cypress Fisheries (a subsidiary of the Del Mar Packing Corporation), and the North Bend Fisheries (a subsidiary of the San Carlos Canning Co.).  Pacific Sea Products, a subsidiary of Hovden’s, will operate on the Columbia, along with the Santa Cruz Oil Company, operating the floater “Lake Miraflores.”  Two local plants also intend to enter the reduction fishery.

            I’m eager to get a look at the coverage of the start of the pilchard fishery in the pages of the Coos Bay World. Certainly the photograph of the purse seine boat at the dock must have caused not just a local sensation. It’s impossible to read the name of the boat, but it might have been the Nordby, captained by Ed “Barren” Strand, who is pictured in a 1935 issue of PF and called one of the first to land pilchards in Oregon.

            Oregon and Washington were slow to move into the reduction business. A February, 1935 story reports that in 1925, a Washington attorney general issued an opinion that sardines were a food fish and that the law would have to be changed in order to reduce them for oil. There was no similar opinion in Oregon, but state law prohibited the operation of purse seiners in state waters, so the fishery had to be legalized. The ban on purse seining was a measure designed to prevent seining for salmon.[8]

            PF solved one of my questions: what’s the difference between a California sardine and an Oregon pilchard? Both are members of the herring family, Clupeidae, and young herring are known as sardines. This was according to Dr. W. A. Clemens, director of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. He wrote that B.C. the industry began in 1917 and expanded rapidly after 1925, when the fish were first reduced for oil and meal. Little is known of them biologically, except that they may spawn off California’s Santa Barbara in early June.[9]

            It would take another three years of work, up and down the coast, for scientists to conclude that the fish taken from California to Alaska, and known as both sardines and pilchards were the same fish, harvested throughout its range.       


[1] Janet Gilmore, A World of the Oregon Fishboat: A Study of Maritime Folklife, (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981, 1986), 42.

[2] Pacific Fisherman, February, 1934, 33.

[3] Pacific Fisherman, November, 1934, 46.

[4] Pacific Fisherman Yearbook, 1935, 47.

[5] Pacific Fisherman  Yearbook,  209.

[6] Pacific Fisherman, May, 1935, 63.

[7] Pacific Fisherman,  June, 1935, 59.

[8] Pacific Fisherman,  February, 1935, 54.

[9] Pacific Fisherman, February, 1934, 21.

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An Oregon Fishing Timeline

It’s been an exciting week for the Pacific Fishery History Project. Our partners from the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum were in Corvallis to meet with our Public History 299 class. The museum is planning a new exhibit on fishing in Coos Bay, to open in October. The first step is constructing a timeline and we’ve got two undergraduate history students starting to compile data.  When we get a little further along, we’ve be adding that link to our website. We hope that anybody who is interested in our project will contribute items. We want the timeline to be as comprehensive as possible, and to include events about fishing, but also about fishing history.

 I wrote a recent blog post about George Yost Harry and his 1956 dissertation on the trawl fisheries off Oregon. My friend Jean Dunn passed on Dr. Harry’s email address; he lives in Bellevue, and was kind enough to take the time to write me a lovely letter, that also lays out some of the details of his career. He includes some very valuable information on reports that he and Jergen Westrheim wrote about the trawl fishery in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Among the many things I did not know, Dr. Harry reports that he chartered a trawler in 1951 to search for pink shrimp off Oregon. “I remember well the thrill of seeing several boxes of pink shrimp at the landing,” Dr. Harry writes. The pink shrimp fishery didn’t take off immediately; it took the development of shrimp peeling machines to make the fishery viable.

It’s exciting to be in touch with Dr. Harry, and to know what he intends to be in Corvallis for the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon.  The Department is scheduling a birthday party on Oct. 10-11.


 This is a wonderful time to be working on fishing history.  The Internet makes so many resources available and there is enormous interest in fisheries history.  Among the most committed is Willis Hobart, the editor of the Marine Fisheries Review, published by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Thanks to his efforts, MFR offers the most substantive collection of articles on fisheries history, now available on their own website,


 All the material can be downloaded as pdf.  In addition to the link to these articles, all of the issues of the Fishery Bulletin are on line, back to the first issue in 1881.  Fishery scientists know about the MFR, but I’m not sure that historians are aware of it, and of the rich material it contains. It’s been published under various titles at different times; after World War II, it was the Commercial Fisheries Review. The volumes in those days contained a section that detailed the growth of fishing in various countries around the world. It was an invaluable resource when I was writing my dissertation and curious to know what was happening with boat construction in Japan and developments in fish processing capacity in Iceland (why on earth was I interested in fish processing in Iceland? Because the U.S. State Department was anxious to establish economic ties with Iceland and to continue using the air base they had constructed during the war. American financial aid played a substantial role in developing the post-war Icelandic fishing industry. Icelandic fish was exported to the U.S., and along with the greater volume of fillets from Canada, weakened the New England fishing industry. Icelandic fish sold in the U.S. was Icelandic fish not sold to the Soviet Union. When it comes to fish, there’s always more at stake than just protein). 

 Thanks to the information from Dr. Harry, I now know that in 1888, the U.S. Fish Commission sent its research vessel, the Albatross, to conduct investigations in the North Pacific Ocean during the fall of 1888 and the summer and fall of 1981. The summary of their findings was published in the Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, vol. viii, in 1888. The survey is described as “extensive,” but few fishing spots were developed.

 Launched in 1882, the Albatross was the world’s first large deep-water oceanographic and fisheries research vessel.  It had a distinguished 40-year career, and much of it was documented in a special issue of the Marine Fisheries Review, in 1999. The Review published the papers from a symposium on the Albatross, held at the University of Washington.  There are papers on the expedition to the Philippines in 1907, and a paper on Kumataro Ito, the Japanese artist who was part of the crew for the voyage. His detailed drawings of fish species are exquisite.

 All that information is available online, and makes a fitting start to our timeline on the development of the fishing industry on the Oregon coast.

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"An Enormous, Immensely Complicated Intervention"

dykstraThere is no question that fisheries management is “An enormously, immensely complicated intervention,” as Spencer Apollonio and Jacob Dykstra write in their new book about the New England Fishery Management Council. Both authors have long experience with the council: Dykstra was involved in creating the council and a member for seven years, while Apollonio is a marine biologist who has worked for a state management organization and the first director of the New England council. Their backgrounds are different but they are in agreement that the management system doesn’t work and they have written a book that explores why.

Their catchy title phrase comes from one of the best books about fishery management, Industry in Trouble, written by Margaret Dewar in 1983 about the New England fisheries.  

They are critical of Maximum Sustained Yield, or MSY, which is at the scientific heart of American fisheries management. They write that it systematically removes large, old, slow-growing fish from a population, leaving a preponderance of young, fast-growing fish. This will allow the population to reach its greatest natural rate of increase, thus providing the maximum sustainable harvest. The difficulty is that such an attenuated population can attain the largest growth rate, but it is not sustainable. The younger fish population may begin to oscillate, shifting the population into “a lower hierarchical level with inherently faster dynamics and greater instability and unpredictability,” (200). Multiple year classes lend stability to fish populations, allowing them to withstand disturbances, such as shifts in currents, temperatures, and food supply. Species that are long lived, with delayed maturity, naturally select for a population structure with multiple age classes. MSY, by reducing the number of year classes, works against evolutionary adaptation to the environment.

One of the consequences of this increased instability in species is that stock assessments are markedly expensive, as the authors point out.  They do not add that stock assessments can be notoriously inaccurate, especially when dealing with low stock sizes. Management, they write, “becomes ever more complex, burdensome, expensive, and confusing, with an increasing probability of decreasing efficacy,” (202).

Their solution is to move to an ecosystem based model, which would simplify the management process, while ensuring the protection of multiple year-classes that give the populations resilience.  The author do an admirable job up to this point, but how to get to an eco-system based management process is a little murky. Are we going to write MSY out of American fisheries management? I’m all in favor of that, but as they point out, it is “very probably politically unrealistic” to suppose MSY is going to be abolished anytime soon (223). And I certainly agree that its administrative limitations should be acknowledged (especially to the public, which is constantly told fisheries are managed on the best available science).  It would indeed be a useful exercise to think about a management model that could replace it. The thoughts of two individuals who have been so involved in fisheries management for so long would be useful here.

Apollonio and Dykstra believe that fisheries should be managed for sustainability, and this is best achieved by preserving the structure of fish ecosystems. In other words, as British scientist Michael Graham put it in 1943, in The Fish Gate, if you protect the fish stocks, you will protect the livelihood of fishermen. “Fisheries that are unlimited become unprofitable.”[1]

 Fishery scientists such as Graham hit on the key to fisheries management, but I argue that science was derailed by politics, between 1945 and 1955. MSY emerged from the bowels of the U.S. State Department, and while it was birthed by a scientist, Wilbert Chapman, let’s remember he was an ichthyologist, and that he crafted MSY as a political solution to a number of problems. Chapman believed that fishing stimulated fish populations, and that removing the older, slow-growing fish stimulated the production of younger, faster-growing individuals.[2]

That’s what we thought in 1949. It turns out to have been wrong, but by 1955, after the meeting of the International Technical Conference on the Conservation of the Living Resources of the Sea in Rome, MSY was established as the foundation for international fisheries management. It was adopted at the 1956 meeting of the International Law Commission, cementing its position as science, policy, and as a legal concept.

The science was wrong. And the history of American fisheries management is a history of reluctance to limit the number of fishermen, for ideological reason that are beyond the scope of this review.  As Apollonio and Dykstra point out, managers are exploring new ways of controlling effort, but the thinking is “largely fine-tuning and small variations on traditional themes,” (226). The whole problem requires new thinking and new concepts.

It also requires new science, based on what we know in 2010 (with the potential to make changes as we acquire more knowledge of ecoystems), not what we knew in 1949.


[1]Michael Graham, The Fish Gate, (London: Farber and Farber Ltd., 1943), 143.

[2] Wilbert M. Chapman, “United States Policy on High Seas Fisheries.” Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XX, No. 498, Jan. 16, 1949, 67-80.

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Research Projects

Coos Bay Museum

We’re going be starting work shortly with the Coos Bay Historical and Maritime Museum, as they work to put together a new exhibit on Oregon fishing history, designed to open in October of 2011. We’re really excited by this partnership and the opportunity to learn about fishing history for two different forums—a museum exhibit, and for this on-going web project.

The Coos County Historical Society was founded in 1891, making it the second oldest in Oregon. They have started fund-raising for a new museum, public plaza and wharf project on the Coos Bay waterfront, a $17 million project. It’s an exciting project and we’re thrilling to be a small part of it.


What we’re interesting in seeing is if this website can play a role in uncovering the history of fishing in Coos Bay. We’re hoping to post new information as we uncover it, and to seek responses from community members who might want to contribute their expertise and their thoughts about how one of the most dynamic industries in Coos County evolved—and continues to evolve.

Check back to see what we’ve discovered.

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Welcome To The Pacific Fishery History Project!

Fishing for stories,




People have fished for thousands of years but the history of fishing is really not well documented. There are an increasing number of books about individual fish, from salmon to tuna to Atlantic cod, but there are not many projects that try to look at how fisheries developed and interacted.

This is a pilot project of the Department of History at Oregon State University and Oregon Sea Grant, to bring together information on the fisheries history of the Pacific. We hope to establish a virtual community of people interested in the history of fishing throughout the Pacific.

The literature on the history of fishing is fairly sparse and its pretty fragmented. This is especially true of works on the history of fishing in the Pacific. There are many books dealing with salmon and tuna but my interest is the ocean fisheries, and development after the 1930s, when  marine refrigeration made it possible for boats to fish further from home and to stay longer at sea. The development of this technology linked fishing to foreign policy concerns for many nations, including the United States and Japan, as well as Canada, Russia, and Latin American countries, including Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Chile.

The story of the development of fishing in the West coast is part of several much larger set of stories-like the industrialization of the food supply, and unique position that fishing played during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But at the same time, it is the story of individuals, living in small coastal communities, trying to wrest a living from the sea, as people have done for thousands of year.

We are in the initial stages of trying to write this history. If you were involved in fishing along the Oregon coast, as a fishermen, a scientist, a wife, a child, coastal resident or just somebody interested in history, we invite you to visit and contribute to our Pacific Fishery History Project website.

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Dutch Herring, An Environmental History

Bo's coverDutch Herring, An Environmental History, Bo Poulsen, (Amsterdam: Aksant Publishing, 2008).

This is a totally cool book, one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read about fishing. I always assumed that the Dutch herring fishery, the largest and most sophisticated fishery in the world between 1600 and 1860, ended because of overfishing, and according to Poulsen, that’s wrong.   It’s much too simple an explanation.

Between 1550 and 1650, the Dutch Republic was the most modern economy and leading trading nation in Europe and the herring fishery played a vital role in this success. In the 1560s, a number of towns formed a political body, the College van de Grote Visserij, which was granted jurisdiction over the entire herring industry, from catching to processing, marketing, and distribution of salted herring. The College regulated the size and use of fishing gear and the length of the seasons, with the goal of upholding the quality of the best brand of salted herring in Europe.

Poulsen, who earned his doctorate at the University of Southern Denmark in 2006, learned Dutch so he could navigate the College’s vast historical archive for his historical reconstruction. Tax records from southern Netherlands towns provided precise landing records. Norwegian export statistics allowed for the reconstruction of salted herring production in Norway between 1650 and 1850. Export figures and accounts of fishing initiatives provided an overview of the Scottish herring fishery. English, German, and Danish statistics were also investigated.  Did the catches impact the North Sea herring biomass?  Poulsen argues they did not, and that even the high catches in the 1790s were well within the harvest limits established for the stock by ICES scientists today.

The enormous amounts of data allowed Poulsen to reconstruct the catch per unit effort (CPUE) of the Dutch herring fishery between 1600 and 1850, the longest time series of CPUE ever constructed. He’s also been able to document the trade routes for salted herring, patterns of consumption, and prices.  While Dutch herring originally dominated the market, over the decades Scottish, Danish, and Norwegian herring were important suppliers.

I was most interested in the management aspects of the fishery.  The College managed the fishery for almost 300 years, before it was dissolved in 1857. The College’s own records, along with the logbooks of fishermen and registers of landings, show that fishermen cooperated extensively and communicated with each other, in order to minimize the time spent seeking the fish.  Communication was a vital way of reducing costs. The Dutch had relatively free markets and a high level of social concern, with laws that upheld the negotiations of contracts and the material well being of citizens. Poulsen found extensive information on the types of boats and fishing gear, and it is important to note that the technology was relatively stable, with few innovations that would drive the over-capitalization of modern fishing boats.  Most importantly, the College limited the number of licenses, ensuring their monopoly, but also creating a framework where fishermen could trust each other’s information.

So why did the fishery fail?  There are five main hypotheses. The North Sea was a frequent theatre of war during the Early Modern period, and piracy was a constant tension.  Technology could also have been a factor. While the Dutch excelled in creating an effective institutional framework in the sixteenth century, the College failed to keep pace with innovations elsewhere. Competition from Scotland was also a factor. While Dutch herring was a premium product, it was relatively high priced. Changes in diet at home may have also weakened the market. The European population was growing and per capital consumption of herring declined. The catch rates also declined, suggesting a change in the herring migration, or, as Poulsen puts it, a loss of relative spatial advantage. The Dutch boats had to travel far from home to make their catches; the boats from the Scottish mainland had an advantage because the fish were close to shore in the Shetlands. There were other shifts in relative spatial advantage over time.

As Poulsen points out, “The historical system of herring exploitation consists of interactions between a very dynamic natural system and a highly dynamic anthropogenic system,” (234).   The stock fluctuated and migrated. Policies shifted, tastes changed, fishing expanded elsewhere, the glory days of the Dutch fishery waned.

But the Dutch fishery was sustainable for almost three hundred years, a remarkable achievement.  Poulsen confines himself to his data and does not expand on why the fishery was sustainable, beyond saying, “Quite unlike modern fisheries management, collaboration in the early modern Dutch herring fishery abided virtually the same fishery laws for three centuries,” (21).  But there is another important component here, fishermen undoubtedly tried to catch as much fish as they could, but the fishery remained undercapitalized, at least in the terms of modern fisheries economics.  More boats could have entered the fishery at various points, and they might have been as successful as the rest of the fleet.

The fishery was successful because the College tightly regulated it. Or, as British scientist Michael Graham put it in his 1943 classic The Fish Gate, “Fisheries that are unregulated become unprofitable.”[1] As modern American fisheries management has come to be practiced, there are no restrictions on entry as fisheries develop. It is only once MSY is exceeded, then established, that managers implement gear and time restrictions, as they allocate the catch among competing users groups.

Dutch Herring is a truly remarkable work, an integration of science and policy into fisheries.  I wanted a little more information about the role of the fishery in creating the wealth of the Dutch Golden Age. While Poulsen harnesses a raft of data about the fish, there is not much about the individual fishermen. The fishery may have been successful, but according to other sources, fishermen themselves didn’t make much money. Fishing has always been a difficult and dangerous occupation, regardless of how successful the crews were at catching fish.

While Poulsen integrates his analysis into science, he is less anchored in history. There were other stable trading groups during the early modern period (see Before European Hegemony: The World System A.C. 1250-1350, by Janet Abu-Ludhod), although I am sure that none were as centered on one commodity as salted herring. And it would be interesting to compare the actions of the College with Japanese communal fishery regulation during the same period. Both the Dutch and the Japanese conducted their fisheries to achieve certain social goals, and the well-being of not just fishermen, but also communities.

Poulsen’s work has been partially funded by the History of Marine Animal Populations, and he illustrates a central concern of HMAP members, that fishery collapse involves more factors than just fishing.  In some ways, I increasingly think that just catching the fish is least important part of our interactions with fish. The profit is in the processing, marketing, and distribution, as the College knew for almost three hundred years.

[1] Michael Graham, The Fish Gate, (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1943), 155.

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Shaping the Shoreline, by Connie Y. Chiang

chiang coverShaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast, Connie Y. Chiang, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008).

There is always tension between the fishing and tourism industries. The tourists like to have a bit of the industry atmosphere (scenic boats at anchor) but not too much atmosphere (no smells). The industry generally curses the tourists, but recognizes that visitors play an important role in sustaining the local economy, which often means  not being able to find a parking spot near the dock.  When the two industries collide, as they have done in spectacular fashion in Monterey, California, over the last century, it can make for not only interesting history, but insightful marine policy.

Connie Chiang takes a look at the two industries, from the days of 1879 when Robert Louis Stevenson extolled the “spectacle of Ocean’s greatness,” to the present, where the Monterey Aquarium draws millions of visitors a year to its site on an old sardine cannery. It’s easy for the industries to be critical of each other, but as Chiang points out, the development of both industries show how deeply entangled social and environmental histories can be. Each industry jostled for control over the coastline, seeing it as a commodity that could be controlled and marketed to consumers. The two industries are far more entangled that they might seem, and they have more in common than initially meets the eye.

The first immigrant fishermen at Monterey were the Chinese, who arrived in 1853 to harvest abalone. They soon expanded to harvesting kelp, rockfish, cod, halibut, squid, and shark. Some of the fish were dried, and the smells brought complaints from the Pacific Improvement Company, set up in the mid 1890s to market the bay to private landowners and tourists. The company built the swank Hotel Del Monte, the “Queen of American Watering Places.” Fishing and tourism were both firmly rooted in the community.

The fishing side got a boost from the state in 1868, when it conferred leased title to the shorefront, and a second boost in 1900s when a Norwegian, Knut Hovden, arrived and organized the sardine industry. Educated at the National Fisheries College in Bergen, Hovden worked in Liverpool and other cities as a fisheries engineer and technician. He started a salmon smokehouse at Kalama, Wa., then traveled to Monterey and went to work modernizing the industry.   The canneries could process more fish, placing demands on fishermen to bring in more sardines. The Italians, primarily from Sicily, dominated the sardine fishery, but there were also Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese working on the waterfront. With the need for protein during World War I, the sardine fishery was the largest in the U.S.  Production boomed—and so did the smells and the conflict with the tourist industry.  But the tourists were also dumping untreated waste into the bay’s waters, drawing the concern of scientists. As Arthur McEvoy detailed in The Fisherman’s Problem, state scientists warned the sardines were being overfished; federal scientists supported the industry in arguing the fluctuations in the catch were not a cause for concern.

Chiang provides a useful chapter on the role of fisheries during World War II, a subject that is well worth investigating, since federal actions played a large role in the decline of sardine stocks.  The government thattook over production, setting high quotas for canned sardines.  At the same time, it ordered the removal of the Japanese fishermen and cannery workers. The larger fishing boats were requisitioned for military shore patrol. The 1946 season was a disaster

In the middle of the dispute was a local scientist, Edward F. Ricketts, who ran a biological supply house. In 1940, he and his friend, the writer John Steinbeck, chartered a Monterey seiner, the The Western Flyer, and mounted an expedition in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Based on Ricketts’s writing and journal, Steinbeck published Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, in 1941. Steinbeck followed with Cannery Row, written in 1945, based on the sardine fishery and the eccentric characters that lived in the community. The literary landscape soon replaced the real one. The tourists thronged to Monterey but Cannery Row was a ghost town; the sardines had gone.

Cannery Row Square, a shopping mall created out the former canneries, opened in 1972, a sign of the transformation of the waterfront from industrial center to tourist destination.  As Chiang writes, despite the absence of sardines, city planners “endeavored to make the name and legend of cannery Row an enduring physical reality along the coastline,” (153). When the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in 1984, 30,000 people gathered for the celebration and the aquarium proclaimed, “The Fish are Back.”

The aquarium revised Cannery Row by re-creating the bay and enclosing it in acrylic panels.  It was built on the site of the former Hovden cannery, where “this vestige of industry enclosed a place where mostly white visitors of comfortable means encountered nature and expressed their environmental values,” (156).  The success of the aquarium brought a new set of conflicts between residents and visitors. “Whereas the cannery processed sardines for a wide range of consumers, the aquarium transformed marine life in order to provide a stimulating educational experience for mostly white, well-heeled tourists intent on combining their leisure activities with their green values. Nature was a vital resource in both the cannery and the aquarium, but the aquarium packaged it in a different form, to different ends, and for different people,” (181).

In 1999, California Fish and Game biologists reported that the sardines were indeed back. A quota of 204,844 tons was set for 2000, but most of the fish were landed at Moss Landing.

As Chiang points out in her conclusions, it is increasingly easy to reinforce the oversimplified dualities in describing the human interactions with the natural environment. As this important and well-written book shows, the interactions are complex and subtle, and an understanding of the history is vital to understanding the present.

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Oregon's Fishery for Mink Food

flatfish1You never know what you’re going to find when you start poking around in history. I didn’t expect to find that one of the important events in the development of the Oregon trawl fishery was to be a cheap source of protein for mink farmers. Or, that mink farming was taught at Oregon State University. These pictures are from the Oregon State University archives, taken some time in the 1950s.

One of my favorite documents is the “Analysis and History of the Oregon Otter-Trawl Fishery,” the 1956 dissertation by George Yost Harry III, for the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington. It’s filled with interesting bits of information; the first beam trawl was used on the Carrie B. Lake, off the Columbia, in 1884. Most of the early voyages were failures because of the lack of markets.

Also interesting fact is that the Albatross, the U.S. Fish Commission vessel built under the guidance of Spencer Fullerton Baird, caught sand dabs with a beam trawl off Yaquina Head in 1914. According to Pacific Fisherman, “ultimately this will be one of the most profitable species taken from these banks as the demand for them from San Francisco is very heavy at present, and the same will be true elsewhere on the Pacific Coast when their excellent eating qualities become better known.”
According to Harry, the first Oregon mink ranch was established about 1925. Mink were fed horse meat, and incidentally caught fish, such as starry flounder (taken by gillnetters). During the war, there was an excellent market for bottom fish, so the fillet plants were able to sell their discards to the mink farmers. The market slowed again after the war, and cheap fish carcasses were scarce once again. There were about 200 mink farmers in Oregon by 1949, and the industry was worth an estimated $2 million, making it a relatively large industry–and one that was dependent on a cheap supply of food.

Researchers began studying the mink fishery in 1948. One of the first tasks was to figure out what kinds of whole fish were being used as mink food. Harry’s dissertation doesn’t say so, but the samples were probably taken by a new graduate from the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington, Jergen Westrheim. Jergen, who is retired from Fisheries and Ocean, lives in Nanaimo, and we talked a couple of years ago about the early days of his career. Astoria was a hotbed of fishing activity. In addition to the fishery for mink food, there was a fishery for soupfin sharks (Galaerhinus zyopterus), which were caught for their livers, which had high levels of vitamin C. Oregon landings peaked in 1943, with 270,000 pounds landed. The next year, landings sank to 50,000. The market disappeared, once scientists learned to synthesize vitamins.

The Oregon Fur Producers Association opened a plant at Astoria in 1951, to process scrap fish from the otter trawl fishery.

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The World of the Oregon Fishboat: A Study in Maritime Folklore

The World of the Oregon Fishboat: A Study in Maritime FolkloreJanet C. Gilmore, The World of the Oregon Fishboat: A Study in Maritime Folklore, (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986).

The most comprehensive look at fishing in Oregon was produced in 1986, by Janet Gilmore, produced out the research she did while teaching a class in folklore at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology during the 1975. Her students began bringing her information about the fishing fleet. Gilmore was soon hooked on finding out more about the industry. She moved to Charleston, found a part-time job to finance her research, and set to work inventorying and cataloging the boats moored around the bay. She had the invaluable assistance of Paul Heikkila, who was the Coos Bay Sea Grant Extension Agent at the time. As Gilmore put it, her book concentrates “within the sphere of relationships and communicative behavior that integrates the world at sea with the world ashore through the medium of the fishboat (16).”

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