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.
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