The idea of a North Pacific marine science organization was first proposed in the corridors during an FAO conference in Vancouver in 1973 but it was not discussed in any systematic way until the late 1970s. Several informal meetings, organized by the Institute for Marine Studies of the University of Washington were then held in Seattle where scientists from Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States exchanged views, although many of the concepts that now characterize the Organization were developed in these discussions. Unfortunately, the time was not propitious for bringing the idea to fruition. Impediments included the ongoing Law of the Sea negotiations and the difficult political relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the early 1980s.
It not until 1986, during an informal meeting in Anchorage that included Chinese participants for the first time, that agreement was reached to seek an intergovernmental discussion of a possible new regional marine science organization. Participants agreed to urge the Canadian government to convene such a conference, which was held in Ottawa in December 1987. A second conference in Sidney, British Columbia in December 1988 and a drafting meeting in Seattle in December 1989 were necessary before agreement was reached in Ottawa on 12 December 1990 to establish the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (nicknamed PICES for a Pacific ICES). Representatives of Canada, China, Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union initialed the draft convention. On that occasion, representatives of the United States offered to host a first meeting of North Pacific marine scientists in 1991. A summary report of this meeting, held December 10-13, 1991 in Seattle, Washington provides an indication of how the first scientific activities of PICES were developed.
The Convention came into force on 24 March 1992 after ratification by three of the five in signatory states, Canada, Japan, and the United States. The Peoples Republic of China ratified before August of 1992 and participated as a member in the First Annual Meeting, in October of that year. Although the Soviet Union had participated in all of the intergovernmental discussions leading up to establishment of PICES, the Russian Federation did not ratify the convention until December of 1994; Korea became a member in mid-summer 1995.
PICES held its first Annual Meeting in October 1992, in Victoria, British Columbia. From the beginning, the PICES approach has been multidisciplinary, with standing committees concerned with biological oceanography, fishery science, physical oceanography and climate, and marine environmental quality. This list was augmented by the establishment of technical committees on monitoring and data management and specialty sections on harmful algal blooms and carbon-climate interactions. There is growing interaction among these specialties, with jointly organized scientific sessions a regular occurrence at PICES Annual Meetings. PICES has joined forces with other international organizations on many occasions. Foremost among these was the association with GLOBEC during the development and implementation of the Climate Change and Carrying Capacity Science Program (1996-2009). PICES it has become a major focus for leadership and international cooperation in marine science in the North Pacific.
Reports of the 1978-1992 meetings leading to establishment of PICES were published by the PICES Secretariat as The PICES Papers in 1995. A more extensive treatment of the topic was published as The Journey to PICES by Alaska Sea Grant in 2005. The Secretariat has a few copies of this book still available; please contact the Secretariat if you are interested. A complete record of the business of the Organization can be found in its Annual Reports.