XVI. ALASKAN FISHERIES THE COD, ETC. (Historic Information)
The cession of Alaska to the United States immediately stimulated and rendered permanent the hitherto desultory and experimental fishery efforts, and the fleet engaged in catching cod immediately increased from three sail in 1867 to fourteen in 1868, all from the port of San Francisco.
The great distance from the home port at which the fishery was conducted proved so expensive in time and money that the policy was adopted of establishing in Alaska shore stations, from which fishermen could operate in small boats. The first shore station was located in 1876 at Pirate Cove, in the Shumagin group. In 1907 there were no fewer than nineteen such stations, situated on the following islands. Six on Unga, four on Sanak, three each on Guinak and Sagai, two on Little Koniuji, and one on Popof. These stations are operative the entire year. The fishermen usually go out singly, in a dory, from one to five miles, where in good weather they haul trawl lines several times each day. The men thus employed furnish only the fishing gear.
In fleet operations the fishing is usually by hand lines from dories ; while each vessel carries a dressing gang, with splitter and salter. The usual bait, both shore and ship, is halibut, sculpin, and cuttle-fish.
As better grounds the outer banks have been discovered, the fish prove larger, and the average weight of a codfish has risen from 2.8 pounds in 1868 to 4 pounds in 1900.
Systematic work was commenced by the Bureau of Fisheries in 1888 to locate and survey the best fishing grounds, and the Albatross in the next four seasons examined and plotted many codfish banks, of which the following are the principal: Slime, Baird or Moller, and Gravel, all in Bering Sea, Davidson, Albatross, Portlock, Sannak, and Shumagin, on the southern side of the Alaskan Peninsula.
The fluctuation in the market price of Alaskan cod has varied so greatly that the tables of values and quantities materially differ. The salted weight of codfish fell from 842 short tons in 1868 to 228 in 1874. Rising to 1,322 tons in 1885, it has annually exceeded 1,000 tons since, except in 1899. It rose above 1,500 tons for four years and its increase has been steady, though irregular. Of late years the salted product has been, in short tons, as follows: 1900, 3,034, 1901, 3,008, 1902, 4,500, 1903, 4,354, 1904, 5,532; 1905, 6,062. An overstocked market and bad season combined to cause a great falling off to 2,130 tons in 1906, 3,029 in 1907, and to 1,900 tons, valued at $134,775, in 1908.
Special care is necessary properly to cure the Alaskan cod to a condition equal to that of the Atlantic cod, and neglect in the past has militated against the regular marketing of the Alaskan cod in the great fish-consuming West Indies. The establishment of fixed standards and their rigid maintenance will serve to increase the use of the Alaskan cod, of which the catch can, it is believed, be enormously increased.
To benefit further and render permanent the valuable cod fisheries of Alaska, the Commissioner of Fisheries of the United States has recommended that a national hatchery be established on one of the Shumagin Islands.
Although limited in its output, as compared in early years with the cod fishery and most especially as to the salmon catch, yet the halibut is an important and steadily increasing factor in the productivity of Alaskan waters. The importance of the halibut catch is indicated by the statistics for 1907, which show that the invested capital amounts to $16,917, with a personnel of 591. The halibut products in Alaskan waters for that year amounted to $238,751, including the take of the Puget Sound fleet there fishing. In 1908, exclusive of the Puget Sound fleet, it was valued at $175,742.
At shore stations the men are paid per fish, while the fleet fishery is conducted on shares. Eighty per cent, of the halibut are packed in ice, from near-by glaciers, and so marketed fresh in the Puget Sound ports through passing commercial steamers, on which freight rates from Juneau to Seattle range from $7.50 to $9 per ton. About ten per cent, of the halibut is marketed frozen, for which purpose cold-storage plants have been built at Tee and Taku Harbors. The remainder of the catch is fletched and mostly salted, though some is smoked at Juneau. The experimental canning of the halibut has been successful, and its extensive prosecution in the future seems assured.
Occasionally halibut weighing from 200 to 250 pounds are taken, and one weighing 365 pounds was brought into Juneau in 1904. One of the catch in 1907 had twenty-two good-sized herring in its stomach. It is stated that females have well-developed eggs at all seasons of the year. The halibut frequent the banks of the Inside Passage only in the cold months, from October to March, seeking deeper water on the approach of warm weather.
The detailed catches prior to 1905 are unavailable, but from 1890 to 1904 inclusive they aggregate, according to Mr. J. N. Cobb, 12,454 short tons of the value of $.772,658. The catch and value in late years are: 1905, 2,360 tons, $148,904, 1906, 2,100 tons, $158,318, 1907, 1,795 tons, $140,751, and 1908, 2768 tons, $175,742. To these values should also be added the catch of the Puget Sound fleet in Alaskan waters, $80,881 in 1906, and $98,020 in 1907, and probably $100,000 in 1908.
Halibut fishing is conducted both from shore stations and by fleets, power and sail. Steam trawlers have proved uneconomical, although trawls are largely and successfully used by fishermen in dories.
Eighty per cent, of the catch is from shore stations, which are established on the shores of, or adjacent to, the Inside Passage between Ketchikan and Juneau, in Frederick Sound, Icy, Chatham, Peril, and Summer Straits, with headquarters at Wrangell Narrows.
Thus far the halibut fishery has been confined to southeastern Alaska, where its output is thought to have reached its maximum, and the extension of the halibut industry is considered probable in the near future to Cook Inlet and adjacent large banks, and to Bering Sea.
The herring catch has been confined to southeastern .Alaska, where it has been of considerable importance for many years, though in late seasons there have been steadily decreasing outputs.
From 1901 to 1905 the herring products averaged in value, including oil and fertilizers, more than $100,000 annually, with a maximum of $124,950 in 1901. Since 1883 the entire value must approximate $2,000,000, as incomplete data exceed in amount $1,750,000.
The decreased catch in late years is attributed to the persistent over-fishing by nets for the purpose of making fertilizers, thus breaking up schools and driving the herring into deeper water. Out of the 1907 values of $54,239, 44 per cent, of the herring were used for food, 31 for bait, and 25 for fertilizers. Smoked and canned herring are being experimentally marketed, and the larger use of this excellent fish for food is anticipated. The total value of herring taken in 1908 was $69,200 food, oil, and guano.
Cobb, in his report to the United States Commissioner of Fisheries, says: "There is no question but that the herring fisheries of Alaska will be quite important in the near future.
Fertilizers and Oil
The principal fertilizer plant was erected at Killisnoo, of which, in their report of 1906, Cobb and Kutchin write:
This plant, originally built to handle herring, since 1882 has produced 4,281,420 gallons of oil, valued at $l,050,369, and 29,319,800 pounds of fertilizer, valued at $349,349. In the early years . . . the vast majority of fish taken were herring, but of late years . . . large quantities of salmon have been utilized.
The establishment gives employment to 600 persons, half of them Indians, being largely dependent upon the work and wages. It would seem unfair to forbid the plant to use herring unless a substitute can be found.
They suggest as this substitute salmon and other fish offal.
The Killisnoo establishment handled in 1907, 33,700 barrels of herring and salmon against 61,500 barrels in 1906, with a decreased value of $19,126.
It is evident that in the near future the wise provisionary policy of conservation of resources will be applied to Alaskan fisheries, where the utilization of products now wasted would enormously augment the output of future years.
Of the four species of trout in Alaska, the Dolly Varden, often called salmon trout, is very abundant, and reaches a weight of ten pounds. It is found in every stream, except in the upper Yukon region, is a fine game fish; and affords excellent food, but is only of local value at towns where it may be eaten fresh. The Mackinaw trout abounds in the lakes of the upper Yukon region; frequently reaches a weight of fifty pounds ; and is often seen in the markets of Dawson, and White Horse. Steelhead trout, weighing from ten. to fifteen pounds, are taken in river mouths, and are either salted or marketed by cold storage. The rainbow trout is occasionally found, while the cut-throat trout, averaging about three pounds, is abundant at Sitka and in streams farther south.
Miscellaneous and Minor Fisheries
Capelin are abundant in coastal waters; in Sitka Bay great schools appear in October.
Eulachon, or candle fish, frequent in large numbers the river mouths and bays of southeastern Alaska for brief periods in May. Large schools frequent the rivers of Cook Inlet for a brief stay. On Alaskan Peninsula, at Three Star Point, they strand on the beach in such numbers "that the bears are attracted for miles around to feed on them." The natives insert a wick or pith through the dried fish, which is so oily that when lighted it burns with the clearness and regularity of a candle, hence its name.
Smelt run annually in the mouths of most rivers. In 1906 a shipment of 500 pounds to New York City elicited a telegraphic order for a carload.
Tomcod very abundant in fall and spring in Norton Sound, furnishing largely the food supply for natives dogs as well as men.
Atka Mackerel, so called, very plentiful along the Aleutian Isles, where they largely form the native food supply.
Lamprey abound in the Yukon in great numbers. They are captured by the natives through the ice and frozen for winter dog food.
Dallia pectoralis, a small, very fat black fish, forms as a whole the principal winter food of the natives of the Yukon and Kuskokwim deltas. Its tried-out pellucid oil is considered a greatly relished delicacy. The method of obtaining oil is described by Petrolif in his "Report on Alaska," p. 61.
Whitefish are most abundant in the rivers flowing into the Bering Sea. Caught in ingenious wicker-work traps by the Indians, they form an important part of the winter food.
Boreogadus saida is an important food for the natives at Point Barrow, while to the east the tributaries of the Arctic Sea furnish whitefish and the Mackenzie inconnu, which sometimes reaches a length of five feet and a weight of fifty pounds.