ICHORA 2020, DAY 3: Adam Kriesberg and Jacob Kowall, “Fisheries Research and the Data Legacy of the Cold War”

Note: This presentation was part of a three-person panel entitled “Histories of Data Archiving: From Fisheries Research to Cybernetics.”

In an era in which climate change is a prevalent topic for overlapping groups of government scientists and historians [1], the fact that the presentation of Dr. Adam Kriesberg and Jacob Kowall (both of Simmons University), entitled “U.S.-Soviet Joint Fisheries Research and the Data Legacy of the Cold War,” might easily have been presented in a conference on environmental history, or one on the history of the U.S. federal government, points to its interdisciplinarity. Kriesberg and Kowall relate the history of a “generally productive” research collaboration between U.S. and Soviet fish scientists during the late 1960s and much of the 1970s. They argue that scientists in both countries had to overcome differences in scientific tools and methods of data collection, such as the lack of a standard fish net and methods of data exchange, in order to produce usable standards of measuring sustainable management of the North Atlantic fisheries.

Established in 1950, the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries was an intergovernmental agency resulting from the signing of treaties between various nations which had an economic interest in regulating the commercial fishing of international waters that lay “west of 42º W longitude, [and] between 39º W and 78º 10’N latitude,” later extended southward to 35º N latitude. [2] By the 1960s, the USSR had signed a treaty to join the Commission. Working out of the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, which was brought under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in 1973, the American scientists who worked with their Soviet counterparts produced a body of analog and digital records, which still today remain useful to scientists studying changes to the world’s oceans and climate. Later, in 1988, the United States and the USSR signed an “Agreement between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Mutual Fisheries Relations,” indicating the long lasting importance of collaborative fisheries science to both countries.

From their analysis of primary sources in the U.S. National Archives [3] and the digitized materials presented on the website of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), Kriesberg and Kowall point out the fragility of federal science research, both at the moment of its creation and throughout its curation. While they do not explicitly argue that the history of the management of scientific data is a part of archival history, the presence of this presentation at iCHORA 2020 suggests that the history of archives and information which crosses international borders – just as scientists have done for ages – is not easily contained or preserved within the data stored by any single national repository. It would be interesting, for example, for Kriesberg and Kowall to further their research by investigating how the Russian archival sources present and preserve the story of international fish management in the North Atlantic during the late twentieth century.


[1] Historian Helen M. Rozwadowski has written extensively on the subject of marine fisheries science in the twentieth century. See also Old Weather project.

[2] “History of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries – ICNAF years”, webpage accessed on February 20, 2021.

[3] Record Group 370, United States National Archives and Records Administration-Boston (physically located in Waltham, Massachusetts).


Dr. Eric C. Stoykovich

College Archivist and Manuscript Librarian, Watkinson Library, Trinity College (Hartford, CT)

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