Clarks Point, Nushagak Bay

Clarks Point, Nushagak Bay

by | Jul 8, 2023

Clarks Point is the site of a historic community and salmon cannery located on the eastern shore of Nushagak Bay at the mouth of Clark Slough, about 57 miles (92 km) west-northwest of Naknek and 14 miles (23 km) south-southwest of Dillingham, Alaska. The Yup’ik name for the point is ‘Stagarok’, for a seasonal fish camp situated on the sand spit that extends north from the point. John Clark was the manager of the Alaska Commercial Company store at Nushagak and he operated a salmon saltery on the sand spit until 1888 when the Nushagak Packing Company built a cannery there. In 1901, the cannery was visited by Jefferson F.Moser on the USS Albatross and he reported the location as Clark Point. By 1935, a settlement had developed with a post office named Clarks Point. The point is formed by steep eroding bluffs that consist of glacial moraine deposits shaped by continental glaciers during the Pleistocene, and a spit that consists of estuarine sediments transported north and deposited by tidal currents. The bluffs and spit are susceptible to erosion from tides and storm surges which prompted many residents and community infrastructure on the spit to move to higher ground on top of the adjacent bluff.

The Yup’ik and Aleut people originated in eastern Siberia and migrated east across the Bering Sea in a series of three waves between 16,500 and 11,000 years ago when the Beringia land bridge was still exposed by lower sea levels toward the end of the Last Glacial Maximum. By 3,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Yup’ik people were settled along the coastal areas of western Alaska and began migrating up the major coastal rivers like the Yukon and Kuskokwim about 600 years ago. In 1818, the Russian-American Company sent Petr Korsakovskiy to explore Southwest Alaska with a team of 4 Russians and 20 Alutiiq from Kodiak. Among the Russian participants was Fedor Kolmakov, who was independently charged with assessing the potential for new sources of fur for the company and laying the groundwork for trade. They established a trading post known as Fort Alexander about 8 miles (13 km) north of Clarks Point. In 1883, the vessel Neptune anchored in Nushagak Bay to assess potential commercial salmon prospects, and by the late 1880s, there were four canneries in the bay with Arctic Packing Company at Kanulik, Bristol Bay Canning Company at Scandinavian Creek, Alaska Packing Company at Kanakanak, and Nushagak Packing Company at Clarks Point.

By 1890, canneries were producing more than the demand which forced one of several industry consolidations. The Alaska Packers Association was formed to control production and in 1893, the Nushagak Packing Company became a member of the Alaska Packers Association. In 1901, the cannery was expanded with a second line and over 1,000 gillnetters were fishing in the Nushagak and Bristol Bay. Fueled by demand during World War I, the canneries operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and recorded record profits; however, this likely caused a major crash in sockeye runs in 1919. During World War II, the canning operation ceased, and only salting was done. The plant was shut down in 1952, and the Alaska Packers Association used the facility as the headquarters for its fishing fleet. Continual erosion and flooding on the spit prompted a housing project to be constructed in 1982 on the bluff just south of the spit for permanent residents. The economic base in Clarks Point is still primarily commercial fishing. Most permanent residents depend on subsistence to some extent and travel over a great area if necessary for salmon, smelt, moose, bear, rabbit, ptarmigan, duck, and geese. Exchange relationships exist between nearby communities, for example, whitefish from Ekwok, New Stuyahok, and Bethel are traded for smelt, and lingcod from Manokotak are traded for moose. Air transport is the primary method of reaching Clarks Point; however, freight is brought by barge to Dillingham and then flown or lightered to the community. Read more here and here. Explore more of Clarks Point and Nushagak 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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