AHS Blog

Salting Salmon in Taku Inlet

Date Posted: January 26, 2013       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries       Tags: lox, Northwest Fisheries, Polar Fish and Trading Company, salmon, saltery

By: Pat Roppel, copyright held by author

Salmon salteries were usually an establishment of small capital. A cooper, with a handful of tools could go into the woods, fall a few trees, and make barrels. Hoops to hold the barrels together, salt and fishing gear were shipped North. Fishermen, sometimes Natives, harvested sockeye salmon by seines from skiffs in or at the mouth of a fish stream or river. Wooden vats, usually in a rough wooden building, held the fish in salt until they were processed sufficiently to be packed into barrels.

The Taku Riverthat flows into the inlet of the same name sustains a run of salmon. Charles Brown came there in 1882 to salt fish, financed by his partner Peter Eussard, the discoverer of the Treadwell Paris mine. We learn from Brown’s 1884 mortgage that the saltery consisted of houses, sheds, fish tanks and fishing boats. When Brown died in 1889, his estate included the Taku Fisheries, with cabin, smokehouse and shed and three old boats, two fishing nets and some barrels of salmon backs and heads. This is the last mention of Taku Fisheries.

Perhaps Gilbert, Stephens, and Murray used the site in 1891 when the Juneaupaper reported they were ready to ship several tons of dry and salted salmon from the inlet. The next men, Billy Layton and A. Hipe, salted only 15 barrels of salmon bellies in 1894. The following year, J. P. Whitney, the resident manager of Polar Fish and Trading Company, a New York concern, started a saltery, but no more was found about it.

As we can see these were short-lived. Marketing may have been a problem, and shipping expensive.

The next operation lasted longer undoubtedly because it was financed by a company with established markets and access to more fishing gear, Quadra Packing Company with Peter Buschman operated a cannery at Boca de Quadra. It chose Brown’s site at Taku Point near the head of the inlet to establish its saltery in 1898. By 1900 it had a large force of men with gear from Petersburgwhere another cannery had just been constructed. Only red king salmon were salted, and if the kings were white only the bellies were used. A New York City Jewish market had developed. The salt was soaked from the fish, it was smoked, then made into lox.   With two canneries to manage, Buschmann ceased salting at the end of 1901. This was the last operation that solely salted salmon from the Taku River. For a number of years the Taku Harbor cannery salted and mild cured the Inlet’s fish at that facility.

Ron and Nan Schonenbach asked me about Taku Point that they currently own. Bob DeArmond told Ron that J. L. Carlson acquired the site from Buschmann and had the site surveyed in 1902 but did not have it patented. This survey shows the salt house location. The Schoenenbachs located rusting pipes coming from the water source. Carlson had a cannery at Sunny Bayin Taku Inlet and sold it to Pacific Packing and Navigation Company in 1901. After a bankruptcy, Northwestern Fisheries obtained much of the company’s assets including Carlson’s Taku Packing cannery.

The Taku Point site is not listed among these assets. Northwestern Fisheries needed legal title if it wanted to use the Taku Point site.  Part of an 1898 federal law allowed the acquisition of title thought soldiers’ additional homestead rights. This script was used for the most part by the cannery people, who failed or were hampered under the act of 1891 to obtain title to Alaskan land upon which the cannery or saltery was built.

I suspect that Northwestern Fisheries management had James Sackett or his estate apply for the site as a solders’ additional homestead. Ron tells me the federal patent was issued on January 13, 1908 with Northwestern Fisheries Company as the assignee of Sackett’s minor orphan children. 

How long did the company use this site for temporary fishing crews’ quarters, storage of boats and gear? It is on my list of things to research!