Uganik Fisheries Cannery, Northeast Arm

Uganik Fisheries Cannery, Northeast Arm

by | Mar 15, 2022

Uganik Fisheries is a historical salmon cannery on the north shore of Northeast Arm in Uganik Bay about 1.3 miles (2 km) southeast of Starr Point on the northwestern coast of Kodiak Island, about 147 miles (237 km) south-southwest of Homer and 35 miles (56 km) west of Kodiak, Alaska. Uganik Bay is a deglaciated fjord that extends southeast for 8.5 miles (14 km) from Shelikof Strait. The head of the fjord splits into Northeast Arm, East Arm, and South Arm, all descriptive names given in 1897 by Lieutenant Commander Jefferson F. Moser of the U.S. Navy on the Bureau of Fisheries steamer Albatross. These fjords extend deeply into the central part of Kodiak Island where the rock is dominated by the Kodiak Formation of the Chugach terrane that was accreted over the last 200 million years. Rocks of the Kodiak Formation generally consist of very fine to medium-grained greywacke and siltstone that formed as turbidity-current depositions in deep-sea-fan and abyssal-plain environments. The granitic rocks of the Kodiak batholith intruded into the Kodiak Formation during the Paleocene on the geological time scale, about 59-58 million years ago, and are exposed on the mountain slopes behind the abandoned cannery in Northeast Arm. The Kodiak batholith is a continuously exposed body of granitic rocks composed of multiple plutons consisting primarily of granite and granodiorite that extends for over 68 miles (110 km) along the axis of Kodiak Island and ranges in width from 1-6 miles (2-10 km). During the Last Glacial Maximum, the development of glaciers on Kodiak Island was so great that all except the highest peaks and ridges were completely buried by ice. The ice originated locally and flowed seaward in all directions from the central mountain ridges through all the present bays and extended eastward to the edge of the continental shelf and westward into Shelikof Strait and there joined eastward-flowing glaciers from the Alaska Peninsula. Coastal areas probably were depressed isostatically 330-820 feet (100-250 m) when deglaciation began about 13,000 years ago.

More than 7,500 years ago, the first maritime culture in Alaska called the Ocean Bay people, who were the ancestors of today’s Alutiiq people, migrated along the southern coast. They traveled in skin-covered boats through Shelikof Strait establishing semi-permanent settlements on the Alaska Peninsula and were the first to cross to Kodiak Island. Ocean Bay people were highly skilled mariners who hunted seals, sea lions, otters, and porpoises. They quarried slate from outcrops and worked the rock to create spear points. They also hollowed out stones that were filled with sea mammal oil and burned for heat and light. Other tools include clam picks made of bone, sea mammal bone hooks for deep-sea fishing, and kelp fishing lines. About 1800 BC, the Kachemak tradition developed from the Ocean Bay culture. Early Kachemak people made much greater use of grooved cob­ble and notched pebble weights than Ocean Bay, probably indicating changes in fishing tech­niques. The broad, single-edged, ground slate knife called an ulu became common. Toggle harpoon heads first appeared on Kodiak at this time. Later Kachemak people used larger stone lamps with carvings of whales, seals, and humans in the bowl or on the lamp exterior. About 600 to 700 years prior to European contact, another cultural transition occurred probably influenced by peoples external to Kodiak when the use of ceramics appeared, and the Kachemak tradition developed into the Koniag tradition or ancestral Alutiiq. In 1763, Stephan G. Glotov, a Russian navigator, explorer, and fur trader was the first European to discover Kodiak Island, and at that time the Alutiiq population is estimated to have been over 8,000 with settlements on Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula. Russia formally proclaimed its rule over the territory in 1799, providing monopolistic privileges to the state-sponsored Russian-American Company and establishing the Russian Orthodox Church. The colony initially prospered from the fur trade, but by the mid 19th century, overhunting and logistical challenges led to its gradual decline with most settlements being abandoned by the 1860s. In 1867, the Alaska Purchase transferred the territory to the United States.

By 1870, at least two companies, the Alaska Fur Trading Company and the Alaska Commercial Company had begun to market salt salmon from Kodiak Island, and in 1879, a saltery was established on the Karluk River about 43 miles (70 km) southwest of Uganik. The first salmon cannery was built at Karluk in 1882 and by 1888, there were four canneries at Karluk including one operated by the Alaska Improvement Company. In 1896, the Alaska Improvement Company used an experimental fish trap at Uganik. No traps had been used prior to 1896. That same year, the Alaska Packer’s Association built a cannery at the head of East Arm Uganik Bay at the outlet of the Uganik River which is a major sockeye salmon spawning watershed. For several years a saltery was operated in a bight on the southern shore of the East Arm. In 1897, the Alaska Improvement Company replaced the earlier experimental fish trap, and built a second larger trap leading from a point near the saltery on the southern shore and extending for at least 0.5 miles (0.8 km) across the middle of the arm. The two traps undoubtedly captured most of the fish in the bay. In 1922, an independent group of pioneer Alaskans formed a company called the Kodiak Fishing and Packing Company and processed herring at a saltery in Uganik Bay. This venture was a failure and the group lost its entire investment. The following year they were granted a permit to pack salmon, and they built a cannery on the north shore of the Northeast Arm of Uganik Bay. The permit allowed the company to fish salmon in Uganik, Terror, and Viekoda Bays and in Shelikof Strait between Cape Ugat and Raspberry Strait. The company employed local residents to provide most of the labor for constructing the cannery, fishing, and processing the catch. In 1930, the company changed names to Uganik Fisheries and began using controversial fish traps hung from piles driven into the bottom to increase yield, and more non-residents were brought in to process the catch. By 1944, 52% of the fish were caught in purse seines, 42% by traps, and 6% with gill nets. As sockeye salmon populations declined, more pink salmon had to be caught to make a profit. In 1945, the San Juan Fishing and Packing Company, which owned another cannery further south in Northeast Arm at Port O’Brien, purchased Uganik Fisheries for the fish trap sites and other gear including a pile driver for maintaining the traps but idled the cannery. Read more here and here. Explore more of Uganik Fisheries here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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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