AHS Blog  |  Alaska's Historic Canneries

Iron Men of Bristol Bay

Date Posted: December 7, 2015       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries       Tags: Alaska Packers Association, Bristol Bay, fishermen, fishing, salmon

by Bob King

Old time fishermen are often described as “Iron Men in Wooden Boats.” It honors their hard work in the days before motors and hydraulics.

Last spring I went to Bellingham’s Center for Pacific Northwest Studies to look through the archives of the Alaska Packers Association (APA), the largest of Bristol Bay’s historic salmon canners. Among other things, they had several boxes of 4 by 6 inch cards: the company’s records of their Bristol Bay fishermen from 1908 to 1941. They paint a vivid picture of the fishermen who caught sockeye during the bay’s sailboat era.

Records of Gill Net fishermen from Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco.

Records of Gill Net fishermen from Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco.

Who were they? Most fishermen were immigrants: Europeans from fishing nations like Italy and Norway. There were others from the Mediterranean: Croatia, Greece, and even one from Algeria. There were other Scandinavians: Swedes and Finns; also Germans, Danes, and Russians. One fisherman came from Australia. There were US citizens and Native Alaskans too but most came from overseas. Many cards noted immigration status: when they filed their first papers, or intent to naturalize, and second papers, the formal petition to become a citizen. At least one fisherman was reported held by immigration authorities. The cards don’t list race but do mention “complexion.” Scandinavians tended to be labeled as “fair” or “light,” while fishermen from the Mediterranean were usually listed as “dark.” Some were described as “ruddy.”

They list the canneries where the fishermen worked and the ships they sailed on: the barks of the APA’s Star Fleet and the steamers that succeeded them in the 1920s. They recorded injuries: fractured ribs and injured hands. There were several cases of fish poisoning. It’s often caused by eating raw or under-cooked salmon but can also come from handling fish.

Several deaths were noted. The work was hard, the hours long, and the tides, winds, and weather were unforgiving. Overall, two or three fishermen died in Bristol Bay every year.

Alaska Packers Assoc. noted in their records whenever a fisherman died while working for them.

Alaska Packers Assoc. noted in their records whenever a fisherman died while working for them.

The company identified “trouble makers,” probably shorthand for union activists, and noted detentions and fines for insubordination. Other problems were listed: One fishermen refused to sail on the Star of France. A Dillingham fisherman tried to deliver old fish. Another fisherman was caught using small mesh gear. Fishermen were paid by the fish, not the pound, so they padded their catch by adding sections of net with mesh under 4½ inches to catch more small fish.

The meanest comment was made about some greenhorn who was the poorest fisherman at the Kvichak’s Diamond J in 1923 and blamed it on a sprained thumb. They described him as “no good man,” and there was a big X on his card. He didn’t come back for a second season.

But others filled out their cards for 20 seasons in the Bay. The cards list both the individual fisherman’s catch and the cannery average, in numbers of fish. This was before they weighed the catch but you can estimate poundage by multiplying the first number by 6: 20,000 reds are 120,000 pounds; and there are plenty of years when the average was 30,000 reds, or 180,000 pounds.

Alaska Packers Assoc. kept detailed records of salmon catches by each fisherman.

Alaska Packers Assoc. kept detailed records of salmon catches by each fisherman.

Remember, these fishermen worked in sailboats. No motors, hydraulic net rollers, or power reels. Just two guys in a wooden boat who pulled their nets in by hand and pitched each fish to the tally scow with a pew. When the wind went slack, they pulled out their oars. For them, the Bristol Bay season lasted five months, from May to September. It took a month to sail north, a month to set up the cannery, a month to fish, a month to close the cannery down and load the pack, and a month to sail back to San Francisco.

During the sailboat years, Bristol Bay fisherman averaged 120,000 to 140,000 pounds of sockeye every year, even more on the East side. These catches did not come from exceptional runs. Total harvests averaged about 15 million sockeye annually, and rarely topped 20 million. Compare that to today. In  hat’s been a banner year with a catch of 36 million, Bristol Bay driftnetters, with their hydraulic rollers, brailers, and a crew of three or four, averaged less than 100,000 pounds.

There are reasons why catch rates were higher then. Fishing wasn’t regulated. Bristol Bay was open 24/7 until 1924. They used 200 fathoms of gear. There weren’t any district lines. Enforcement was non-existent. Effort was also a lot smaller. Back in the 20s and 30s there were usually only 800 to 1,200 gillnetters in Bristol Bay and maybe a few hundred setnets. Now there are almost 1,900 drift permits and 1,000 setnets. The catch is spread out much further – and that’s actually a good thing.

Let me tell you about one of these fishermen. Gennaro Camporeale was born in Italy in 1893, came to America and lived in San Francisco, half a mile from Fisherman’s Wharf. He was an Able Bodied seaman and started fishing in Egegik in 1914, when he was 21. He filed for US citizenship in 1929. He fished Egegik for 19 seasons. And maybe more.

He stands out because after looking at cards of fishermen who routinely landed 20,000 and 30,000 fish, Camporeale landed over 40,000 fish in 1918, 240,000 pounds. And in 1922, he landed 45,500 reds, 270,000 pounds of salmon pulled onboard by his hands and pitched into the tally scow. I didn’t get to look at all these cards closely but that was the biggest number that I saw.

All combined, in 19 seasons Camporeale landed over half a million sockeye at Egegik, 3 million pounds. He had his off years too but he caught 15% more salmon than the average Egegik fisherman, 25% more than on the Kvichak, 40% more than Naknek, and twice as many as on the Nushagak.

And what do you think he was paid for that? The APA cards don’t record prices but contracts with the Alaska Fishermen’s Union show in 1914 Bristol Bay fishermen were paid 3½ cents per fish, just over half a penny a pound. By 1937, the price was up to 12 cents a fish, two cents a pound. Add it all up, for those half a million sockeye, Camporeale earned a grand total of $18,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s almost $300,000 today, an average of $15,000 a season.

Camporeale was among the hardest-working highliners of the 1920s. For 19 years, he averaged about 170,000 pounds a year, fish pulled from Bristol Bay with his bare hands, and was paid an inflation-adjusted average 19 cents a pound. Of course, the company paid for his boat, nets, and the Blazo in his Swede stove. The cannery also fed him and gave him a bunk during closed periods. And Camporeale amassed a remarkable record. 3

The APA kept photographs of some of the fishermen: blurry head shots stapled to the card, but maybe only of a few dozen out of the thousands of fishermen who worked Bristol Bay’s sailboat days. These are the faces of the iron men of Bristol Bay. There isn’t a picture of Gennaro Camporeale. But each of these fishermen have their stories too.

Fishermen's records kept by Alaska Packers Assoc.

Fishermen’s records kept by Alaska Packers Assoc.

As do fishermen today. Fishing remains a tough business. It’s cold and wet, and out in the weather. Despite the power reels hydraulics and electronic conveniences of today, it’s still hard work. It still can be deadly. And prices? Well, that’s another story. Just don’t complain to these guys. I hope fishermen share their experiences. The Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative was created to document and preserve the iconic buildings that are centers of our fishing communities and also to preserve the stories of the individual fishermen and processing workers.

I encourage all fishermen record an oral history before their story is lost or left to whatever records are boxed in some archives. Don’t think it has to be profound. Often it’s the most common observation of day to day life on the boat or in the cannery that gives perspective to what this industry means to fishermen, fishing communities, and the broader scope of our history.

 

 





Memory of Northwestern Fisheries Company Cannery Ship CHARLES E. MOODY

Date Posted: November 6, 2015       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries

by J. Pennelope Goforth

Last month the Bristol Bay Historical Society marked the opening of their new museum with a familiar Naknek landmark−the iron kedge anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY. Since about 1962 the anchor has lain next to the D&D

A young Ted Hadfield, somewhat dwarfed stands by the anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY in Naknek, Alaska in 1962. (Photograph courtesy Ted Hadfield.)

A young Ted Hadfield, somewhat dwarfed stands by the anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY in Naknek, Alaska in 1962. (Photograph courtesy Ted Hadfield.)

Restaurant and Hotel on the highest point of uptown Naknek. Owned by the Hadfield family, Ted Hadfield recalls how the anchor came to be there: “The anchor was recovered by Crowley Maritime when their vessel anchor was being retrieved it tangled with this one. It was then brought in and displayed in front of my parents’ hotel and bar in Naknek where the crew was staying.”

The anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY positioned in front of the Bristol Bay Historical Society museum in Naknek. (Photograph courtesy Adelheid Herrmann.)

The anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY positioned in front of the Bristol Bay Historical Society museum in Naknek. (Photograph courtesy Adelheid Herrmann.)

 

 Bristol Bay Historical Society president Fred Anderson said he lived near where the anchor had lain all his life. “I used to go out of my house and see it there every day.” For the past decade he has worked with community members to bring the dream of a Bristol Bay museum to life in the town. In the 80s Naknek had a small museum building, filled with artifacts donated by townspeople and processors. But it had no heat and no lights. Through the years the society has struggled to find resources and funding to properly house their treasures. Now they have one.

 Built in 1938, the building on the main street through town was secured for use through the efforts of Anderson and the society. Dating back to the 1930s the interior walls are of old timbers with a patina of red gold. Anderson said the foundation was raised up and new beams installed making it sound. For many years the building served as the library of former Alaska State Representative Adelheid Herrmann. “It was a community effort to make this happen,” Anderson said. Alaska General Seafoods (AGS) sent a crew down to help give the old building a new paint job. They also put in a handicapped accessible ramp.

 “For many years I had been asking Gary Hadfield, whose family owns the anchor, if they would consider donating to the museum when we got it going,” Anderson explained. “I called him up and said AGS would send equipment down to move it. He finally said ok, take it. I got all emotional then. Gary did too.”

The CHARLES E. MOODY at the dock in Seattle ca. 1911. The anchor is visible against the hull as the vessel is unloaded and sitting high in the water. (Photograph courtesy Ted Hadfield.)

The CHARLES E. MOODY at the dock in Seattle ca. 1911. The anchor is visible against the hull as the vessel is unloaded and sitting high in the water. (Photograph courtesy Ted Hadfield.)

 The 4,000 pound iron piece had lain in the ground so long it had sunk in through the years of frost and thaw digging itself several inches into the dirt, so when it was pulled upright for the first time in decades it left a deep imprint. Gently, the guys hooked it up high and slowly moved it to AGS where a new foundation was being fabricated. Then they hauled the CHARLES E.MOODY’s anchor and platform designed by Anderson to grace the front of the building. AGS brought down an old iron bollard as well and the anchor chain was symbolically wrapped around it.

 The memory of the ship is long gone but for the anchor and an old black and white photo of the MOODY in her glory that hangs in the Hadfield’s bar. “It’s so much more than a rusty old anchor,” Anderson said. “It’s part of our history.”  Now respectfully and prominently displayed the anchor will continue to tell the story of the integral part it played in the salmon industry of Naknek.

 The CHARLES E. MOODY slid off the Goss, Sawyer & Packard marine ways in the venerable shipbuilding town of Bath, Maine in 1882. Bath was famed the world over for the ‘down easter’ design of these magnificent square-rigged wooden sailing vessels. The vessels were a graceful hybrid of the speedy clipper ships with a profitably large cargo capacity. Commissioned by noted shipmaster Captain John R. Kelley, the vessel was named for a prominent Maine merchant and ship owner. The graceful vessel was 240 feet long, 43.4 feet in breadth, and drew 18.2 feet. She sported full-rigged sails with a typically long bowsprit and skysails. The MOODY sailed as a merchant vessel in the northeast coastwise trade for nearly 20 years.

The CHARLES E. MOODY in the prime of her sailing life. This photo hangs in the D & D Bar in Naknek.

The CHARLES E. MOODY in the prime of her sailing life. This photo hangs in the D & D Bar in Naknek.

 Then came the Klondike gold rush.  In 1900 the MOODY sailed around the horn joining many other ships of her kind that became the workhorses of the west coast sailing routes. Home ported in San Francisco she hauled passengers, lumber, salt cod, and salmon in the busy Pacific coastwise trade.

 In 1911 she was purchased by the Alaska Syndicate, a group of East Coast financiers and West Coast businessmen. They formed the Northwestern Commercial Company which owned the Northwestern Steamship Company (NSC) and the Northwest Fisheries Company (NFC) in 1906. Composed of prominent Seattle businessman John Rosene, J.P. Morgan & Company and Guggenheim Brothers, the Alaska Syndicate was heavily invested in Alaska transportation including shipping and railroads, and mining interests. Highly successful, NFC owned and operated 12 salmon canneries in Alaska putting up 300,000 cases annually, valued between $1.25-1.4 million. The MOODY sailed under the NSC flag although she was nominally owned by NFC.

Now home ported in Port Townsend, the MOODY was one of the fastest sailing ships of the day even fully loaded with supplies, coal, and men. With Capt. Peter Bergman at the helm, she made a voyage from Cape Flattery to Orca in an astonishing 10 days, about 5 days faster than other fisheries cargo vessels in her class. A stalwart sailing vessel, she breasted the rigors of the northern seas without much incident for about nine years. Her last voyage took place in 1920.

The CHARLES E. MOODY loaded up at the dock in Seattle on April 20th for the upcoming salmon season in Bristol Bay. She was to take a cannery crew of 136 men, supplies for the NFC plant in Naknek, a number of fishing dories lashed to her deck, and 200 tons of coal. The voyage went without incident and she reached Naknek by the first week in June and offloaded her passengers and cargo. The NFC plant was called Nornek since it was a small city sized operation on the northern shore of the Naknek River. Several hundred seafood processors lived in the bunkhouses when they were not busy pughing, sliming, and canning salmon. Because the season was so short and frenetic, cannery vessels often anchored just offshore to await the first pack of the season. Although the cannery had a long dock it was reserved for fishing boats and barges that brought fish in. Plus the tidal variations made it difficult for deep draught vessels like the MOODY to stay at the dock much beyond mean high tide. The mate anchored her in the Bristol Bay roadstead at the mouth of the Naknek River in the sandy bottom and was standing by for further orders. Presumably the master, Mark Haskell, was at the NFC plant ashore leaving the mate aboard. He had set the anchor light, despite the long northern summer days, at 9:00pm that evening and reported he had gone to his bunk shortly thereafter.

 In the light dusk that passes for a summer night at 58 degrees latitude a passing fishing boat hailed him with shouts of “FIRE! FIRE! Ahoy, MOODY, FIRE!” Thick smoke billowed around the forecastle of the vessel with flames climbing the halyards. The mate jumped into the fishing boat with nothing but the clothes he wore. Nearby the Alaska Packers tug KAYJAK came alongside and blasted water at the blaze. Joined by the steamer SHELIKOV, the rescuers pumped hoses for nearly an hour but were unable to quench the fire. Hundreds of people watched anxiously from both sides of the river. A fleet of fishing dories paused hauling in fish to see the brightly burning vessel in the faint early morning light. The crackling of the wooden hull and the minor explosions of oils and other supplies still aboard the vessel echoed off the banks; her spars crashed and the furled canvas sails towering two stories tall whooshed into flame lighting up the docks and the throngs of people on them. She burned to the waterline by the afternoon, a blackened smoldering hulk riding high on the river’s current.

 Although she was valued at $320,000, NFC only insured her for $80,000 plus $3,400 for miscellaneous cargo. Fortunately, she had no fish aboard. Eventually the remains of the wreck were towed out to the bay where it sank. Only the chain cable attached to the anchor lay on the river bottom marking her passage.

 After the underwriters completed their paperwork, and the 1920 salmon season ended without further incident, the memory of the CHARLES E. MOODY gradually faded into myth.

 But her beauty lived on in the in the work of sailor/painter Charles Robert Patterson. The British son of a shipbuilder, born in 1878 in Southampton, was apprenticed at age 13 and spent the next decade at sea. Taken with the endless glory of the graceful ships on the high seas he turned to art in the 1920s. Settling in New York Patterson studied the art of oil painting. He set out making a name for himself painting all the great ships of the late 20th century. Among the more than 400 canvases of nautical paintings portraying the life of ships and sailors at sea as only a mariner could, he included the CHARLES E. MOODY. Titled ‘Down-easter CHARLES E. MOODY entering San Francisco Harbor’, this life-like picture of the vessel hung on the walls of the San Francisco Ritz-Carleton Hotel for many years. It was sold at auction for $3,050 to a private collector in December of 2009.

Charles Robert Patterson, famous British sailor/painter, painted this canvas of the CHARLES E. MOODY. (Photograph courtesy Soma Estate Auction House. December 2009.)

Charles Robert Patterson, famous British sailor/painter, painted this canvas of the CHARLES E. MOODY. (Photograph courtesy Soma Estate Auction House. December 2009.)

 

 Forty years later, the spirit of the CHARLES E. MOODY stirred again. In 1962 her anchor, still in the Naknek River, fouled the line of a Crowley Maritime vessel, which hauled up the anchor and it was brought ashore. Old timers recalled the midsummer excitement of the burning of the CHARLES E. MOODY and so the anchor was placed near D&Ds where the crew of the Crowley vessel were posted. For a time her story circulated anew among a new generation of fishermen. Over the next forty years, many summer salmon fishermen and processors had their photos taken with the iconic anchor. And now, the Bristol Bay Historical Society has ensured that the name of the CHARLES E. MOODY will remain alive in Naknek history.

 “When I saw the imprint of the anchor in the ground after it was moved, it looked like a grave to me,” Anderson mused. “I thought it should be remembered somehow so I was going to scatter wildflower seeds in the shape of the anchor there. But someone beat me to it and filled the anchor’s indent with perennial flowers!”

 

The 4,000 lb kedge anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY, salvaged from the mouth of the Naknek River where she burned to the waterline.

The 4,000 lb kedge anchor of the CHARLES E. MOODY, salvaged from the mouth of the Naknek River where she burned to the waterline.

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Adelheid Herrmann, Fred Anderson and the Hadfield Family in providing information and sharing their passion for the history of Naknek with me.  All errors are my own. Kudos to all of them for preserving the maritime history of Bristol Bay and bringing it to the public to enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Adelheid Herrmann, Fred Anderson and the Hadfield Family in providing information and sharing their passion for the history of Naknek with me.  All errors are my own. Kudos to all of them for preserving the maritime history of Bristol Bay and bringing it to the public to enjoy!





Canneries History Grants Available

Date Posted: November 4, 2015       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries News

Call for Proposals: Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative Grant Programcanneries initiative logo

The Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative kicks off with a call for proposals for grants of up to $1000 for a wide variety of projects relating to historical Alaska fisheries and processors.

Possible Projects:
Projects may include, but are not limited to, conducting historical research, collecting archival materials, taking photographs and videos, preserving historic structures, or preparing interpretive and educational materials. We welcome applications for planning grants which allow the recipients to start a larger project. As the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative is launched, grant funds may be available for larger projects that follow up these seed projects.

Who Is Eligible To Apply:
Anyone interested in the history of Alaska’s fishing industry is eligible to apply, with the exception of federal and state agencies. We will accept applications from students, professional historians, and others with a passion for history, as well as from organizations and businesses.

Dates and Deadlines:
Applications are due January 1, 2016 and will be awarded by January 31, 2016. Projects are to be completed by the end of December 2016.

Project Products:
Each grantee must submit a short final report to the Alaska Historical Society by December 31, 2016 summarizing the results of the project, providing documentation of project activities, and telling how money was spent. Grant recipients must also submit an entry to the Alaska Historic Cannery blog. They are encouraged to present papers at the 2016 AHS Annual Conference.

How To Apply:
Application materials are now available on the Cannery History Mini-Grant page of the Alaska Historical Society’s website. Applications are due January 1, 2016.

Funding announcements will be made in January 2016.





Putting an End to the Peugh

Date Posted: November 2, 2015       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries

by Ross Coen

In the summer of 1919, Doctor C. L. Alsberg visited salmon canneries throughout Southeast Alaska. The chief of the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry, in order to verify compliance with federal pure food laws, inspected each facility and its products. While standing on the docks of canneries throughout the territory, Alsberg watched the fishermen and cannery hands move salmon from the boats to the landings and then up to the cannery floor. Each man held a long-handled, single-tined fork called a peugh (sometimes spelled ‘pugh’ or ‘pew’), with which they stabbed the salmon through the head and, with a swift upward motion, flung the fish into wheeled carts.

 “The use of the pugh itself is not objectionable if the fish be packed promptly,” Alsberg noted in his report. “If, however, the fish have to be held for some time before packing, softening begins in and around the stab wound made by the pugh due to the carrying into the flesh of the bacteria of putrefaction from the skin.” Although cannery hands were instructed to stab fish only through the head so as to leave undamaged the meat that would shortly be packed into the can, Alsberg observed many salmon being stabbed through the body. Some were still alive at the moment of injury, and the hemorrhaging that followed softened and discolored the flesh in ways that resulted in a less-appetizing product for the consumer.

Fishermen peughing the catch, location and year unknown.

Fishermen peughing the catch, location and year unknown.

 

Alsberg’s observation came at a time when salmon packers were beginning to pay greater attention to the handling of fish. Not only did pure food laws require sanitary operations, but an emerging awareness of nutrition meant that consumers were becoming more selective in their food choices. The canned salmon industry responded in part by instructing fishermen and cannery workers in new methods of handling fish.

 The peugh was on its way out.

 Starting in the 1920s, more and more Alaska canneries began moving salmon with elevators, mechanized conveyances consisting of a chain- or belt-driven series of scoops or flights that lifted fish from sea level up to the cannery. According to a magazine article by H. C. Daniels, engineer with Link Belt-Meese & Gottfried Company of Seattle, which in the 1920s sought to make elevator designs more efficient, the first elevators in use in Alaska consisted of a two-foot wide, rectangular trough made of wood planks, at the bottom of which a chain-driven belt in continuous upward motion drew flights (sometimes called buckets) made of four-inch slats spaced 18 to 30 inches apart. By pushing (not peughing) fish down a chute connecting the boat, scow, or tender to the bottom of the elevator, the salmon were carried up to the cannery by threes or more in every flight.

 A second type of elevator, one designed and sold by companies such as Daniels’s, featured a much narrower trough just eight inches across, at the bottom of which ran three interwoven belts in a net-like formation sectioned off by curved, sheet-steel flights. In addition to being lighter and easier to install and maneuver than the older elevator type, Daniels claimed “the fish, being carried lengthwise instead of crosswise, are less liable to jam or slide; and being carried rather than dragged over the bottom of the conveyor, are less apt to be injured or bruised.” 

Fish elevator at Metlakatla, year unknown.

Fish elevator at Metlakatla, year unknown.

 

At roughly the same time, fishermen began utilizing smaller, movable elevators that could be hauled aboard a fishing vessel and positioned such that salmon could be moved from the below-deck hold up to the boat’s rail and thence to the apron of the cannery elevator. The Amelie, an eighty-six-foot tender used in the P. E. Harris & Co. cannery in Hawk Inlet, Alaska, was among the first vessels designed and constructed expressly to be compatible with onboard elevators. A small, waterproof electric motor ran the conveyor, discharging the hold’s cargo of fish in two hours, whereas “unloading by hand would require the labor of four men for eight hours, tiring out the crew and keeping the boat tied up four times as long,” according to a profile of the vessel in Pacific Fisherman, a leading trade journal. Cannery operators came to appreciate elevators’ savings both in time and labor costs, as well as their ability to land fish in better condition than by peughing.

 Peughs remained in limited use in certain fisheries for several more years, perhaps even decades. But their eventual retirement turned peughs into museum pieces and marked the transition of canned salmon from a basic staple into one that could be marketed as pure and wholesome.





A Nickel a Tail

Date Posted: November 2, 2015       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries

by Ross Coen 

Among the countless conservation measures that have been applied to Alaska’s salmon fisheries throughout history, one of the least effective—but at the same time most interesting—is predator control.

 Few sights got a canneryman’s blood boiling quite like eagles, gulls, sea lions, trout, and all the rest snatching up mature or juvenile salmon from a spawning stream. The heyday of predator control in western Alaska occurred in the 1920s and 1930s when the federal and territorial governments collaborated with the packers to destroy these “enemies”.

 In 1929, the Alaska Territorial Legislature enacted measures under which bounties would be paid to Alaska residents who killed certain salmon predators, especially Dolly Varden in the streams and lakes of Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula. A single trout could consume hundreds of fry and thousands of roe every day, and fishermen saw each and every one as a potential adult salmon stolen from their nets.

 Under the bounty program, Alaskans received a nickel for every Dolly Varden tail they turned in to federal fisheries agents. William Sullivan, the warden for the Becharof Lake region near Egegik, reported that twenty-four Alaska Natives and six white residents participated in 1929-30, and that “60,387 trout tails were delivered…and paid for at the rate of five cents each amounting to $3,019.35.” Funding was initially provided by the territory, though the packers eventually contributed (some reluctantly) on a case-per-capita basis.

 Many resident bounty hunters took the vouchers they received for the tails and walked right over the local store to make purchases on credit. Soon enough, they sidestepped the middleman and started bringing buckets of tails directly to the store. “In some cases, the cooperation of storekeepers in accepting trout tails in exchange for food supplies has facilitated prompt payment to the fishermen,” wrote a federal fisheries agent approvingly in 1939.

 Although the bounty program provided a much-needed source of income for many Alaskans, it accomplished next to nothing by way of boosting salmon populations. Later study would reveal the eradication of a few thousand predators here and there exerts a negligible influence on an ecosystem as complex as that inhabited by anadromous fish. Like so many other topics in the history of canneries and fisheries, this one is as much about society, culture, and politics as it is about fish.

Jar containing 308 salmon fry removed from the stomach of a trout in Southeast Alaska, 1930. Photo courtesy National Archives.

Jar containing 308 salmon fry removed from the stomach of a trout in Southeast Alaska, 1930. Photo courtesy National Archives.