The U.S. Bureau of Fisheries opens its main Pacific research laboratory, now known as NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, at Montlake in Seattle on May 22, 1931.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 10/30/2012
  • Essay 10238

On May 22, 1931, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries opens its main Pacific research laboratory, now known as NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, in Seattle. The laboratory, located at 2725 Montlake Boulevard E, takes over much of the work previously done at a field station at Stanford University. Seattle was selected as the site of the new lab because of its proximity to the Pacific fishing fleet headquarters. The Montlake laboratory will take  a key role in Pacific fisheries research and in the study of fish passage over the Columbia River dams. The lab will be renamed the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in 1988 and will continue through the present (2012)  to occupy its original 1931 building plus several newer buildings on its Montlake campus.

Scientific Headquarters of the Fishing Industry

The public was welcomed to the new lab in an open house event attended by U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Commissioner Henry O'Malley (1876-1936), U.S. Senator Wesley Jones (1863-1932), and Miller Freeman, editor of the Pacific Fisherman journal. The scientists and researchers trickled in to their offices all summer, because by May 1931, many of them were already out at their summer field stations in Alaska and the Columbia River. Among the first to move into the new building were Ed Power, George Rounsefell, Edwin Dahlgren, and Joseph Craig, the lab's new director.

O'Malley, in his official report to the Secretary of Commerce, wrote, "The completion of a modern laboratory at Seattle, Wash. provides much needed facilities for the Pacific Coast biological staff of the bureau as well as for certain of its other personnel and the staff of the International Halibut Commission" (Report, p. ii and iii). The Halibut Commission, also known as the International Fisheries Commission, moved into its offices in July 1931.

The new laboratory had been considered a feather in Seattle's cap since June 1930 when a bill approving the new lab had been signed into law. The Seattle Times said that it would assure that "Seattle will be made the scientific headquarters of the fishing industry" ("New Laboratory").

Architect John Graham Sr. (1873-1955) designed the three-story structure. He also designed the neighboring Seattle Yacht Club. The laboratory was located on federal government land known as the "Old Lake Washington Canal right of way" (Report, p. xi).

Sources: Report of the Commissioner United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1931 With Appendixes, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, (Washington D.C. United States Government Printing Office, 1931), accessed online at United States Fish Commission Annual Reports, NOAA Central Library website accessed October 28, 2012 (; Clinton E. Atkinson, "The Montlake Laboratory of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and Its Biological Research, 1931-1981," Marine Fisheries Review, Vol. 50, No. 4 (1988), p. 97, accessed online at (; "New Laboratory Soon To Be Built," The Seattle Daily Times, September 3, 1930, p. 1; "Early Start On $125,000 Job on Federal Unit," The Seattle Daily Times, September 7, 1930, p. 34.

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