Fisheries Historical Highlights: 1950s

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Fisherman offloading fish with a pitchfork


The International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF), a treaty organization, is set up on July 3rd to study and report on fisheries activities and fish stocks in more than two million square miles of ocean outside the territorial waters of the nations rimming the northwest Atlantic. Research activities for areas of U.S interest are largely headquartered at the Woods Hole Laboratory.

The Tuna Conventions Act of 1950 is passed to enforce international agreements on fishing rights, fishery management, and preservation.

The CCRL establishes a field station at Pt. Loma in San Diego, Calif., for CalCOFI ichthyoplankton work.

Columbia River research is focused almost exclusively on problems of fish passage at dams, especially in the diversion of downstream migrants away from turbine intakes and other sources of mortality.

A sixth regional fisheries office is established in Alaska to facilitate administration of the Territory's fisheries.

RV John N. Cobb

The RV John N. Cobb is commissioned with a public open house at Seattle, Wash.

A field station at Pascagoula, Miss., is established for fishing and gear research and to catalog marine fauna of southeastern regional waters.

Significant benefits from early Gulf of Mexico exploratory research surveys include extension of the brown and pink shrimp grounds, discovery of a royal red shrimp fishery, and establishment of a longline fishery for tuna and swordfish.

The RV Oregon becomes the first research vessel designed for exploration of marine fauna of southeastern waters; it pioneers marine research in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and tropical western Atlantic.


H.W. Graham becomes director of the Woods Hole station.

Tuna investigations begin in the northwest Atlantic, leading to a new and growing east coast tuna industry.


An oceanographer with the Honolulu Laboratory, Townsend Cromwell, discovers a major new ocean current, now named after him, in the tropical Pacific. It is about 3,000 miles long and carries more than 1,000 times the volume of the Mississippi River

The first ICNAF meeting


National Tuna Week, November 5-14 celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the tuna canning industry. In 1903, the entire U.S. tuna industry consisted of one cannery in San Pedro, Calif., supplied by a few boats fishing nearby waters.

Preliminary explorations for salmon in the offshore waters of the Aleutian Islands are made by the John N. Cobb, mainly to develop techniques for fishing salmon with gill nets on the high seas.

The International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean establishes the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission (INPFC)

The Annapolis Biological Laboratory is opened by the BCF.

Publication of fundamental work, "Fishes of the Gulf of Maine," a standard reference, By W.B. Schroeder and H.B. Bigelow


Hurricane Carol strikes Woods Hole, destroying much of the lab and its environs, the saltwater pipes and pumps, and resulting in closure of the public aquarium for several years.
Hurricane Carol strikes Woods Hole Hurricane Carol strikes Woods Hole Hurricane Carol strikes Woods Hole

J. Coulton and R. Marak begin plankton surveys of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank to determine the drift of eggs and larvae in the area.

Extensive population studies of sea scallops begun by J.A. Posegay.

The first factory trawler, the British vessel Fairtry, appears in international waters on the Grand Banks, ushering in the high-tech, high-volume fishing vessels that play a major role in declarations of 200-mile EEZs by countries of the NW Atlantic.

The 83rd Congress passes Public Law 466, popularly known as the Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Act, which sets aside funds for fishery-product and market research, fisheries development, and other research.

The Cooperative Game Fish Tagging North Program begins at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; it later will be transferred to the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center


The first survey to determine the distribution of salmon in the eastern North Pacific Ocean is made in the spring by John N. Cobb, and is followed later this year by similar cruises with two chartered halibut schooners, the Mikkov and the Paragon. The general distribution of North Pacific Ocean salmon will be firmly established by 1961.

The first coastwide samples from the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery are acquired; sampling is continuous during the next 40 years.

Congress appropriates money for rebuilding the Woods Hole lab after hurricane damage.

The Boothbay Harbor Lab is administratively separated from Woods Hole.


All biological research associated with the Alaska finfish fisheries (except that being performed for the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission) is transferred from the Montlake Laboratory in Seattle to Juneau.

From 1956 through 1964, the Montlake Laboratory studies and defines the biology and populations of king crab in the eastern Bering Sea.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establishes two bureaus-the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (BSFW) and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) with the Boothbay, Woods Hole, Milford, Boston, and Annapolis Labs going to BCF.


Scripps Tuna Oceanography Research (STOR), composed of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) oceanographers and largely supported by BCF, is established in La Jolla, Calif.

Following full reorganization of the USFWS early in the year, Donald L. McKernan is designated Director of the new BCF. The Bureau now has a headquarters and five regional organizations including 80 field installations, plus the Pacific Ocean Fishery Investigations office in Hawaii.

On February 9th a new interim North Pacific Fur Seal Convention is concluded by Canada, Japan, the USSR, and the United States similar to the 1911 Convention. Japan had withdrawn from the 1911 convention in 1941.

The Bureau's new Fisheries Loan Program begins operation late in the year, initially with assistance from the Small Business Administration.

BCF exploratory longline fishing in the North Atlantic reveals several species of tunas in an area north of their previously known winter ranges and within 15 hours sailing time of Massachusetts Nantucket Lightship.

shrimp boat

By the end of the year, a large number of Gulf of Mexico shrimpers have converted from single-trawl to the more efficient two-trawl rigs.

A new protocol to the U.S.-Canada Sockeye Salmon Convention of 1930 be- comes effective in July, extending the same type of protection to the pink salmon fisheries of the Fraser River system as that provided the Fraser's sockeye salmon runs.

Bureau exploratory fishing operations off Alaska locate new Pacific ocean perch and shrimp resources.

For the first time, shrimp discovered off Washington in earlier BCF research cruises by the John N. Cobb are fished commercially and landed.

BCF assumes the administration of the Columbia River Fishery Development Program which had begun in 1948. Construction begins on three new salmonid hatcheries and two major fishways. Program hatcheries release 65 million salmon and steelhead trout.

Exploratory research in the central, eastern, and northern Pacific reveals that Japanese and American fishermen are exploiting the same stocks of albacore.

Successful redfish tagging at Eastport, Maine, provides the first direct evidence that the growth rate of this species is extremely slow, less than one-sixth inch in 9 months.

scallop dredge

BCF research shows that the yield of sea scallops in the North Atlantic can be materially increased by regulating the sizes of the rings used in the scallop dredges.

New markets are found for Lake Erie rough-fish, as the pet-food and mink food industries take nearly the entire catch of freshwater sheepshead.

Bureau research conclusively shows that improved processing and packaging techniques can extend the storage life of frozen fishery products by many months. Bureau technologists publish a conprehensive five-part manual on handling, processing, freezing, storing, and distributing fresh-frozen and precooked and frozen fishery products, the only authoritative reference on all phases of the frozen fishery product industry.

Bureau home economists develop thorough series of fish and shellfish recipes for use by the Food Service Div of the Army and Air Force and by the Quartermaster Food and Container Institute of the Armed Forces

With fishing industry help, the Bureau organizes a safety program to reduce the number of accidents on fishing vessels.

The Bureau begins participation in the international Geophysical Year (IGY) operations as its Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations unit occupies an oceanographic station off Oahu, Hawaii.

The Bureau's Honolulu Biological laboratory initiates a program to study tuna behavior in their natural environment.


Hurricane Carol strikes Woods Hole

Construction at the Woods Hole station begins with demolition of old buildings.

A new laboratory is established in Pascagoula, Miss., for regional fisheries utilization research.

A July article in the Bureau's Commercial Fisheries Review by Charles Butler, entitled "Nutritional value of fish in reference to atherosclerosis and current dietary research," notes the early interest in heart disease and the eating of fatty foods, and discusses the implications of current knowledge of atherosclerosis as applied to the marketing of fish. An S-K study is initiated on the relationship of fish oils to circulatory diseases.

Congress passes the Alaska Statehood Act, and the new state will eventually be responsible for its fish and wildlife resources.

Japan agrees, under terms of the North Pacific Fisheries Convention, to abstain from salmon fishing on the high seas of the North Pacific east of long. 175 deg. W while research continues to determine the proper line to divide Asian and North American salmon stocks equitably.

The first United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea convenes in Geneva during February-May, with 86 nations participating. The U.S. delegation uses background documents on U.S. and world fisheries during the deliberations. For the first time, broad agreement is reached on a system of rules to guide nations toward preserving marine species. A fishery attache post is established in Tokyo in conjunction with the State Department Foreign Service Program.

Research shows that red salmon of the North American type appears to predominate in the North Pacific as far west as long. 175 deg. E.

The Bureau's Biological Laboratory at Stanford, Calif., obtains indices of air circulation changes over the North Pacific for a 32-year period (1926-57) and studies their effects on sea temperatures, up- wellinq, and fish populations.

A new fleet headquarters opens at Kewalo Basin for the 10-year-old Honolulu Biological Laboratory.

Research begins in Honolulu on the use of paper chromatography to identify adult tunas and tuna larvae. Bureau scientists continue their IGY participation by studying the Pacific Equatorial Undercur- rent (Cromwell Current), a newly discovered easterly flow beneath the Equator of about 30,000,000 m^3/second.

The Bureau's Galveston Biological Laboratory successfully tests a new shrimp-marking technique using vital stains which remain with the shrimp even as they molt. Research shows that Everglades bays are an important nursery area for the Tortugas pink shrimp and that brown and white shrimp peak in abundance at different seasons of the year.

Beaufort Biological Laboratory scientists develop a method for estimating the relative abundance of each new year class of menhaden prior to its entry into the commercial fishery, allowing accurate catch predictions for each year class.

Oxford MD Lab

The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries moves its laboratory in Annapolis to a site in Oxford, Maryland to be in a better site to investigate MSX disease, which has wiped out commercial oyster concentrations in Chesapeake Bay.

A Fisheries Technology Lab is opened in Ann Arbor.

Woods Hole Biological Laboratory scientists develop a method to determine the age of scallops using marks on the shell and ligament as annual rings.

A fluorinated nitrophenol chemical, discovered the previous year, is used to treat eight streams entering the Great Lakes. Developing lamprey larvae are killed, bringing hope for an effective control of this fish predator.

A prototype automatic deicing and weighing machine is developed and tested by Bureau technologists to increase efficiency of unloading fish at the dock.

Bureau scientists show that introducinq fish oils into the diet markedly reduces high serum-cholesterol levels; test animals also show more rapid growth rates than control animals. The researchers also develop an accurate method for measuring the nutritive value of fish meals through controlled-diet feeding studies.

A tilapia rearing program in Honolulu to provide baitfish for tuna vessels produces over 1,000,000 tilapia fry.

A new Biological Laboratory is set up in Washington, D.C., to study the mechanisms by which the elements of the marine environment affect commercially important fishes and invertebrates.


Two new fishways are completed on Columbia River tributaries for a total of 20 major fishways constructed since the Columbia River Fishery Development Program began in 1948.

La Jolla Biological Laboratory researchers design a high-speed plankton sampling device to study the continuous distribution of plankton in the environment of the sardine. And, using erythrocyte antigens as genetic indicators to study subpopulations, they find three sardine blood systems, designated A, B, and C.

An underwater viewing chamber is installed in the stern of the BCF vessel Charles H. Gilbert to facilitate tuna behavior studies.

Bureau insecticide reports show DDT is toxic to adult white shrimp at concentrations of 15 ppb; endrin and lindane are toxic to postlarval shrimp at 0.5 and 2.0 ppb, respectively; and endrin is also highly toxic to fish, killing the sailfin molly at 2.5 ppb.

Exploratory fishing operations off North Carolina find an extensive commerical hard-clam bed and sizeable concentrations of calico scallops.

A new test method to determine quality is developed at the Colleoe Md., Technology Laboratory and is put to use in the Bureau's inspection and certification service.

Bureau technologists at the Gloucester Laboratory demonstrate the practicality of using refrigerated sea water (RSW) to store whiting prior to processing.

On October 13th the "Don McNeil Breakfast Club Show" includes a fish for health message to 30 million listeners, announcing a major nutritional breakthrough resulting from Bureau- sponsored research which indicated the value of fishery products in lowering blood cholesterol levels.

"Outdoor Fish Cookery," a Bureau- financed motion picture, is honored with a showing at the 1959 American Film Festival.

A new Biological Laboratory is established at San Diego, Calif., to investigate tuna ecology and tuna fishing operations in the eastern Pacific and to apply specific oceanographic and biological findings to problems of the west coast tuna industry.

The South Atlantic fisheries exploration and gear research program begins.

The Bureau is called upon to intensify fishing treaty enforcement and foreign fishing surveillance in international waters, especially off the Alaska coast where Japan and Russia have concentrated their greatest fishing efforts.

Federal management of Alaska's commercial fisheries ends on December 31st as the new state's agency assumes that responsibility.

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