Steamboat Bay, Noyes Island

Steamboat Bay, Noyes Island

by | Apr 12, 2023


Steamboat Bay is the site of a historic salmon cannery on the north coast of Noyes Island, part of the Prince of Wales Archipelago in the Gulf of Esquibel of Southeast Alaska, about 122 miles (197 km) southeast of Sitka and 77 miles (124 km) west-northwest of Ketchikan, Alaska. The bay was named in 1923 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey after Steamboat Point a headland at the entrance to the bay. The headland is indistinct except for a landslide that left a prominent grey scar at an elevation of about 1,000 feet (305 m) on the headland which is an important navigational landmark for historical steamship captains. The embayment is bisected and formed by a fault that cuts through rocks of the Descon Formation which represents this part of the Alexander terrane. The formation consists of a sequence of coarse and fine-grained marine rocks over 10,000 feet (3,050 m) thick, predominantly greywacke with interbedded basaltic volcanics and some limestone, which comprises the oldest known rocks exposed in the northwest coastal area of Prince of Wales Island. The formation is intruded by diorite exposed on several mountain peaks such as Noyes Peak with an elevation of 2,275 feet (693 m) at the head of the watershed draining into Steamboat Bay.

The historical cannery at Steamboat Bay began operations around 1917 when the Noyes Island Packing Company started a saltery for the mild curing of salmon and then expanded into a full salmon cannery. In 1922, during one of several industry consolidations, the cannery was sold to the Steamboat Bay Packing Company, and in 1924, it was sold again to the New England Fish Company. In the 1940s, the facility underwent major growth and renovation to support the World War II effort. Most of the salmon were caught in fish traps and purse seine nets which were causing over exploitation. This became a geopolitical concern when data suggested that 71% of the salmon caught off Noyes Island were destined for Canadian natal streams. By 1957, the allocation and management of salmon resources passing through politically partitioned land and sea space in southeastern Alaska and northern British Columbia had become a major issue. In 1959, the cannery shut when Alaska became the 49th state of the United States and fish traps were outlawed. Since then, there have been several owners who operated the facility as a fish packing and shipping site until the massive structure was eventually abandoned. In 2007, the historical site at the head of Steamboat Bay was converted into a luxury fishing resort.

A population survey of Southeast Alaska geoduck clams began in 1978 at Noyes Island. In 1983, a management plan was developed, and in late 1985, the first permit was issued for a commercial harvest. Between 1989 and 1999, increased interest in the fishery began after commercially viable geoduck beds were found on the west coast of Gravina Island south of Vallenar Point, Symonds Bay at Biorka Island, Kah Shakes, and at Goddard near Sitka. The geoduck is the largest North American bivalve, and one of the world’s largest burrowing clams, reaching a weight of more than 13 pounds (5.9 kg). The name was derived from a Nisqually language phrase for ‘dig deep’ as the clams can be more than 4 feet (1.3 m) under the surface in coarse sand. The geoduck fishery occurs throughout coastal Washington, British Columbia, and Southeast Alaska and is conducted by divers using surface-supply air. In the commercial fishery, geoducks are harvested individually using a water jet that loosens the substrate around the clam, allowing the diver to lift the clams out alive. Geoducks are shipped to processing plants where they are packed and usually delivered live to Asian markets. Read more here and here. Explore more of Steamboat Bay and Noyes Island 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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