Loring, Naha Bay

Loring, Naha Bay

by | Dec 8, 2021

Loring is a small community at the site of a historical salmon cannery on the west coast of Revillagigedo Island, at the head of Naha Bay and near the mouth of the Naha River, about 66 miles (106 km) south-southeast of Wrangell and 17 miles (27 km) north of Ketchikan, Alaska. The name is from the Tlingit language, although the meaning has been lost, and was first reported in 1883 by William Healey Dall, of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The Naha River flows generally west through a series of lakes for 17 miles (27 km) to Naha Bay and was once one of the most prolific salmon streams in Alaska. The mouth of the river was the site of an ancient Tlingit village where according to oral tradition the Eagle clan led by a man named Kitch-tu-hini lived on one side, and the Wolf clan led by Gish-naga-núsh lived on the opposite bank. The Eagle clan built a low rock dam at the outlet of the first lake so that at high tide the top would be submerged and seals chasing the salmon would swim over the rock pile and get trapped when the tide receded. The dam trapped enough seals to supply all the families of both clans with fish and seals. Over time, the catch in the dam gradually lessened and the Eagle party could no longer spare enough to supply all demands of the other clan. A feud broke out between the clan leaders resulting in several murders and eventually, the Eagle clan left the area and migrated far away to the south. In 1875, Euro-American settlers arrived at the small Tlingit village in Naha Bay and soon established a salmon saltery. In 1888, the Alaska Salmon Packing and Fur Company, of San Francisco, built a cannery that was operated by the Cutting Packing Company. The cannery used a fish trap to catch salmon at the river mouth. Loring became the principal service center for Southeast Alaska fishing, and steamships provided scheduled passenger and freight service to Puget Sound. In 1892, it joined with other canneries under the Alaska Packing Association, and the cannery was expanded from a capacity of about 400 cases per day to 1,800 cases per day, with 48 one-pound (0.45 kg) cans per case. Many cannery owners from Washington, Oregon, and California were operating in Alaska, and by 1896, 29 canneries packed nearly one million cases of canned salmon per year, and new canneries were being built every year.

The dramatic increase in production over a decade brought concerns that the salmon runs could not continue with such pressure, and this intensified the need for conservation. In 1897, Alaska salmon research finally came to the political forefront and the U.S. Fish Commission sent the USS Albatross, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Jefferson Moser, to Alaska to investigate and report. Upon arrival at Loring, Moser sent a party to survey the watershed and found the salmon stream suffering from many years of abuse. Until 1893, it was solidly closed by a fish barricade that was impossible for a fish to pass through. The reports by Moser and others prompted the U.S. Congress to enact the 1889 Fisheries Act which was an attempt to avoid potentially detrimental impacts of commercial fishing methods, specifically in the Alaska territory. The initial Fisheries Act banned the use of stream barricades as a means to capture salmon and called for further investigations about salmon ecology and distribution. The Fisheries Act was amended in 1900 to further offset fishery impacts by mandating that any entity harvesting any species of wild salmon in Alaska must establish a hatchery to produce sockeye salmon. These mandatory hatcheries were required to produce sockeye salmon fry at levels four times greater than the number of harvested wild fish. In response, in 1901, the Loring cannery built the Fortmann Hatchery on Heckman Lake, the third lake in the Naha River watershed, with a tramway along the Naha River connecting the hatchery to Loring. The hatchery was named after Henry F. Fortmann who was the owner of the Arctic Packing Company, and one of the founding members of the Alaska Packers Association. The hatchery was the best equipped and largest salmon hatchery in the world, with a capacity of over 110 million eggs. The Fortmann Hatchery operated until 1927, but most mandatory hatcheries were closed within one year of construction. The cannery closed in 1930, and Ketchikan soon became the largest community on Revillagigedo Island.

On August 12, 1889, the steam sidewheeler SS Ancon departed Port Townsend on a regular run north with about 100 first-class passengers, 30 steerage passengers, and 70 crew under the command of Captain David Wallace. She stopped at Victoria and then sailed directly to Tongass Narrows, roughly the site of modern Ketchikan. She then made the usual stops at Loring, Wrangell, Juneau, Killisnoo, Sitka, and then Haines and Skagway. Ancon headed south from there arriving back at the dock in Loring on August 27. Ancon tied up overnight to take aboard cases of processed salmon and was underway again at 3 am but immediately ran onto an uncharted reef, well inside the harbor and only a few hundred feet from shore. Passenger reports suggest that the cause of the wreck was a line handling error as the ship left the wharf. The tide was ebbing, creating a current out of the harbor. The bow line was let go and the current began to swing the ship around, pivoting on the stern line, to face out of the harbor. The stern line was let go too early; however, and instead of turning so that the bow faced out, the ship drifted sideways out the bay. She grounded amidships and stuck there as the tide fell. Ancon listed to port and the strain caused cabin doors to jam. Some passengers had to escape out their windows. The receding tide brought the full weight of the ship and the cargo onto the rocks eventually breaking the keel. The ship was so close to shore that it was easy to transfer the passengers and their baggage in small boats. The Alaska Packing Company organized shelter among the company buildings, private homes, and even among the local Tlingit houses. On September 1, 1889, SS George W. Elder reached Loring on a regularly scheduled run and took aboard all of Ancon’s passengers and crew, and returned to Port Townsend on September 5, 1889. Two-thirds of Ancon’s cargo of 13,835 cases of canned salmon, 182 barrels of salted salmon, gold bullion from the Juneau mines, and other merchandise was salvaged, but the ship was a total loss. Parts of the ship that were not salvaged or burned were left to rot and rust. Today, the only remains are the thickest parts of the boilers which can still be seen at low tide. The accident was commemorated by the painting called Wreck of the ‘Ancon’ in Loring Bay, Alaska by Albert Bierstadt that now hangs in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. In 1930, the movie ‘Silver Horde‘ was partially filmed in Loring during the last season of the cannery operation. Read more here and here. Explore more of Loring and Naha Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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