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Fisheries Historical Highlights: 1930s

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Dory fishermen


The small coal-burning steamer Phalarope under the command of Capt. R. N. Veeder, was used for collecting trips to fish traps, or for dredging or taking plankton samples around Woods Hole.

The Sockeye Salmon Fisheries Convention is signed to address conflicts between U.S. and Canadian fishermen in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, where they compete for sockeye salmon bound for the Fraser River in B.C. Despite the Convention, questions remain unresolved, including the role of the Commission in regulation of the fishery, the division of catch between the fishermen of the two countries, and the agencies responsible for investigations. Bureau studies of the fishery would begin in 1931.

Although law enforcement work has long been a part of many U.S. Fish Commission and Bureau activities, an official Division of Law Enforcement, is not set up until this year.

On May 21st, the Preservation of Fishery Resources Act (Mitchell Act) is passed to provide for the conservation of the fishery resources of the Columbia River.

A new Act (H.R. 7405) is approved, authorizing construction of more than 25 Bureau fish culture stations, three new laboratories, and two fish distribution railroad cars over the next 5 years.


Victor Loosanoff with starfish catch

Victor Loosanoff is hired by Paul Galtsoff (now lab director) to go to Milford and work with the oyster industry. Loosanoff would eventually become, along with Galtsoff, a world-class expert on oyster culture.

Rachel Carson is hired by the Bureau's Chesapeake Bay Investigations Division as a biologist.

Biologist William C. Herrington begins his studies of haddock in the Gulf of Maine, incorporating both fishery dependent and independent information. This work is the foundation for the longtime series of information on haddock response to fishing effort in this highly productive region.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution  building

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is established with H.B. Bigelow as its first director.

The Bureau's Montlake Laboratory opens on May 22nd in Seattle. Present at the Open House are Henry O'Malley of the Bureau: Miller Freeman, editor of the Pacific Fisherman; and U.S. Senator Wesley Jones, author of the Jones Act; as well as local Bureau staff members and International Fisheries Commission (commonly known as the Halibut Commission) staff. A 1931 reponse by O'Malley states:

... Personnel and equipment of the Stanford field station were transferred to the new Fisheries Biological Laboratory in Seattle, along with all of the Bureau's Pacific biological investigations dealing with Pacific coast fishery problems, except shellfish and the cooperative work on Calfornia trout...

The Halibut Commission moves to the Montlake facility in July.

A study of the biology of Puget Sound runs of sockeye salmon begins under the direct supervision of Montlake Laboratory director Joseph Craig.

A small, short-term Rogue River steel head trout tagging operation is started in the winter of 1930-31 and completed in 1931.

An extensive herring tagging program begins in southeastern Alaska using the new metal "belly" tag which can be recovered by a magnetic detection system on the conveyer belts at processing plants. Ed Dahlgren's ideas led to the development of this tag, and he also devised and developed the electronic and magnetic systems for recovering the tagged herring or the tags as they passed through the reduction plant.

More than 4,100 flounder are tagged and released during an investigation into their migratory patterns near the Woods Hole Laboratory.


The Bureau's long-sought experimental station for fish disease research is set up at Leetown, West Virginia.


A cooperative project between the Bureau, Cornell University, and the State of New York results in an experimental laboratory for fish nutrition research at Cortland, NY

The Bureau's Beaufort Laboratory is seriously damaged by a hurricane on September 16th- later the Public Works Administration provides funds to hire workers and restore buildings and equipment.

Lauren Davidson is appointed Montlake Laboratory director and focuses on statistical analysis of fisheries research. He hires a statistical analyst, and, at about the same time, the Halibut Commission begins to apply Baranof's theory of fishing to the regulatory problems of the halibut fishery.

The Alaska Territorial Civil Works Administrator is authorized to furnish the Bureau with 198 unskilled laborers to improve salmon spawning streams in southeast Alaska.


Temporary field facilities for pink salmon survival studies are built on Sashin Creek near the Little Port Walter Field Station in southeastern Alaska. They include the weir cabin, built in Seattle, barged to Alaska, and still in use in 1995.

The Columbia River Investigations program begins at the Montlake Laboratory and is closely associated with the water use development program for the Columbia River basin. An early and major part of the program is a comprehensive survey of all accessible salmon streams in the Columbia system.

Bureau coho salmon researchers in Puget Sound, Wash., study the relationship between the release time of young salmon from the hatcheries and the ultimate number of returns of adults.

On March 10th, Public Law 732 is enacted to provide for the mitigation of losses to fish and wildlife caused by Federal government construction.


The Bureau begins large-scale tagging experiments on white shrimp, and Peterson disc tags are used to determine growth rates and alongshore movements. Later, scientists would use biological stains and numbered internal plastic tags to mark the shrimp.

Initiative 77 is passed by the Washington State Legislature to eliminate all fixed fishing gear (i.e. traps and set nets) from state waters and divide the Puget Sound fishing area into an inner area for gill nets and an outer area for all remaining legal gear

Rachel Carson is recruited by Elmer Higgins, head of the Bureau's Division of Scientific Inquiry, to write scripts for some Bureau radio broadcasts on marine life. She would serve with the Bureau until 1952.


The Sockeye Salmon Fisheries Convention between the U.S. and Canada is ratified by the U.S. Senate; ratification documents are exchanged between the countries in 1937.

Frederick F. Fish, stationed at the Bureau's Leetown, W.V., hatchery, reports that an epidemic of blue sac is causing heavy losses among the brook and brown trout fry.


By Congressional mandate, the Bureau establishes the South Pacific Investigations Program at Stanford University to study the decline in the California sardine fishery. This program is the foundation of the California Cooperative Sardine Research Program which would later become the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program.

California Current Resources Laboratory (CCRL), one of the forerunners of today's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, is established at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., with O. E. Sette as Director

The U.S. Congress appropriates funds for a Fishery Market News Service in the Bureau of Fisheries

A U.S. Canada treaty sets up the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission to manage those regional fisheries and coordinate extensive salmonid research programs. W. F Thompson is Director of investigations.


1938 Hurricane at Fisheries Lab

A hurricane and its accompanying storm wave demolishes many of the Woods Hole lab facilities, but equipment and boats are relatively undamaged.

An expansion of the Alaska fishery research program at the Seattle Montlake Laboratory begins with a large, comprehensive two-part program of study on the salmon runs in the Bristol Bay area of the Bering Sea. A field station and experimental area are established on Brooks River. One part studies the freshwater life history of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon and the environmental factors affecting their survival. The other part studies the ocean life history of salmon and is done in close cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard using the cutter Redwing. The studies end in 1941 with the outbreak of WWII and Japan's invasion of the Aleutian Islands.

Congress authorizes $25,000 to establish a fishery laboratory at Little Port Walter, Alaska.


The Bureau of Fisheries is transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Bureau's monthly publication Fishery Market News begins in January as "a review of conditions and trends of the commercial fisheries."

Harlan Holmes, an expert on fish passage, becomes Biologist-in-charge of the new Hydraulic Engineering Section at the Montlake Laboratory. The section is to review all Federal power permit applications and develop, design, and restore needed fish-passage structures and de- vices including fish screens on the Columbia River.

The first trial marking of sardines results in a 10% recovery of 964 metal tagged sardines recovered by magnets.

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