Australian Society For Fish Biology

Kenneth Allen

Kenneth Radway Allen was born in London in 1911, an only child. His parents were both teachers – his mother of music and his father of mathematics. Kay, as he was universally known in later life, took after his father, and remarked more than once, in a rather satisfied manner, that he was completely tone deaf.

Because his father was moving around the country teaching at different schools, at the age of about seven the young Kay was sent as a boarder to Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire – the same school the writer Graham Greene had miserably attended a few years previously, and where Kay was just about as unhappy. He was taken away from Berkhamsted when his parents settled more permanently in Todmorden, on the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border, and being a bright child he passed the exam for the highly competitive Manchester Grammar school. He commuted alone by train from the age of 11 – an hour each way, but at least he was living at home. Kay often told me how he loved to go walking on the moors with his father, who would typically set him a mathematical or a deductive problem to be solved at the end of the day’s outing.
Kay, as a boy, was at first interested in the insects living in a stream on the moor, of which he made a detailed study when he was convalescing from an illness when he was about 13. He matriculated to Cambridge around 1929, where his main subject was zoology, specialising in aquatic insects. At that time the recently- formed Freshwater Biological Association had just opened its first laboratory, in a wonderful if ramshackle mock-Gothic Natural Trust castle on the shores of Lake Windermere, and it was there that Kay would fall in love twice – with the whole field of freshwater biology, and with the Director’s assistant, the lively, intelligent Rosa Bullen, who was to become his wife.

Kay spent most of his University holidays each year working at Wray Castle, and when he graduated with a BA (Hons) in 1932 the FBA awarded him a studentship, which provided the princely sum of 75 pounds a year. His interest had by now changed from aquatic insects to the fish that were eating them, and he was appointed to research the freshwater salmon in Lake Windermere. Kay looked at not only how the fish grew and what they ate, but the reasons they did so. In regarding the ecosystem as a whole he was well ahead of his time – he was an ecologist before the term was widely used.

While at the FBA Kay also pioneered a method of trapping the small perch in the lake in unbaited cages. This turned out to be useful in Britain’s food crisis during the War, when hundreds of the unfortunate fish were canned and sold to the equally unfortunate public under the name “percines”. One wonders if they tasted any better cooked with that other wartime delicacy, powdered eggs.

He gained his MA from Cambridge in 1937 and wanted to extend his study beyond the Lakes District, but access to English rivers was almost impossible because of the system of private ownership. His fiancée Rosa was from the antipodes, where all the fisheries were publicly owned. And so it was that when the couple were married in 1938, they boarded ship the very next day for Wellington, New Zealand, where Kay took up a position with the Fisheries Research Branch of the Marine Department and they built their first home together in the beautiful if remote countryside near the Horokiwi trout stream.

They lived happily amongst their cats, dogs and horses and put in long hours studying the habits and the habitat of the brown trout. Rosa worked alongside Kay as his (unpaid) field assistant, clad in “swimmers” in summer and layers of strange, allegedly waterproof garments in winter, frequently immersed for hours netting areas of the stream. She typed up the notes and statistical tables that would become Kay’s first book – plus keeping house, of course. Rosa’s support made an enormous contribution to Kay’s career and they were a devoted couple.

Kay had an enforced break from his research while he served in the New Zealand army between 1942 and 1946. His book, The Horokiwi Stream – A Study of a Trout Population, was eventually published by the Marine Department in the same year (1951) he became the inaugural President of the New Zealand Ecological Society.

In 1961, now Director of Research of the Fisheries Research Branch, he was invited by the International Whaling Commission to be a member of a committee of experts (unofficially known at first, I believe, as the Three Wise Men and later, when their number increased, as The Gang of Four) to provide advice on the future management of the world’s whale stocks. This began a 20-year period during which he took a leading role in the Scientific Committee of the IWC, whose recommendations led to the ban on commercial whaling and later to the establishment of different quotas for different types of whale. Kay’s 1980 book Conservation and Management of Whales is still available from!
Frustrated by the lack of government support for research in New Zealand, in 1964 Kay took up a standing offer to join the Fisheries Research Board in Canada. He and Rosa were now in their 50s but they regarded the move to the other side of the world as an adventure. Kay was a polite gentleman who wouldn’t presume to hand out advice on life, but when pressed he once said: seize opportunities and don’t be afraid of change.

They spent the next 8 years in Nanaimo, during which Kay, having realised the potential of the early computers, at one stage regularly drove the 150 miles to Seattle to the University of Washington to use the one there. For someone who was not introduced to means or standard deviations until his third year at university, he had come a long way.

Kay always stressed that what he appreciated most about his employers was being given “a completely free hand”. By the same token, he resented bureaucratic interference, and by 1972 he was sufficiently disenchanted with the rise of “middle management” in Canada to accept an offer of the position of Chief of the Division of Fisheries and Oceanography at the Australian CSIRO. Back across the world came Kay and Rosa on another adventure, building a house in Nicholson Parade, literally just down the road from the CSIRO Fisheries Laboratories in Cronulla.

I’ll leave it to those who worked with him to talk about Kay’s time at the CSIRO. I didn’t meet Kay until 1997, when he had been retired from CSIRO for 20 years, although to my surprise I discovered this elderly gentleman friend of my mother’s was still working as a fisheries consultant. In fact, Kay would bank his last consulting cheque a few years later, at the age of 90, and he may have been older than that when he wrote my brother a computer program that quickly and accurately predicted the amounts of different inks required by prospective clients’ printing jobs. I believe the business is still using the program and it has saved them a lot of time and money.

Kay was devastated when Rosa died and my widowed mother, who was doing voluntary work at Cronulla High School at the time, took care of him, making him dinner and keeping him company. For those who don’t know, they lived in the same apartment block and had known each other as neighbours for many years. Their relationship developed and soon they were going out to dinner rather than eating Mum’s cooking – dare I say it, an improvement in more ways than one. Earlier in their lives they had both independently adopted the name “Kay” as an abbreviation of their first names, Kenneth and Kathleen, and inevitably they became known as K and K, the two Kays, or (my favourite) K1 and K2.

K1 and K2 took a trip around New Zealand in 1998, and Kay introduced Mum to Rosa’s relatives, to their old house in Wellington, and to the building named after him at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research.

Kay’s love and care for my mother were unfailing. He never lost his temper, never raised his voice. They liked to take a picnic lunch to the National Park, Kay at the wheel of the Volvo, proceeding at a sedate pace. Mum once commented how rude drivers were these days, always beeping their horns behind you. As Kay got older he decided the bus stop at the local shops was a perfect personal parking space, until a visit from the boys in blue put the matter in a different light.

Kay’s last years were a challenge for someone as independent as he was, but it was a challenge he met gracefully. I will always remember his loyalty and love for my mother, and the sacrifices he made for her sake.

Kay was a kind and gentle man who enjoyed a long and full life producing over 140 scientific papers. We are privileged to have shared part of that life, and we will miss him very much.

Susan Barrett
25 February 2008


In honour of Dr K R Allen, Australian Society for Fish Biology have named one of its most prestigious awards for an individuals outstanding contribution in fish or fisheries science

For more information on Dr K R Allen please click on these links

Biography of K Radway Allen by Kevin Rowling 


Selected References

Allen KR (1938) Some observations on the biology of the trout (Salmo trutta) in Windemere. The Journal of Animal Ecology, 7 (2): 333-349

Allen KR (1940) Studies on the biology of the early stages of the salmon (Salmo salar). The Journal of Animal Ecology, 9 (1): 1-23

Allen KR (1953) A method for computing the optimum size-limit for a fishery. Nature, 172-210

Allen KR (1966) A method of fitting growth curves of the von Bertalanffy type to observed data. Journal of the Fisheries Board of Canada, 23 (2): 163-179

Allen KR (1967) Some quick methods for estimatin the effect on catch of changes in the size limit. Journal du Conseil, 31 (1): 111-126

Saunders RL and Allen KR (1967) Effects of tagging and of fin-clipping on the survival and growth of Atlantic salmon between smolt and adult stages. Journal of the Fisheries Board of Canada, 24 (12): 2595-2611

Allen KR (1968) Simplification of a method of computing recruitment rates. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 25 (12): 2701-2702

Allen KR (1969) Application of the Betalanffy growth equation to problems of fisheries management: A review. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 26 (9): 2267-2281

Allen KR (1971) Relation between production and biomass. Journal of the Fisheries Board of Canada, 28 (10): 1573-1581

Allen KR (1973) The Application of Research to the Management of British Columbia Sockeye Salmon. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 102 (1): 172-177

Allen KR (1980) Conservation and management of whales. Distributed by University of Washington Press (Seattle), 107 p.

Allen KR (1983) Development and application of cetacean population models.Advances in Applied Biology. 7: 333-408

Allen KR and Heam WS (1989) Some procedures for use in cohort analysis and other population simulations. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 46 (3): 483-488

Allen KR (1994) A personal retrospect of the history of fisheries modelling. In: Population dynamics for fisheries management. Australian Society for Fish Biology Workshop Proceedings, Perth, 24-25 August 1993. Government Printing Service, Canberra.