Larsen Bay Cannery, Kodiak Island

Larsen Bay Cannery, Kodiak Island

by | Jul 8, 2021

Larsen Bay is a small village and historical salmon cannery on Larsen Bay, an embayment that extends 6 miles (9.6 km) off of Uyak Bay on the west coast of Kodiak Island, about 125 miles (202 km) southeast of King Salmon and 58 miles (94 km) west-southwest of Kodiak, Alaska. The Alutiiq name for the village is Uyaksaq. The current name is reputedly for Peter Adolf Larsen who was a famous bear hunter, furrier, and guide born in Sjælland, Denmark in 1882 and died on Unga Island in 1940. Uyak Bay extends south-southeast for 40 miles (65 km) from Shelikof Strait, nearly bisecting Kodiak Island. In 1805, Yuri Lysianskyi reported the Alutiiq name for the bay as Oohiack. The current name was given as Uyak Bay by Captain Mikhail Tebenkov in 1852 and Ooyak Bay by Ivan Petroff in 1881.

A salmon cannery was built in 1888 by the Arctic Packing Company on the western shore of Larsen Bay opposite the present location of the village. Here a seasonal community processed salmon from southern Kodiak Island. But the cannery production was marginal since the majority of the salmon were returning to the Karluk River watershed. The Karluk River is the largest and most productive salmon river on Kodiak Island. In 1889, a cannery was built on Karluk Lagoon on the exposed western coast of Kodiak Island by the Alaska Improvement Company. In 1898, the company joined the Alaska Packers Association during the industry consolidation. In 1911, the cannery was dismantled and moved to a sand spit nearly enclosing Larsen Bay to escape the violent westerly winds in Shelikof Strait. A permanent village of cannery workers, mostly Euro-American administrators, and Chinese and Alutiiq laborers became established near the cannery. This area was inhabited seasonally for at least 2,000 years based on hundreds of archeological artifacts since uncovered.

Over 30 remote salmon canneries once operated in the Kodiak archipelago when fish traps were the principal means of catching salmon. As new canneries were developed shortly following the Alaska Purchase, entrepreneurs realized that they could catch huge amounts of fish in their own large stationary traps, rather than using a fleet of boats. Almost immediately, however, local Natives, pioneers, and boat fishermen realized that the commercial fish trap was too efficient to conserve the salmon runs. For over 50 years an increasingly pitched political battle raged between residents and nonresidents, between labor and capital, and between local fishermen and distant federal bureaucrats. Opposition to the hated fish trap provided the political fuel for the statehood movement and in 1959, the new State of Alaska banned the trap as part of its constitution and most of the historical canneries were closed. Today, just a few fish processing facilities on Kodiak Island remain including Larsen Bay operated by Icicle Seafoods, Alitak operated by Ocean Beauty, and three facilities in the city of Kodiak operated by Ocean Beauty, Alaska Pacific Seafoods, and International Seafoods of Alaska. Read more here and here. Explore more of Larsen Bay Cannery and Uyak Bay here:

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