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Ben Jones, 1926 - 2007

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Ben Jones, former Deputy Director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and respected administrator of Federal and international fisheries programs, died 12 December 2007 in Bothell, Washington, shortly after diagnosis of a very aggressive form of cancer.

Named after his Oregon statesman grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Jones was born in Newport, Oregon, on 3 June 1926, and spent most of his life on or near the Pacific Ocean. He grew up in communities along the Oregon coast and after graduating from high school enlisted in the Marine Corps and participated in Allied Forces landings at several locations in the South Pacific during World War II. It was during one of these landings that he was injured when a nearby ammunition dump exploded. Somewhat later, complications from these injuries landed Ben in a VA hospital in Vancouver, Washington, where he had the extreme good fortune to be looked after by a nursing program cadet named Jacquelyn Boswell. As there was no first name on the cadet’s name badge, Ben nicknamed her “Connee,” after one of the contemporary jazz singing Boswell Sisters. Jacquelyn “Connee” Boswell became Ben’s lifelong partner in 1949.

Ben Jones attended Oregon State University where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fisheries biology. In 1955, he was hired as a biologist for the University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) where he played an integral role in the development of FRI’s High-Seas Salmon Program. The work of Ben and his contemporaries provided us with the first knowledge of North American salmon distribution in the Pacific, as well as aspects of the commingling of Asian and North American stocks on the high seas. This work also resulted in the first components of information that led to forecasting run sizes for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon populations. From 1955 until 1963, Ben could be found every spring through summer somewhere between Sitka, Alaska, and Adak Island in the western Aleutian Islands, usually aboard the fishing vessel Commander, fishing a knotless- netting purse seine designed by Ben to limit damage to salmon captured for tagging.

In 1964, Ben started his career with the Federal Government as Assistant Director of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries’ Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Base in Juneau, Alaska, and took over as Base Director only months later. During the following six years, he spearheaded opportunities to familiarize the U.S. fishing industry with harvest potentials for a wealth of Northeast Pacific resources other than traditional salmon, king crab, and halibut. It was during this time that Ben was also given the assignment by the U.S. Department of State’s Agency for International Development (AID) to participate in a survey that evaluated sites for establishing “marine protein concentrate” plants in developing countries in coastal regions around the world. Ben told interesting stories about this trip: watching his underwear disintegrate from the multiple trips to the river to be cleaned by locals beating them with stones, having an exotic dinner with the Pasha of Agadir in Morocco, and playing jokes on the foreign service staff accompanying their fact-finding group. One diplomat liked to sprinkle his conversations with technical terms used by Ben and the other fisheries experts. Ben and other fisheries people decided to mix up their discussions somewhat, and later chuckled when they heard these technical non sequiturs repeated by a foreign service member to a baffled representative from the host nation.

Ben Jones took a hiatus of seven years from Federal service when he accepted a position with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) as Chief Scientist for the Fisheries Development Program in Brazil during the 1970s. Ben assembled an international staff that effectively guided Brazil’s mostly fledgling fisheries research efforts into a contemporary program of data collection and analysis. His advice helped to advance some traditionally artisanal fisheries from low-tech operations into up-to-date, internationally competitive resource-harvesting enterprises. During the early part of this assignment, Ben was said to have sometimes paid the salaries of new hires out of his pocket because dealing with the UN-FAO headquarters in Rome was a lengthy exercise in bureaucracy, and initial paychecks were often delayed.

Ben’s efforts with fisheries development in Brazil were so successful that he worked himself out of a job. In 1977 he returned to the National Marine Fisheries Service to work with the Marine Fish and Shellfish Division of the former Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center (NWAFC). After serving as the division’s deputy, he was appointed Deputy Center Director, a job that he held through the transition of the NWAFC into two centers (the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center) and remained the Deputy Director of the AFSC until retiring in the early 1990s.

Throughout his career, Ben Jones was known as an effective leader. He guided his teams with a quiet confidence and a relaxed open style that permitted team members to exercise problem-solving skills to the utmost. While his free-handed management approach provided considerable latitude, it was done through a quiet control that quickly refocused attention to regain the proper course. During the years in Alaska, working on Ben’s staff felt more like working in a family than being employed by a government agency. Staff members and families celebrated holidays together, either dining in someone’s home, or having picnics at a beach when
weather permitted.

Ben is survived by his wife Connee, one brother, three sisters, daughter Leslie Jones Singrey, sons David and Christopher, their spouses, and five grandchildren. No local memorial service is planned. The immediate family anticipates a private gathering at the Benjamin Franklin Jones Memorial Bridge near Otter Rock, Oregon, later in 2008.

By Rob Wolotira


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