CLAM AND SALMON CANNING
TODAY, BRISTOL BAY is widely known as having the world's most plentiful stocks of wild sockeye (red) salmon, and the Naknek River system that flows out of Katmai National Park has long been known as one of the primary contributors to the bay's salmon stocks. The upper reaches of the Alagnak River drainage system also boast healthy salmon populations, though not to the extent of the Naknek River system. Along the eastern edge of the park, the many streams that flow into Shelikof Strait also had healthy salmon runs, and along Katmai's coastlinefrom Hallo Bay to Cape Douglas and also in Kashvik Baylie some of the state's most productive clam beds. Commercial fisheries interests, not surprisingly, were quick to respond to the area's abundant salmon and clam populations, and the legacy of that response is a number of abandoned canneries and a long record of fish and shellfish harvesting in and around park waters.
Area activity related to fishing or shellfish harvesting began soon after the United States government acquired Alaska from the Russians. In 1880, just two years after the establishment of Alaska's first two salmon canneries, two "fishing establishments" were located on Kodiak Island.  Two years later, Kodiak Island's first salmon cannerythe Smith and Hirsh cannerywas opened at salmon-rich Karluk Spit. As Patricia Roppel has made clear in her volume Salmon from Kodiak, salmon canning soon became a highly successful industry on Kodiak and nearby Afognak and Raspberry islands, and the Smith and Hirsh facility was the first of more than thirty cannery sites on those three islands.
Meanwhile, commercial interests were eyeing Bristol Bay's remarkable red salmon resource. Commercial fishing boats entered the bay in 1882, and a year later the Arctic Packing Company established a salting station on the Nushagak River at Kanulik.  That operation, in 1884, was expanded into a cannery, and by 1887 three more canneries had been established along the Nushagak. Cannery interests also investigated the salmon runs elsewhere in the bay, and in 1891 a packing operation was built along the Ugashik River, 50 miles south of the mouth of the Nushagak. 
To a large extent, the capital as well as much of the labor that operated the canneries and salteries of Kodiak Island and Bristol Bay came from outside Alaska. Companies based in Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco typically financed these facilities. The managers and skilled craftsmen hailed from the U.S. or western Europe, and the fishermen in the company's employ were Scandinavians or southern Europeans. In some locations, the cannery crews were primary of Chinese or Japanese extraction; but elsewhere, local Natives participated as well. (Natives, less often, also worked as fishermen.) The crews arrived in late spring, lived in marginal and isolated conditions during their time in Alaska, and returned to a West Coast port as soon as the salmon run had passed. People affiliated with canneries had few opportunities to intermingle, or do business, with local residents. 
By 1890, fishing interests had established a toehold in the immediate vicinity of the present-day park when two salteries began operating along the lower Naknek River. Five years later, that presence increased when the Arctic Packing Company and the Naknek Packing Company built canneries along the Naknek. By the close of the century, additional canneries had been built in new Bristol Bay locations: at Koggiung, Egegik, and elsewhere. Ever since that time, the salmon industry has been by far the dominant industry Bristol Bay, and for more than a century at least one cannery has been in operation along the Naknek River.  The presence of this industry, not surprisingly, has had a tangible effect on the health of the salmon populations that have returned each year to the lakes and streams in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
After the turn of the century, Native participation in the area's commercial fishing industry began to increase. Two reasons account for the change: first, canneries offered the lure of a cash economy, and second, Congressional anti-immigration laws (such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1904) forced cannery interests to look elsewhere for labor. By June 1912, therefore, it was noted that "a goodly proportion of the working force" at the Naknek salmon packing plant "evidently came from [the Native village of] Savonoski on the upper Naknek River drainage." 
Natives living on the Shelikof Strait side of the Alaska Peninsula after the turn of the century were also tied to the commercial fishing industry. Kaflia Bay, just south of Kukak Bay, became the site of a seasonal saltery and store, and in response, Katmai and Douglas villagers flocked to the site and beach-seined for salmon. The saltery was apparently so successful that by 1912, many local residents (in the words of archeologist Don Dumond) "were actually in the informal process of being relocated at Kaflia Bay."  The eruption of Novarupta in June 1912, however, abruptly ended that activity; ash from the volcano buried Kaflia Bay village to a depth of three feet on the level and forced all the villagers to flee. 
Several years later, a new industryclam processingbegan to emerge as a significant industry along the eastern coastline of the park. The commercial production of clams, predictably, had begun in southeastern Alaska; then, in 1916, the Cordova area witnessed the territory's first large-scale clam cannery. Just three years later, the Surf Packing Company built a cannery at Snug Harbor on the southwest side of Chisik Island. This site was north of Katmai, and was just east of Lake Clark National Park.). The Snug Harbor facility was a salmon cannery, but it made an experimental pack of clams. It continued clam production the following year. In 1921, still harvesting salmon as its primary income stream, the company also harvested an estimated $9,940 in clams; that total comprised the entire Alaskan pack of canned clams that year. This combination of clam and salmon canning was to characterize fisheries operations along the west side of Cook Inlet (and adjacent Shelikof Strait) for the next thirty years. 
In 1922, the Kamishak Canning Company brought the industry closer to the park when it built a salmon cannery at Kamishak Bay. It put up only one pack, however, and was not used again.
A year later, the Hemrich Packing Company opened a clam-canning operation at Kukak Bay. The year after it opened, it also went into business as a salmon cannery. In 1925, the company leased its facility to the Seashore Packing Company, which put up a pack for the next three years. The Hemrich Packing Company operated the salmon and clam cannery on its own in 1928, but leased it again to the Seashore Packing Company for the 1929 through 1931 seasons. In 1932, the Pioneer Packing Company leased the cannery. The plant was closed for the next two years, but Surf Canneries purchased it processed clams there in 1935 and 1936. By 1936, Kukak Bay had a clam and salmon cannery appraised at $89,000, while Swikshak Bay (where the clams were havested) had "fishing cabins, docks, and other improvements" valued at $2,000.  The two sites were abandoned after the 1936 season. The Kukak Bay facility differed from most of the other canneries in that it did not employ fish traps as part of its operations. 
The salmon that were processed in the various Kukak Bay operations were harvested from the Shelikof Strait and other nearby areas. The clamming beds, as noted in a 1923 Hemrich Packing Company brochure, were located at "Swickshak Beach" (Swikshak Bay).  These beds were used intermittently for the remainder of the decade. As time wore on, however, workers discovered that high quality clam habitat could be found along much of the 50-mile stretch of beach between Kukak Bay to Cape Douglas. By 1931, Kashvik Bay was being harvested as well. Hemrich and its lessees were the sole users of the mainland beaches during the 1923-1932 period. When the facilities at Kukak and Swikshak bays closed down, however, a Kodiak Island packer moved in. 
The clamming facilities, and most of the clam beds, were located outside the original (1918) boundaries of the monument. When Katmai's boundaries were expanded in April 1931, both the canneries and the clamming beaches were absorbed into the monument. Because of an oversight, the language of the 1931 proclamation did not specifically address the rights of existing users. It was not until the mid-1930s that clamming interests discovered the error; a June 1936 presidential proclamation was issued that recognized the rights of all those who had used the land prior to the boundary expansion. Surf's management intended to follow up on the proclamation by obtaining a patent to its lands. The company's operations, however, were shut down in September 1936 when a fire swept through and destroyed the Swikshak Bay facilities. The company made no further attempts to patent its properties and, as noted above, appears to have abandoned its interests at both Kukak and Swikshak soon afterwards. By 1941, fire had destroyed the Kukak Bay cannery, and both the wharf and pilings there were found to be "in a bad state of repair." 
In 1944, the Kodiak-based firm of Kester and Kline operated a clam cannery in Swikshak Bay. The cannery was allowed to operate to supply the U.S. Army. The NPS permitted the operation as a part of its wartime program. That permit remained in force through late 1945.  The following March 1946, the firm changed its name to the Cape Douglas Canning Corporation (CDCC) and continued harvesting Swikshak Bay clams.  Late in 1946, CDCC applied for a clam harvesting permit; after some initial hesitation, the NPS issued them a five-year permit, and in 1947 the company harvested both clams and salmon at its Swikshak Bay facility. 
The company, which changed its name to Mainland Fisheries in 1948, relocated its salmon canning operations to Kukak Bay that year. It continued to operate a cannery there until 1951. But it also obtained a permit to a 2.7-acre site on the east bank of Swikshak Lagoon for clam harvesting purposes.  At Swikshak Bay, Mainland Fisheries built a 40-foot by 40-foot Quonset hut for a cannery building, placing it on piles on the site of the old Surf Cannery which had been destroyed in the 1936 fire. Mainland also built a 40-foot by 110-foot dock adjacent to the cannery and a 30-foot by 100-foot platform to the rear. A mess hall, store-supply building, and bunkhouses that had not been destroyed in the fire were rehabilitated. 
In January 1950 a new companythe Whiz Halferty Cannery Corporationasked the NPS if it could put clammers' cabins on the shore of Swikshak Bay. Fourteen months later, over Mainland's objections, the NPS gave the company a five-year permit to put up clam diggers' cabins on a five-acre parcel at Swikshak Bay. There is no evidence, however, that the company constructed any cabins there. 
During the early 1950s, clam digging took place at Kaguyak Bay, probably in conjunction with Mainland Fisheries' Kukak Bay operation. Lowell Sumner, a biologist from NPS's Region Four office, noted that "the clam diggers sail their fleet of skiffs in here" [to Kaguyak Bay] each summer. The six shacks they occupied comprised the "village" of Kaguyak. Kaguyak, at that time, still boasted a Russian Orthodox church which dated from the pre-1912 era. By 1952, however, little was left of the 20 remaining barabaras where the former residents had lived. By 1965, the church had apparently been burned by clam diggers who had taken up residence in it. 
Mainland Fisheries, in 1951, went into receivership and ceased operations. Whiz Halferty remained inactive as well. In June 1954, however, an official of the latter company, now known as Halferty Canneries, wrote the NPS and requested that Mainland's twenty acres of Kukak Bay cannery buildings be added to Halferty's permit. Assured by company officials that the plant was planning to operate again, the BLM gave the company a permit to use its facilities at Swikshak Lagoon, Swikshak Bay, and Kukak Bay. The permit was valid from February 1956 until February 1961.  It is not known, however, if the company actually harvested clams (or used its facilities) during this period.
On October 15, 1959, Halferty Canneries transferred its clam-harvesting interests to the Alaska Packers Association (APA). In December 1960, the new company requested a new five-year special use permit, and in May 1961, the BLM gave the APA a permit which ran until December 1965. APA cited four frame buildings at Swikshak Lagoon as its headquarters. 
The APA was an active clam harvester. During the summer of 1961, the company deployed 76 men to Katmai's beaches and yielded 410,117 pounds of razor clams. The company was probably also active in the monument in 1962, but not afterwards. Where production took place during those two summers is not known. One place it probably occurred was Kashvik Bay, because a contemporary map identifies an Alaska Department of Fish and Game cabin in the area. That cabin was probably used to monitor an ongoing clam harvesting operation. 
A 1963 planning report provided this overview of the Katmai coast's clam resources:
Little remains of the facilities that were associated with the various commercial clamming operations built in the 1940s or 1950s in Kukak and Swikshak bays. At Kukak Bay, portions of the old cannery on the southeast shore had burned down by 1941. In 1947, however, Alfred Kuehl's photographs show that the mess hall, bunk houses, manager's house, store, oil tank and wharf were clearly intact.  By 1953, however, an NPS report recommended that the "old cannery" be destroyed. By the time Superintendent Blinn arrived, the structures were "pretty well collapsed."  He advocated their destruction in 1973, but could not raze them until ownership could be determined. They still stood in 1985; the site that year was recommended as a tidewater ranger station.  At Swikshak Bay, 1947 photographs show that Cape Douglas's cannery complex contained one or two bunkhouses, a mess hall, and a wharf. As indicated by the APA's application to the BLM, four buildings were still intact in early 1961. By April 1972, however, Katmai personnel deemed them hazardous and unsightly, and they destroyed them all. 
Beginning in 1963, concerns about poisonous shellfish led the Alaska Department of Health and Welfare prohibited commercial use of clams, mussels, and similar shellfish taken from all Alaskan beaches. That prohibition remained until 1970. Once that ban was lifted, an active (if minor) clam harvesting industry continued on Katmai's beaches for another fifteen years. As noted below, however, the facilities associated with that industry were both temporary in nature and small in scale. 
Katmai's clam industry roared back to life soon after health officials deemed the beaches as healthy again. A major factor contributing to the activity level was that the Swikshak area was one of only three beaches in the state that had been cleared for clam harvesting.  By 1971, approximately 200,000 pounds of razor clams were being harvested per year in the monument. The beaches, by this time, had become littered with shacks, wood stoves, debris, and discarded car bodies. In order to prevent the problem from reoccurring, all commercial clam permittees beginning in 1972 were required to erect only temporary shelters at their Swikshak Bay camps and were also required to remove all structures.  In 1973, harvesters visited both Swikshak Bay and Kamishak Bay. At the end of the 1973 season two structures remained standing at Kamishak. The first was a cabin used by Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel who monitored the clamming operations (the cabin was apparently built that same year), and the second was that of a tardy clammer.  In order to clean up the accumulated refuse along Katmai's beaches, the monument's superintendent paid one of the clam diggers $10,000 to barge the materials (including the Kamishak clammer's shack) back to Kodiak Island. 
Clamming permits issued in the following years contained a proviso prohibiting the construction of beach cabins; harvesters were required to live on a houseboat or barge. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, meanwhile, requested permission to build a permanent structure for its research and monitoring operations at Swikshak; this cabin was apparently built sometime during the mid-1970s.  Clamming operations during that period were restricted to Swikshak Bay. 
By 1977, the monument issued only one permit for clamming operations, to Daniel Konigsberg. The state maintained an active presence that year; it held a permit, valid until 1979, which allowed it to maintain a cabin at Swikshak for purposes of razor clam research.  From 1978 to 1981, the only clamming permit was issued to Jesus Briones, of Kodiak, who harvested at Swikshak Bay. Briones and Bruce Swanson, who applied for a joint one-year permit in 1982, were the last legal permittees.  In 1985, an illegal clam operation took place at Hallo Bay. The operators were cited, and they left soon afterwards. 
As the narrative above has suggested, the beaches along Katmai's eastern shoreline have been the site of commercial salmon and clam harvesting for more than three-quarters of a century; many miles of Katmai's coastline have witnessed clam harvesting, and canneries have been located in several bays and lagoons. But both in southwestern Alaska and elsewhere, fish processing facilities have proven temporary, due both to environmental factors and the transient nature of the industry. A brief discussion of specific sites within the present park boundaries follows.
Kaflia Bay was the site of a seasonal saltery and store (AHRS site number XMK-014) in the years leading up to the June 1912 volcanic eruption. Katmai and Douglas villagers camped here during the summer and beach-seined for salmon. The site, however, was buried by volcanic ash and has been uninhabited ever since.
Along the southern shore of Kukak Bay, a salmon and clam cannery (XMK-060) was constructed in early 1923. Operations continued off and on for more than a decade. But the site was abandoned after the 1936 season, and by 1941, fire had partially destroyed the Kukak Bay cannery. Both the wharf and pilings there were found to be "in a bad state of repair" although the mess hall, bunkhouses, manager's house, store, oil tank and wharf were still intact. A new cannery operation commenced at the site in 1948 and continued until 1951, and by the early 1970s the structures were "pretty well collapsed." A 1989 survey noted remains of several collapsed and partially standing buildings including the cannery facility (with plank flooring, ceiling and roof beams, and corrugated tin roofing), a possible bunkhouse (a long, narrow building with a row of rooms from end to end), and numerous historical artifacts such as steamers and gear mechanisms, a bed frame and a possible stove with chimney. Due to the lack of structural integrity at the site, a historical archeology survey is recommended.
At Swikshak Bay, clam harvesting and both salmon and clam processing has taken place on the southeastern shore of Swikshak Lagoon. Clams were harvested there throughout the mid- to late 1920s, and during the 1930s, a salmon cannery was in operation. A September 1936 fire swept through and partially destroyed some of the Swikshak Bay facilities, although a mess hall, store-supply building, and bunkhouses survived the blaze. Cape Douglas Canning Corporation, which changed its name to Mainland Fisheries in 1948, operated the Swikshak cannery site (AFG-109). The company processed clams and later salmon and began operating on the same site in 1944. In the late 1940s a Quonset hut and other improvements were added at the site. In early 1961, four buildings at the site were still intact. By April 1972, however, NPS personnel deemed them hazardous and unsightly, and they destroyed all remaining standing structures. A 1989 survey, however, noted historic remains including a building foundation, burned timbers, concrete slabs, bottle glass and cans, a Jeep and two flatbed trucks. Due to the lack of structural integrity at the site, a historical archeology survey is recommended.
Katmai's coastline has had a number of other structures associated with fish processing, but most were temporary or too recent to be considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps a typical one was a small shack located along the northern shore of Kukak Bay in T21S, R31W, Sec. 36, NE. An NPS report compiled in the late 1960s described a "one room cabin erected probably by fishermen [and] constructed of plywood and gasoline cans." A ranger report written in 1984 included a photograph of the site and gave this description: "A wooden frame supports sheet metal walls and roof and inside an old wooden box, bed springs, and associated garbage remains." Five years later, historical archeologist Ty Dilliplane visited the site, calling it the "Point Jane Hut" (XMK-062). He described it as "a small possible hunter's hut, measuring roughly 9' x 7' the structure has a corrugated tin roof, plywood walls, wire nails, and wooden flooring. The structure also has a small window and a doorway to the right of the window. A single-size bed frame was found inside, along with a Wein Consolidated stub." (This last item may help date the cabin, inasmuch as Wein Consolidated Airlines operated only from 1968 to 1973.) 
2 Patricia Roppel, Salmon from Kodiak; An History of the Salmon Fishery of Kodiak Island, Alaska (Anchorage, Alaska Historical Commission Studies in History No. 216), 1986, 6; Antonson and Hanable, Alaska's Heritage, 439.
7 Don E. Dumond, "People and Pumice on the Alaska Peninsula," in Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology, 383; Patricia H. Partnow, "The Days of Yore: Alutiiq Mythical Time," in When our Words Return; Writing, Hearing, and Remembering Oral Traditions of Alaska and the Yukon (Logan, Utah State Univ. Press, 1995), 143).
11 Lewis G. MacDonald, "Chronological History of Salmon Canneries in Central Alaska," Alaska Fisheries Board Annual Report 3 (1951), 78; U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Alaska Fishery and Fur-Seal Industries (Washington, GPO), various issues, 1923 to 1936.
12 Richard B. Nickerson, A Critical Analysis of Some Razor Clam (Siliqua patula, Dixon) Populations in Alaska (Juneau?, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, July 1975), 23; F. H. Oliphant, "Report on Clam and Salmon Packing" (brochure), c. 1924; F. W. Weymouth, H. C. McMillan, and H. B. Holmes, "Growth and Age at Maturity of the Pacific Ocean Clam, Siliqua patula (Dixon)," Document No. 984, in Bulletin of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries 41, 1925 (Washington, GPO, 1927), 69th Cong., 1st sess., House Doc. 230, 201, 208.
14 Robert F. Griggs to Ernest W. Sawyer, November 22, 1930, in National Geographic Society Collection; Hillory A. Tolson (Acting Director NPS) to Director USF&WS, February 24, 1944, in RG 79, Box 313, "Katmai - Concessions" file, NARA SB; Herbert Maier (Acting RD/R4) to Director NPS, December 14, 1949, in "Katmai-Permits" file, Box 313, RG 79, NARA SB; Fred W. Johnson (BLM) to Director NPS, August 28, 1946, in File 601, KNM Box 2, Entry 7, RG 79, NARA DC; A. C. Kinsley (USDI Division of Investigations) to Dale B. Whiteside, August 11, 1941, in File 602, Box 311, Entry 7, NARA SB.
15 Frank L. Beals (Under Refuge Manager, Alaska Game Commission, Fish and Wildlife Service) to Herbert Maier, NPS, November 1, 1944, in "General 1930-38" file, KNM Box 1, Entry 7, RG 79, NARA DC; Hillory A. Tolson (Acting Director, NPS) to Mr. Crouch, F&WS and Clinton H. Hartstrom, April 30, 1945, in "Katmai-Permits" File, Box 313, RG 79, NARA SB.
17 Tolson to Jones, March 27, 1946; Warner W. Gardner (Assistant Secretary of the Interior) to Director NPS, December 12, 1946; Cape Douglas Canning Corporation to Acting Director, NPS, December 21, 1946; Warner W. Gardner, "Permit," January 28, 1947; all in File N1423 ("Fish, 1946-1959"), KATM; also see File 40-10 (1933-52), RG 101, ASA.
18 F. L. Ekholm (President, Cape Douglas Canning Corporation) to Warner W. Gardner, September 8, 1947, in File N1423, KATM; Lewis G. MacDonald, "Chronological History of Salmon Canneries in Central Alaska," Alaska Fisheries Board Annual Report 3 (1951), 83.
20 Hillory A. Tolson (Acting Director NPS) to E. L. Bartlett, February 15, 1950; G. P. Halferty (Whiz Halferty Canneries, Inc.) to E. L. Bartlett, February 23, 1951; both in Bartlett Collection; Dale E. Doty (Asst. Sec. of Interior) to G. P. Halferty, March 16, 1951, in Item 3, Breedlove, 1969; MacDonald, "Chronological History of Salmon Canneries in Central Alaska," 83. Trade and Manufacturing Site Permit number 055515 was listed as BLM serial number ANC 018180.
21 Lowell Sumner, "Magnificent Katmai," Sierra Club Bulletin 37 (December 1952), 39; Darrell L. Coe, "Katmai National Monument," National Parks Magazine 40 (June 1966), 6; Paul Schumacher (Regional Archeologist, WRO) to Supt. MOMC, July 30, 1965, in File A2623, Ranger Patrol Reports, 1965-69, DENA. William C. King, of Kodiak, may also have been an active Katmai clam digger in 1950. King to A.C. Kuehl, March 13, 1950, in File 208, Box 311, KNM, Entry 7, RG 79, NARA SB.
28 HFC photo; SAR, 1973, 4; Melanie Neuman and Kim Heacox, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Katmai Coast Field Season Report 1985, 54. On Kukak Bay's north shore was also found a one-room cabin constructed of plywood and gasoline cans. The cabin was thought to have been constructed "by unknown individuals, probably fishermen." (It was probably unrelated to the old cannery.) By 1969, NPS personnel had recommended that the eyesore be destroyed and removed. What has become of it is unknown; it may have burned down at about the time of the 1969 report. Item #17, "Inventory of Backcountry Facilities and Structures," in Breedlove, 1969. Scattered reports note that many crude structures have been built by fishermen in recent years. NPS personnel, when they encounter them, have torn most of them down.
40 Craig Breedlove, "Inventory of Backcountry Facilities and Structures," in Preliminary Draft, Basic Data, Advance Master Plan/Wilderness Research, Katmai National Monument, Shelikof Strait-King Salmon, Alaska (Anchorage, NPS), June 1969; Stroud and Fuller, 1984, 17; AHRS Site Form XMK-062.
Last Updated: 22-Oct-2002