The Journal of Economic History

Papers Presented at the Forty-Third Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association

Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and the Policy Process: A Study of the Post–1945 California Sardine Depletion

Arthur F. McEvoya1 and Harry N. Scheibera1

a1 Assistant Professor, Department of History and Research Faculty, Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 60201


The California Marine Research Committee was established by the state legislature in 1947 in response to the catastrophic failure of the Pacific Coast sardine fishery. Scientists, state and federal resource-managment officials, and industry leaders put aside long–standing differences of viewpoint to launch a uniquely comprehensive, multidisciplinary research effort. This paper, based on newly opened archival materials, analyzes the founding and early work of the agency. How a stalemate occurred that delayed a consensus on policy recommendations and had the practical effect of continuing virtually unregulated sardine fishing is explained. The article illustrates the institutional development of post–war “Big Science” as a major actor in the policy process and analyzes the mobilization of public agencies to cope with complex environmental issues in resource–extractive industries.