CANNERIES IN ALASKA
hISTORY OF cANNERIES AND fish traps
Alaska's first fish canneries were established in the mid-1800s. Commercial fishing grew and fish populations were adversely affected. At the same time, canneries provided jobs to rural Alaska residents in the increasingly cash-oriented economy. As cannery production increased, companies began working with predominantly immigrant labor from outside the state, thus dividing local populations. Fish traps, a refined technology developed and used by indigenous communities, were put to commercial use, and became a key flashpoint in concerns about overfishing and about subsistence versus commercial fish use. Fish traps were a central topic of consideration during the Constitutional Convention in the 1950s, as Alaskans established policies and priorities for statehood.
snapshot: the Diamond nn cannery
In its heyday, the Pacific salmon canning industry caught and canned enough salmon to feed four pounds of salmon a year to every person in America. Lined up end to end, these one-pound tins could have circled the globe. As anthropologist Alan Boraas noted, “Canneries transformed this entire area and represent the industrial revolution of the North.”
Canneries became cultural hubs that reflect and contribute to Alaska’s diverse population. The Alaska Packers Association (APA) employed mostly immigrants from Europe to fish for salmon. Immigrants built the canneries themselves and the growing fishing fleet. To process the salmon, canneries hired largely Asian crews, linking Alaska to the broader Pacific Rim. Among the Alaska Native communities who worked at canneries were descendants of Katmai, many of whom migrated downriver to South Naknek after the Novarupta volcano destroyed their Savonoski village in 1912 and the Spanish flu pandemic devastated inhabitants in 1919. Part of the historical significance of APA’s NN Cannery in South Naknek is the cultural history contained within its structures, objects and the industrial landscape. Rusted corrugated tin, discarded machines parts, broken boardwalks, and skeletal remains of bunkhouses are the enduring reminders of the past that gives voice to the diverse cannery workers.
Colt, Steve. "The Political Economy of Fish Traps In Alaska." The Political Economy of Fish Traps In Alaska. Alaskool, 15 Feb. 2000. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Ringsmuth, Katie. "AHS Blog/ Alaska's Historic Canneries." Alaska Historical Society. Alaska Historical Society, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
"Onshore Alaska Seafood Processing Jobs | Canneries And Freezing". AlaskaFishingJobsNetwork. 2017. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. http://www.alaskafishingjobsnetwork.com/onshore-jobs/