John Laurence Kask was born of Estonian immigrant parents at Sylan Lake, Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 1906. In his youth, he worked as a commercial fisherman in British Columbia. He earned his B.A. degree at the University of British Columbia in 1928 and his Ph.D. degree at the University of Washington in 1936. During his long professional career he held many important jobs. His positions included the following: Assistant, Biological Board of Canada, 1928; Assistant Scientist, International Fisheries Commission (now the International Pacific Halibut Commission), 1929-1938; Associate Scientist and Assistant Director, International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission, 1939-1943; officer, U.S. Army, 1943-1945; Curator of Aquatic Biology, California Academy of Sciences, 1945-1948; Chief Biologist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 1948-1950; Chief Investigator and Assistant Director, Pacific Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii), 1951; Chief Officer of Foreign Activity and Assistant Director of Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C., 1951-1953; Chairman and Science Administrator, Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 1953-1963, Director, Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), 1963-1969. He succeeded Dr. Milner B. Schaefer, another Founding Fellow of the AIFRB, in the last position.
During 1947, while employed by the California Academy of Sciences, he served as a consultant for the government of Costa Rica, and during 1947-1948 he served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of State, for which he helped rehabilitate the Japanese fisheries, which were in need of assistance after World War II. After his retirement, for about 10 years, he did consulting work on fisheries and biological oceanography for FAO. Dr. Kask will perhaps be most remembered for his accomplishments as Chairman and Science Administrator for the Fisheries Research Board of Canada from 1953 to 1963. When he accepted that position, there were about a dozen research stations scattered around Canada, which operated more-or-less independently. He was instructed by the Minister of Fisheries to coordinate the work of those stations and make them more responsive to problems besetting the fishing industry. He succeeded in doing this, and also in making the Fisheries Research Board of Canada one of the finest fisheries research organizations in the world. His prophecies during that period about the dangers of overfishing and pollution proved to be correct.
During Dr. Kask’s tenure at the IATTC, Mexico and Canada adhered to the Convention in 1964 and 1968, respectively, and catch quotas for yellowfin tuna were first adopted in 1966. Some other highlights of his period as Director were the carrying out of oceanographic studies on the high seas and at the entrance of the Gulf of California, in the Panama Bight, and in the Gulf of Guayaquil.
Dr. Kask was an excellent speaker and writer, and he had the ability to handle people well. During his varied career, he influenced dozens of people who eventually attained positions of great responsibility. All who knew him respected and admired him greatly.
He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Fisheries Society, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, and a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists. Dr. Kask died in San Diego, California, on August 8, 1998, at the age of 92. and admired him greatly.
Anonymous. 2009. Herbert W. Graham [obituary]. AIFRB Briefs, 38 (1): 5-6.
Skud, Bernard. 2007. Herbert W. Graham: happy 102nd birthday!! AIFRB Briefs, 36 (5): 6-7.
Personal communications: Teri Frade, Karen Heise-Gentile, Suzan Oliver, Bernard E. Skud.