In general the prosperity of our Alaskan investment was long thought to be dependent on the fur-seal rookeries of the Pribilof Islands. The great falling off in marketed sealskins of one-third, from 1881 to 1882, was viewed by many as the beginning of the end of Alaskan productivity.

The maximum output in value of fur-seal skins occurred in 1880, amounting that year to $2,347,687. A few far-sighted and enterprising firms of San Francisco realized the great wealth of life in the northern seas, and were endeavoring to develop the fisheries of Alaska. Despite their utmost efforts the fishery products in 1880 were viewed somewhat askant, as they totalled less than $500,000, about one-seventeenth that of the fur-seal values.

The extension and conservation of the valuable fisheries of Alaska have been largely due to the energetic and persistent efforts of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries and his skilled assistants. Their reports are full of valuable and interesting matter, which has been largely utilized in this volume.

Few, it is thought, realize, even to-day, the extraordinary growth of the Alaskan fisheries, whose values aggregated in 1907 $9,500,000 as against less than $500,000 for fur-seals, the rookeries producing only one-nineteenth as much as the fisheries.

Suffice it here to say that the salmon fishery alone has increased from an output of $41,277 in 1878 to the stupendous sum of $9,164,308 in 1907. Among other contributions to the grand aggregate of $10,160,183 (including $475,107 for fur-seal) of Alaskan fisheries for 1907, the next important are the cod, $148,301, and the halibut, $140,076.

The extent and importance of the fishery industries are shown not alone in their vast productivity, but also in their capitalization, personnel, and their indirect; influence on trade. Eliminating the cash capital and the outfits for fishing and transportation, the total investment in 1907 reached $9,216,028. Of the 12,732 persons employed, no less than 4,829 (two thirds white and the balance natives) were engaged directly in fishing, 7,277 in canneries, salteries, and other shore work, while 646 were employed in the transporting vessels. From the racial standpoint 5,365 were whites, 3,303 Indians, 2,206 Chinese, and 1,873 Japanese. The last-named nationality is rapidly replacing the Chinese in the canneries and salteries. It is a healthy sign that the Alaskan natives are taking up fishing in increasing numbers.

A Federal law to protect and regulate the fisheries of Alaska was enacted by Congress in 1889, but it proved ineffective and was replaced by the Act of June 30, 1906. The present law levies license taxes on business and output; makes suitable exemptions for salmon-fry liberated; forbids obstructions against ascent of fish to spawning grounds; limits seine and other similar appliances; fixes methods and times of fishing in United States waters; authorizes preserves for spawning grounds; forbids canning or salting of fish over two days dead; makes unlawful the wanton destruction of fish, proscribes misbranding, requires sworn annual reports from corporations; and authorizes the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to formulate regulations for the enforcement of the act.

It may be added that by the law of June 14, 1906, aliens are prohibited from fishing in any of the waters of Alaska under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Salmon Industry

Apart from gold mining the salmon fishery is the overshadowing industry in Alaska. In the first five years, 1878 to 1882, the output was less than 12,000 cases, while in the five years, 1900 to 1905, the average pack exceeded 2,100,000 cases annually, valued at over 86,000,000. Until the phenomenal catch of 1908 the maximum output, 2,545,298 cases (calculated on the basis of 48 pounds to a case) was in 1902, which at an estimated value of S3 a case aggregated $7,635,894. The canneries produced in 1905 1,907,967 cases, valued at $6,304,671, 1906, 2,246,989 cases, worth $7,896,392, 1907, 2,202,100, value $8,786,366. The catch of 1908 was phenomenally large, amounting (on the basis of 48 pounds to the case) to 2,606,972 cases, valued at $10,185,783; this is the largest catch in the history of the industry, and in it were engaged 13,337 employees.

The average value per case, estimated in this account at $3 prior to and including 1904, rose from $3.30 in 1905 to $3.51 in 1906, and $3.99 in 1907.

The five species of salmon, in order of food value, are, 1, Cjumat, 2, red, 3, silver, 4, humpback, and 5, dog. The quinat is called king in Alaska, chinook on the Columbia, and spring on the Fraser. Its flesh is superior and it is larger than other species, averaging twenty-two pounds at maturity, and sometimes reaching 100 pounds. In Alaska the principal run is in May, and salmon appear in large numbers in the following first-class rivers: the Yukon, Stikine, Taku, Unuk, Kuskokwim, Speel, Alsek, Whiting, Copper, Susitna, Nushagak, and Kvichak. In the Yukon some king salmon ascend each year 2,250 miles to Caribou Crossing.

The red salmon, so called from its crimson color when about to spawn, is known in Fraser River as the sockeye, and on the Columbia as the blue-back. At maturity it averages about seven pounds, but its dry, reddish, most compact flesh necessitates long boiling for canning. It runs chiefly in July, and ascends the Yukon 1,800 miles to Fortymile River. It always spawns in streams which head in a lake. Small or dwarf red salmon running late in Cook Inlet are locally called "arctic salmon," and such also run in Necker and other southern bays. The four greatest of the red-salmon streams are the Fraser, Nushagak, Kvichak, and Karluk, the last, in proportion to its water, not being exceeded in the world as to its fish.

Salmon Cannery on Karluk River, Kodiak. (The greatest salmon stream in the world.)

The silver salmon resembles the red salmon, though its flesh is paler and better flavored. Called coho in Puget Sound, it is canned under that name, or as medium red. It runs in Alaska from August 15 to September 15, though it can be taken by seine throughout the year on all fishing grounds.

The humpback is the most abundant species in Alaska.

Prof. D. S. Jordan, an authority on fishes, says:

It exists in millions, it swarms everywhere in waters near the sea breeding wherever a little fresh water can be found. In the large rivers the humpback rarely runs, and it is therefore almost unknown in the Sacramento, the Columbia, and even the Fraser.

The plump, silvery dog salmon, known also as calico salmon, averages ten pounds. Its flesh is pale and is unsuitable food when canned. It is, however, well flavored when fresh and is exported by cold storage as well as salted.

In quantity the king or spring salmon forms a most inconsiderable factor, the catch being less than one per cent, of that canned.

A comparatively small number of coho or silver salmon is caught, about 3 per cent, in 1906 and also in 1907, while the dog or chum salmon fell off from 10 per cent, in 1906 to 5 per cent, in 1907.

The great bulk of the salmon fishery consists of the red or sockeye, which formed 62 per cent, of the whole catch in 1906 and 56 per cent, in 1907. Fifty-six per cent, of the sockeye in 1906 were caught in western Alaska, i. e., north of the Alaskan Peninsula; the central region, from Yakutat Bay westward to Alaska Peninsula, furnished 31 per cent. In 1907 there was a small relative increase in the central district and a diminution in the western waters. The pack of red salmon was the smallest for several years in 1907, but whether this is accidental or is an indication of over catch is uncertain. Doubtless it will either stimulate packers or the United States to proper restrictions in catch, and to supplemental means of the artificial reproduction of this most valuable species. Among such remedial measures, it is the recommendation of the Commissioner of Fisheries to forbid the salting of salmon bellies by processes that waste the rest of the fish. Beneficial effects are also anticipated from tie law of June 28, 1906, for the protection and regulation of the Alaskan fisheries.

The humpback or pink salmon is caught almost entirely in southeastern Alaska, throughout the waters of the Inside Passage. While it formed only 24 per cent, of the entire catch in 1906, it had increased in 1907 to 36 per cent.

Salmon are caught in Alaska by seine, gill-net, and trap, in the order named; the percentages in 1907 being 44, 32, and 24 per cent, respectively. As compared with the preceding year there was a falling off of 9 per cent, in the catch by gill-nets and a gain of 6 per cent, by traps.

That there is ample ground for economical improvement in the salmon industry is evident. There is an enormous waste in the offal, of which it is estimated that 35,000,000 pounds were thrown overboard in a single season. The great loss may be estimated from the fact that each ton of salmon offal will produce some 400 pounds of fertilizer and about 20 gallons of oil.

The prohibition of the use of stationary fishing gear on the Nushagak River, and the closing of Wood River to commercial fishing, by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor on January 1, 1908, are important steps toward securing ready access for salmon to their spawning grounds.

Canneries and Salteries

In 1907 there were operated in Alaska 45 canneries and 39 salteries, of which there were in southeastern Alaska 22 canneries and 32 salteries; in the central region 7 and 4, and in the western district 16 and 3 respectively. In 1908 there were operated 50 canneries and 30 salteries. The most important canneries as to their catch were at Boca de Quadra, Alsek River, Dundas, Kasaan, and Yakutat Bays in southeastern Alaska; at Kasilof, Uyak, Alitak, and Karluk in central Alaska; and on Ugaguk, Naknek, and Kvichak Rivers, and on Nelson Lagoon.

The salting of salmon, begun in 1868, has become an important industry. It increased slowly and irregularly to 1887, when it amounted to less than $40,000. It reached the extraordinary value of $272,648 in 1900, an output which overstocked the market and seriously affected the trade. In 1908 there were 35 salmon salteries which put up 35,949 barrels and 6,247 half barrels.

The preserving methods have since been radically changed, and in 1907 the dry-salted salmon was valued only at $1,505. Pickling, mild curing, smoking, freezing, and cold storage of salmon now supplement canning. The total output under these curing methods aggregated $262,337 in 1906 and $384,967 in 1907, the marketed fresh salmon amounting to $29,397 in 1907.

The value of all salmon caught in 1908 was $10,671,651, of which $485,868 pertains to other than canned salmon, i.e., to salted, mild-cured, fresh, etc.


Previsionary and timely measures have been adopted to insure continued prosperity in the salmon fishery, by guarding against undue depletion through the encormous number of fish canned yearly. The initiation and operation of salmon hatcheries were due to the private foresight and business enterprise of Alaskan packers.

In 1906-1907 four salmon hatcheries were operated, the Karluk River and Fortmann (Naha Stream) by the Alaska Packers Association) the Klawak Lake by the North Pacific Trading and Packing Company; and the Yes Lake Hatchery by the United States Bureau of fisheries. They took, respectively, the following millions of salmon eggs: Kailuk, 39, Fortmann, 105, Yes Lake, 58, and Klawak, 4.

The establishment of the Karluk cannery in 1891, which released 500,000 fry in 1892, has grown into a great well-ordered system, which released 174,000,000 of fry in 1906. The output in millions has been as follows: 1894, 2; 1895, 5; 1896, 5; 1897, 7; 1898, 10; 1899, 11; 1900; 13; 1901,16; 1902, 54; 1903, 63; 1904, 47; 1905, 104; 1906, 105; 1907, 174; and in 1908, over 200 millions.

Back to Table of Contents