Fisheries Historical Highlights: 1940s

1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

women cutting fish


The 1940 Reorganization Plan No. III, effective June 30th, merges the Bureau of Fisheries and the Biological Survey as part of the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service; in addition, it provides for the establishment of five regional fisheries offices. The Bureau of Fisheries and Biological Survey groups would be separated again in 1956 as the renamed Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.

The Little Port Walter Station opens and as of 1995 is the longest continually operating fisheries research facility in Alaska.

Between 1872 and 1940, the Fish Commission/Bureau plants and distributes 200 billion fish and other aquatic animals in national and international waters.

The U.S. Congress appropriates $100,000 for a 1-year study of the potential of an Alaska king crab fishery. The report is favorable and provides many data on harvest areas, fishing gear, preservation, canning, and the fishery potential.

The Bureau's Alaska Technological Laboratory is set up in Ketchikan; it moves to Kodiak in 1971.

A fisheries utilization laboratory operates for a few years in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, during the 1940's.

The Woods Hole lab is closed, and the buildings occupied by the Navy until the spring of 1944. Limited scientific work continues in space borrowed from the MBL.


On October 23rd Japan terminates the international fur seal convention but protection for the Pribilol herd is arranged by a provisional agreement between Canada and the United States.

Rachel Carson's first book "Under the Sea Wind," is published just before Pearl Harbor is bombed. She continues her Federal service as an aquatic biologist until 1946 when she would become an information specialist and, later, editor-in-chief of the Information Division of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

William C. Herrington publishes his circular entitled "A crisis in the haddock fishery" based on 10 years of sampling and biological work conducted in cooperation with the fishing industry. The paper warned of the dangers caused by a developing market in baby haddock, a situation not unlike that caused by fish discards in the present era. Herrington maps out the likely results of removing large numbers of young fish with such precision that the description resonates in today's NW Atlantic haddock fishery.


"Fish for war is the present aim of the Fishery biological investigations of the [Fish and Wildlife] Service," states the Department's Annual Report.

Samuel F. Hildebrand moves to Smithsonian Institution's National Museum to continue his fish systematics and taxonomy work for the agency. This is the beginning of todays NMFS National Systematics Laboratory, part of the NEFSC until 1995.

A 108-page supplement to the May issue of the Fishery Market News reviews "The Alaska King Crab, noting that Alaska waters hold ... an enormous reserve of edible fish--notably sole and pollock--which is at present wholly underutilized"

"In every major war fought by the United States, the fishing fleet has formed a second line of naval defense, fishing boats and fishermen being employed in various capacities for patrol as mine sweepers in supplying protein food to the armed forces and the civilian population." Charles E. Jackson.

Original Milford Lab Original Milford Lab
Original Milford Lab

The first permanent station was built at Milford. After working out of a building donated and moved across the harbor by a local oyster company, the staff is presented with a real scientific laboratory.


During World War II, the agency's Ketchikan Laboratory is asked to investigate potential emergency sources of marine foods in case military activities in Alaska cause food shortages. It studies various sharks and the Steller sea lion as well as groundfish and shellfish.


A second hurricane ravages Woods Hole, destroying the docks, part of the seawall, and much of the roofs, windows, porches, and outer skins of Woods Hole buildings.

The War Food Administration frees sperm whale oil from restricted civilian use, allowing it to be used for grinding oils, carbon paper, mimeograph inks, typewriter ribbon, etc.

fish factory workers

The War Manpower Commission emphasizes the need "for encouraging employees to adapt more fishing jobs to the employment of women ... women can do much of the work in fish processing plants that formerly was considered for men only."

Selective Service State Directors are given authority to recommend draft exemptions for 18-25-year-old captains of fishing vessels of 20+ gross tons.

Of the 600 fishing boats requisitioned for emergency use by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, 142 are released to the War Shipping Administration by the military; 13 are returned to their original owners.

The dogfish shark, once considered a pest becomes the nation's chief source of vitamin A.


President Harry S. Truman issues a proclamation asserting U.S. jurisdiction "... over the natural resources of the continental shelf under the high seas contiguous to the coasts of the United States and its territories and providing for the establishment of conservation zones for the protection of fisheries in certain areas of the high seas contiguous to the United States."

The September issue of the agency's Fishery Market News publishes a warning to the fishing industry about a new pesticide: In spite of its apparent usefulness in improving sanitary conditions in such fishing industry plants DDT may have undesirable and even dangerous effects unless its use is properly controlled....~ Rachel Carson would later draw on such early Federal research in writing her acclaimed volume "Silent Spring."

Lionel Walford becomes Director of research and reorganizes the entire fisheries research program.

A study on the population dynamics of salmon spawning in the tributaries of the Columbia River begins with funding by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Operation Crossroads the nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll begins and Woods Hole Laboratory oyster expert Paul S. Galtsoff is an invited scientist on the project.


Rebuilding after the hurricane results in a useable lab and a small number of investigations resume.

A fisheries technology lab is established in Boston.

Julia childs doing tv show

Fish promotion and "home extension" type work by the bureau creates thousands of new fish recipes, puts on countless fish cookery demonstrations which taught America how to use fish.

While progress in establishing conservation zones in the Pacific and other waters to protect salmon and other fisheries is temporarily suspended, the State Department advises of its "Firm intention to resume attention to this highly important matter at the earliest possible opportunity."

The 80th Congress declares the policy of developing and maintaining the enormous and untapped high-seas fisheries resources of the tropical and subtropical Pacific territories. Public Law 329 leads to the formation of the Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations (POFI) unit and the construction of the agency's Honolulu Laboratory.


Intensified interest in health of fish stocks off New England results in transfer of fisheries investigation offices from Cambridge, MA to Woods Hole.

RV albatross 3

The Albatross III, formerly a steam trawler in the New England groundfishery, is commissioned in ceremonies at the Boston Fish Pier.

W.S. Royce becomes director of the Woods Hole station.

The Boston Technological Laboratory initiates a major study of freezing fish at sea.

The Columbia River Fishery Development Program begins.

The final draft is made of the convention forming the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) which will govern fishing in international waters of the North Atlantic until the middle 1970's.


Rachel Carson  and others onboard a boat

Rachel Carson (center), then chief editor of publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Marie Rodell become the first women to spend more than a few hours aboard a U.S. fisheries research vessel. They reported on the 10-day cruise to Georges Bank. [Contrary to what is often reported, Carson never worked at the fisheries lab in Woods Hole. She was, however, at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole while she was a graduate student, beginning in 1930.]

The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI), a consortium of industry, university, state, and Federal agencies, is established to investigate causes of the collapse of the Pacific coast sardine fishery.

Delegate E. L. Bartlett of Alaska introduces a bill in Congress to provide for the gradual reduction and ultimate elimination of salmon traps in Alaska waters; a Department of Fisheries is created by Alaska's Territonal Legislature.

Link disclaimer | Email webmaster | Privacy policy |     File Modified Feb 16, 2018