SAFS Newsletter Masthead

In Memoriam

John E. Halver

John E. Halver (photo courtesy of the Halver family).

John E. Halver, III, 1922-2012
The Father of Fish Nutrition

Sources: Ron Hardy ( PhD 1978, Fisheries), Gary Wedemeyer (MS 1965, PhD 1967, Fisheries); People’s Memorial (website)

The day before John Halver passed away at the age of 90, he had just finished editing a manuscript, and he still had an active consulting and lecturing agenda. A preeminent nutritional biochemist who racked up numerous awards and accolades over his long career, John may be best known as “The Father of Fish Nutrition,” a title given to him when he was inducted into the Fisheries Hall of Fame.

John was born in Woodinville, Washington. He grew up during the Great Depression on the family’s small farm, where he sold milk and raised livestock to pay for his education. Determined to attend university but lacking the funds, he won an agricultural innovation scholarship to Washington State University using his high school chemistry knowledge to duplicate papyrus production with wheat straw.

John graduated with a BS in Chemistry, awarded in absentia while he was in service during World War II. He spent much of the war in France, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor and a Purple Heart.

After WWII, John returned to school, earning an MS in Organic Chemistry from Washington State University and a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the UW Department of Biochemistry (1953). His dissertation research involved developing a vitamin-free, semi-purified test diet for salmon that would support growth and to which vitamins could be added or deleted to establish their nutritional necessity.

While still a graduate student, John was offered a position with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to become Director of the new Western Fish Nutrition Laboratory (WFNL). While a new laboratory was being constructed in Cook, Washington, he began the UW fish nutrition research program. For 25 years, he and his colleagues at the WFNL identified the nutritional requirements and signs of vitamin and amino acid deficiency in fish. The methods and techniques developed at the WFNL were subsequently used worldwide for many species of fish.

Although he was involved in a wide range of nutrition and pathology research, John was particularly interested in water-soluble vitamins and their deficiency syndromes, with chinook salmon as a model species. However, probably his most important work was leading the team that studied the toxicity of aflatoxins to fish. Aflatoxins are produced by Aspergillus mold growing on peanuts, corn, and other grains, and are dangerous to both man and animals. This work was undertaken at the Hagerman Laboratory in Idaho—a unit John helped establish in the late 1950s—after a widespread outbreak of hepatocarcinoma in hatchery rainbow trout across the USA. John showed that aflatoxins in the diet were the primary cause. It was for this outstanding work that he was elected in 1978 to the US National Academy of Sciences, the first fish researcher to be so honored.

In 1978, John retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and became a Professor in the UW College of Fisheries, where he developed a Fish Nutrition and Fish Feed Technology program. At Fisheries, he continued his work on vitamins, showing that new, protected forms of vitamin C cured fish scurvy and reduced mortality from bacterial and viral diseases such as infectious haematopoietic necrosis.

John continued to work at the UW, as an Emeritus Professor, after his second retirement in 1992, collaborating with scientists worldwide and traveling to various countries on speaking tours as recently as 2012. During his career, he published more than 200 scientific articles, and wrote and edited several scientific books, including the seminal Fish Nutrition (3rd ed. 2002; co-edited with his former student and current director of the Hagerman Lab, Ron Hardy). The book is the standard text on the subject and an essential resource for anyone involved in fish feed formulation, manufacture, or fish nutrition research.

Besides teaching fish nutrition and supervising graduate students, John organized intensive short courses for working professionals in fisheries: More than 90 students from 53 countries participated in these training sessions. Long-time colleague Gary Wedemeyer noted, “I have fond memories of these courses because John usually asked me to give guest lectures. As a government scientist, I could not accept an honorarium for these lectures so he always paid me in Champagne!”

John also contributed to aquaculture development in other countries, particularly Hungary and Thailand. He was made an Honorary Life Member of World Aquaculture Society in 2009 and received many honors from other countries. He also left a rich legacy in terms of graduate students and interacting with young scientists.  Another aspect of Halver’s legacy was the establishment of funds at the UW to provide scholarships for graduate students studying fish nutrition and also at WSU to support the annual “Halver Lecture” on fish nutrition.

John Halver set the bar for fish nutrition research, bringing solid nutritional biochemistry to the subject and building the foundation for today’s global aquaculture industry by quantifying the nutritional requirements of fish. All fish feed production around the world is based on his pioneering research.

The Halver family encourages donations be made to John E. Halver Fellowship, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, 1122 Boat Street, University of Washington; Seattle, WA 98195, or to the charity of your choice.

Dayton Lee Alverson

Dayton Lee Alverson (photo courtesy of the Alverson family).

Dayton Lee Alverson, 1924-2012

PhD 1967, Fisheries
A study of demersal fishes and fisheries of the northeastern Pacific Ocean

Sources: Numerous friends and colleagues of Lee, including Jeffrey June (Fisheries, MS 1981), Don Gunderson, David Fluharty, Bob Francis and William Burke, contributed to this article.

Shortly after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, an Exxon representative called marine biologist Dayton Lee Alverson and proposed to hire his consulting firm to help assess damage in the aftermath of a disaster that dumped some 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound.

It was a lucrative offer that likely could result in multimillion-dollar billing fees, but Lee turned it down. “That’s one thing that showed me the integrity of my father,” recalls his daughter, Susan Alverson Wilson. “He said he loved the fishermen and wanted to represent them.”

Lee was well known and highly respected as a scientist and policymaker on the West Coast and in Alaska, as well as nationally and internationally. He played a formative role in the development of US fisheries and ocean policy in the 20th century and was recognized by industry, academia, and government for his scientific contributions and as an effective and insightful leader.

Lee was born in San Diego and grew up in a Navy family that followed his father on a series of assignments, including a year on Tatoosh Island, Washington, and several years in Hilo, Hawaii. Lee served in the Navy during World War II, which included a stint as a radio operator behind enemy lines in China.

He earned both his degrees at the UW School of Fisheries (BS 1950; PhD 1967 [then College of Fisheries]). After earning his PhD, he took on greater leadership responsibilities, spending time in Washington, DC as the US Bureau of Commercial Fisheries’ Director of Science Programs and, later as the bureau director. He then returned to Seattle as the first director of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center (NWAFC).

In Seattle, Lee published research intended to alert the US fishing industry to vast potential seafood harvests, but he realized that this also had helped draw a surge of Soviet and Asian factory fleets to fish off US coasts. He noted, “That didn’t make me feel very good, and I quickly realized that we didn’t have any management and we didn't have any control” (Hal Benton, Seattle Times, 2008).

Consequently, Lee became an outspoken proponent of extending the US fishing jurisdiction to 200 miles, an idea that rankled some State Department officials who feared the diplomatic repercussions. But Lee didn’t back down. He worked closely with Senators Warren Magnuson (D-WA) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) to pass the landmark 1976 federal fishery law that created a 200-mile zone and began a new era of managing US seafood resources.

In 1980, Lee retired from Federal service and co-founded Natural Resources Consultants (NRC). Over time, he hired several SAFS alumni, including Jeffrey June and Greg Ruggerone (PhD 1989). As a consultant, Lee worked with industry organizations, governments, and NGOs regionally, nationally, and internationally.  In particular, he brought his wisdom and expertise to the table in helping many foreign governments to draft their own fisheries management and conservation legislation.

Through NRC, Lee played a major role in the “Americanization” of the fishing industry off the West Coast and Alaska. “He is one of a small group of individuals responsible for the billion-dollar seafood industry we have in Washington and Alaska these days,” said Jeff.

Further, his broad familiarity with fisheries and fishing gear led him to undertake the first global assessment of the fisheries bycatch problem, which was published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (1994) and sparked a global movement toward cleaner, more sustainable fishing practices.

Besides his impact on fisheries science, law and communities, Usha Varanasi (SAFS affiliate professor and director (retired), Northwest Fisheries Science Center) recalls Lee was “a very shrewd, visionary leader who sensed future directions. He was able to recognize potential leaders in NWAFC and gave them challenges and opportunities to prove their mettle.” She added, “He was well aware of the importance of environmental degradation (real or perceived) and its impact on fisheries. So he created the Environmental Conservation Division.”

Lee maintained his UW connection throughout his professional career. He was the longest-serving affiliate professor of the Institute of Marine Studies (now School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, SMEA).  He was an important advisor to the Institute during its formative years. SMEA Professor David Fluharty noted that Lee’s accomplishments included “finding funding to hire one of the first social scientists (Marc Miller) to study fisheries.”

Lee maintained a strong connection with SAFS over the years. As Director of the NWAFC, he instituted a number of SAFS student internships. June noted, “He was adamant about NMFS staying up on the latest in fishery population dynamics modeling and worked with SAFS Professor Don Gunderson and others to bring the brightest minds and ideas on fishery population dynamics from SAFS to the real world of fishery management at NMFS.” SAFS Emeritus Professor Bob Francis observed that, “In the 1980s, he was instrumental in getting the school’s Fisheries Research Institute to administer the first factory trawler observer program."

Lee published more than 150 papers and, in 2008, produced an autobiography, Race to the Sea. In recent years, though slowed by a stroke, he continued to tackle fishery issues. At the time of his death, he was working on an article titled “Exploitation of Ocean Living Resources in the 20th Century.”

In honor of Lee Alverson, family and friends are establishing the Lee Alverson Memorial Fund at the University of Washington. Awards from this fund will be made annually to a current graduate student in SAFS or SMEA and will serve as a lasting memory of Lee’s contributions to the science and management of fisheries in the North Pacific. 

Marcus Duke