COMMERCIAL FISH AND SHELLFISH HARVESTING (continued)
General Postwar Trends
During the decade following World War II, the number of canneries in lower Cook Inlet remained stable. As they had for the previous two decades, canneries active west of the park were located at Portlock, Port Graham, and Seldovia. East of the park boundaries, the "small, one-line cannery" in Seward changed its name in 1946 (from Hagen and Company to the Resurrection Bay Company), and it changed its ownership in 1950 (from Nils Hagen to Marvin Viale). The cannery, however, continued to operate much as it had since 1937, when the plant had become fully mechanized.
Major changes took place in the area's salmon industry during the postwar period. One discouraging trend was that fishermen, particularly in Resurrection Bay, were overharvesting reds and other salmon species. (In 1947, a Seward entrepreneur backed away from a fisheries venture because he considered "the runs in Resurrection Bay to be too nearly depleted;" the area fisheries agent that year agreed, declaring that the bay's chum run was "used up." ) The Seward cannery, desperate to obtain enough fish to sustain operations, began purchasing Copper River salmon, even though (in the government agent's opinion) "some of these fish were, no doubt, taken illegally in [Prince William] Sound...." This practice was already underway by 1944 and continued for several years thereafter. 
A second postwar trend that affected canneries was the statehood movement. Prior to World War II, few Alaskans pushed for statehood. The war, however, brought thousands of new residents, an enhanced defense capability, and less dependence on resource-based industries. The canneries were one of the primary interests fighting statehood, but statehood advocates fought back and cited the widely used fish trap as a primary instrument preventing locally-based resource development. The territorial legislature, and Alaska's delegates to Congress, put increasing pressure on the canneries to eliminate fish traps. The canneries stubbornly hung on; they did not abandon fish traps until 1958, the year Congress passed the statehood bill. The continuing pressure, however, resulted in a reduction in the number of fish traps during the 1940s and early 1950s. This de-emphasis on fish traps took place in Lower Cook Inlet, as elsewhere; in order to keep harvest levels at previous levels, more fishing boats were deployed and boats searched ever farther for salmon stocks.
The overharvesting of the red salmon resource (on a territory-wide basis) and the increasing acceptance of pink salmon as a food fish resulted in higher pink and chum salmon prices. That price structure made Port Dick (which during some years was the Cook Inlet district's most highly-productive pink salmon harvest area) and nearby bays increasingly attractive fishing venues. The new price structure, combined with the increasing scarcity of red salmon, also encouraged independent fishers to seek out previously untapped areas. The windswept, stormy stretch of coastline between Gore Point and Resurrection Bay had, as noted above, been only lightly utilized prior to the mid-1940s. During the next decade, however, an increasing number of fishers explored the area for the first time.
Fishing in Park Waters: The Laissez Faire Period, 1946-1954
The first postwar harvesting of park waters took place in 1946 in Statistical Area 44 (see Table 9-1). This stretch of coastline runs between Gore Point and the Pye Islands; it encompasses both Nuka Bay and Nuka Island. Fish and Wildlife Service records indicate that 2,513 pinks and 75 chums were caught there that year; the number of pinks was some 0.3 percent of the Cook Inlet total, while the chum harvest was less than 0.1 percent of the total number caught in the Cook Inlet district. Records do not indicate specifically who caught these fish. It appears, however, that Pete Sather, who worked that year as an independent purse seiner for the Resurrection Bay Company, harvested a majority of the pink salmon and almost all of the chums in that area. (Sather also worked elsewhere, most probably in the Port Dick-Windy Bay area.) 
Table 9-1. Harvest Data for Statistical Area 44, 1944-1950
In 1944, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service divided the Cook Inlet Management District into statistical harvest areas. Six statistical areas comprised the waters of present-day Kenai Fjords National Park. Area 44 included the inner waters from Point Gore to the Pye Islands; Area 45 included the outer waters in that area. Area 46 included the inner waters from the Pye Islands to the east side of Two Arm Bay, Area 47 the outer islands. Area 48 included the inner waters from the east side of Two Arm Bay to Aialik Cape, Area 49 the outer waters.
For Area 44, which included the waters surrounding Nuka Island and the waters of Nuka Bay, the harvests in the following table were recorded from 1944 through 1950. For areas 45 through 49, the Fish and Wildlife Service tabulated no harvest during this seven-year period. The agency did not provide data for these areas after 1950.
NOTE: "% of CIH" is the percentage of the total Cook Inlet harvest (for that species) that was caught in Statistical Area 44.
* - The 1949 total includes 151 reds. The harvest total includes 6,891 pinks reported in the Cook Inlet report; the remaining harvest, which came from "Nuka Bay," was processed by the Resurrection Bay (Seward) cannery and was reported in the Central District (Prince William Sound) report.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cook Inlet Annual Management Report, various issues.
In 1947 no commercial harvests were recorded in park waters, perhaps because even-year runs in adjacent areas had proven to be far stronger than odd-year runs. The following year, however, commercial fishermen returned to Area 44 and harvested 7,918 pinks, 109 chums, and 52 cohos. Although Pete Sather may have harvested a portion of the area's catch, the only known fisher there that year was Alfred A. Anahonak, a 30-year-old "private operator" (that is, an independent fisherman) from Port Graham. Anahonak's possession of a fishing boat represented a new trend among area residents. Subsistence expert Ronald Stanek has noted that before World War II, residents were "limited to set netting, working for the canneries, and utilizing wild resources for subsistence purposes. Since then, Port Graham fishermen have acquired their own drift and seine boats...." 
In 1949, fishers again ventured out to Area 44 and gathered far more fish than they had in previous years. Fish and Wildlife Service figures indicate a total harvest of 36,761 pinks, 5,200 chums, 151 reds, and 37 cohos. The Area 44 pink harvest that year was a surprising 8.5 percent of the Cook Inlet total; the chum haul was large too, totaling 2.2 percent of the Cook Inlet catch. The harvest was notable for another reason; it was the first year that a red salmon harvest had been recorded in the area. In 1950, fishers returned to Area 44 and harvested 1,857 chum salmon (5.2% of the Cook Inlet chum catch) along with 1,760 pink salmon. Commercial fishers, it appeared, had "discovered" the park's waters. The only park area in which fishers had shown an interest, however, was Area 44 (west of the Pye Islands), along with the Bear Glacier area.  The long stretch of coastline between McArthur Pass and Aialik Cape was still untouched.
During this period, "Herring Pete" Sather (according to admittedly inexact records) spent much of the fishing season working in the Port Dick area or in other areas outside park waters. Others, therefore, fished the Nuka Bay area to an increasing degree. Alfred Anahonak, noted above, was one early harvester. Others may have been a quartet of Seward fishers named Bill Bern, Glen Hammersly, Freddy Blosso, and Charles Peterson. According to Seward Shea, a longtime Seward resident, the four men worked on the purse seiner Marathon. One day, "Herring Pete" told them that the fish were jumping in Nuka Bay. The bay at that time, however, was a hazardous place to reach; McArthur Pass was often impassable because floating ice was dangerous to the wooden boats then in use. Because the McCarty Glacier face was not far north of James Lagoon, additional ice lay in the southern reaches of Nuka Bay. Despite those dangers, the four successfully fished the bay, and their success brought others in their wake. 
As noted above, 137 red salmon were harvested in Area 44 in 1949. This harvest, small though it was, was significant inasmuch as these were the first red salmon caught in park waters by commercial fishers. The existence of a red salmon population in the bay indicated that the glaciers had retreated enough to support a biologically active lake-and-river system where reds could spawn and migrate. The McCarty Glacier face, during the early years of the century, had connected James Lagoon on the west with McCarty Lagoon on the east; and to the north, the upland areas on both sides of the glacier were glaciated as well. Between 1920 and 1925, however, the glacier's eastern side had melted to the point that Delight Lake was formed, and between 1935 and 1940 a new water body, Desire Lake, emerged to the north. If it is assumed that the red salmon harvested in 1949 came from the Delight Lake system (the most logical location for them), then the time lapse between the lake's emergence from the ice and its ability to support a red salmon run was less than thirty years. This is a remarkably quick recovery, considering the biological complexities involved. 
Another sockeye run that began during this period took place in Aialik Bay. Longtime resident Seward Shea recalls that the run, which spawns in Addison Lake above Pederson Lagoon, was discovered by Seward resident Henry Larson, known locally as "Henry the Bear." In either the late 1940s or early 1950s, Larson entered the bay in search of platinum float. He built a small prospecting shack and used it as a base camp. His prospecting venture failed but he found salmon by the hundreds. Using a gill net, which he stretched between an island (perhaps Slate Island) and the mainland, he harvested $6500 worth of sockeyes. Soon after Larson returned to the dock, news of the find spread to Shea and other Seward fishermen. Many of the other fishers made their own investigation and returned there in later years. Government fisheries agents, however, did not learn about the Aialik red run until the late 1950s. 
Pete Sather, a Nuka Island resident since the mid-1920s, not only fished Nuka Bay's salmon, but as an incident during the early 1950s shows, he claimed to have single-handedly started a run of his own. As part of his fox farming operation, he consistently cleaned the pink salmon he harvested in a stream that previously, in Sather's opinion, had had no salmon in it. (This stream was probably adjacent to his cookhouse, which was not far from his residence.) By the early 1950s, the stream supported a significant pink salmon population. Other fishers discovered the run and attempted to harvest the resource. Pete, however, resisted; he reasoned that he had single-handedly created the run and should therefore have proprietary rights over the salmon. He took his case to the courthouse in Anchorage; the court, however, ruled against him. 
As noted above, management of park waters during the late 1940s was ostensibly under the purview of the Cook Inlet District. The small harvest level, however, incited no interest from federal fisheries authorities; they may have ignored the area because, to some degree, the park's waters were being fished out of Seward, which was in the Central (Prince William Sound) District, headquartered in Cordova. In early 1951, management of the Resurrection Bay fishery shifted from the Central District to the Cook Inlet District. For the next several years after that boundary change, annual reports continued to overlook fishing activity in park waters. (Jim Branson, who worked as a Fish and Wildlife Service stream guard at Port Dick in 1952, perhaps summed up the agency's attitude toward the area when he mentioned, in a recent interview, that the agency ignored the coast east of Gore Point because there was "not much of a resource out there.") In all probability, a small number of commercial fishermen continued to venture to Nuka Bay,  but as one old-timer noted, "population levels [of fish were] hammered there because there was no enforcement." Fisheries managers continued to ignore the area until 1953, when "numerous air and foot surveys were conducted in the lower inlet...." That effort, which included "all important pink and chum streams south of Kachemak Bay," included a cursory survey of Nuka Island streams. Fisheries personnel probably ignored other Nuka Bay sites. 
As noted earlier, one of the two major reasons that Nuka Bay and other pink- and chum-producing areas became popular between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s was because of increasing price levels. Before 1940, prices for the two species were so low that they were incidental fish; that is, they were caught by fishers who were searching for other, more highly valued species. By 1942, the price of the two species had risen to 6-1/2-8-1/2 cents apiece; five years later, pinks sold for 11 cents while chums sold for 15-1/2 cents. Based on those prices, Cook Inlet canneries typically processed 40,000 cases of pinks and 30,000 cases of chums each year. But after 1950, prices on both species rose substantially; in 1952, for example, pinks sold for 30 to 40 cents apiece while chums were worth 40 to 50 cents. As a result, fishing boats sought to catch an increasing number of pinks and chums during the 1950s. 
Rising price factors, however, do not fully explain why interest in the Nuka Bay area skyrocketed in the mid-1950s. The other causative factor was availability. Statistics from Cook Inlet show that during the 1946-1951 period, both total catch levels (expressed in number of fish) and fishing effort (expressed in gear-unit days) rose steadily. From 1951 to 1957, however, both of these figures declined. It became increasingly clear that the streams that had traditionally provided large pink salmon returnsthe Talachulitna River (a tributary of the Susitna), the Kenai River and other streams flowing into the northern and central portions of Cook Inletwere being overharvested. As a result, canneries eagerly sought out alternative locations. The Outer District, which stretched from Point Adam (near Portlock) to Aialik Cape (see Map 9-3), contained many productive pink and chum runs; not surprisingly, therefore, the park waters and other Outer District streams became increasingly important during this period (see Tables 9-2 and 9-3). Based on the contributions of Outer District streams and those in other newly-harvested locations, the volume of fish caught in the Cook Inlet administrative district rose again by the late 1950s and continued to rise for years thereafter. 
Table 9-2. Outer District (of Cook Inlet) Salmon Harvest, 1954-1995
Figures given are number of fish, while percentages are those of the entire Lower Cook Inlet catch. The Outer District goes from Point Adam (south of Port Graham, on Kenai Peninsula's southwestern tip) to Bear Glacier (at the southwestern end of Resurrection Bay). Source: ADF&G, Cook Inlet Finfish Report, 1976-1977, Table 16; and ADF&G, Lower Cook Inlet Finfish, Annual Management Report, 1995, Appendix Table 8.
An asterisk (*) signifies a percentage less than 0.1%. In regards to king salmon, a number sign (#) is used because no attempt was made to compute percentages. The number of kings harvested is relatively small; the number harvested in all of Lower Cook Inlet has never exceeded 2,000 per year, and in most years commercial fishers harvested fewer than 500.
Table 9-3. Eastern District (of Cook Inlet) Salmon Harvest, 1954-1995
Figures given are number of fish, while percentages are those of the entire LOWER Cook Inlet catch. An asterisk (*) signifies a percentage less than 0.1%. The Eastern District extends from Bear Glacier (at the southwestern end of Resurrection Bay) east to Cape Fairfield (between Whidbey and Johnstone bays). Source: ADF&G, Cook Inlet Finfish Report, 1976-1977, Table 18; and ADF&G, Lower Cook Inlet Finfish, Annual Management Report, 1995, Appendix Table 9.
An asterisk (*) signifies a percentage less than 0.1%. In regards to king salmon, no attempt was made to compute percentages. A number sign (#) is used because the number of kings harvested is relatively small: the Lower Cook Inlet harvest has never exceeded 2,000 per year, and in most years is fewer than 500.
The Onset of Regulation, 1955-1959
The Fish and Wildlife Service continued to ignore the park coastline through the 1954 season. Most of the fish harvested in the area, as before, were probably pink salmon that were caught near Nuka Island. In 1955, however, the agency instituted active management when it dispatched its first enforcement specialist to Nuka Island. Fishery aid F. Douglas Swanson was assigned to Nuka Bay for six days in mid-August. One of 273 agency enforcement personnel who worked Alaskan streams that summer, Swanson performed the typical duties that his predecessors had been undertaking since the 1920s. Those duties included enforcing closure regulations (particularly around stream mouths) and conducting spawning-ground observations. As part of his work, Swanson was the first governmental representative to learn of the existence of the Delight and Desire Lake sockeye run. John Skerry, the Fish and Wildlife Service's agent for Cook Inlet, concluded that because the run was unregulated, local fishers were therefore abusing the resource. Those fishers, moreover, had no interest in helping government agents. Skerry noted that "there is still a great deal to be learned of the various fish runs in [park waters]. Much of this has to be uncovered by personal observation due to the unco-operative attitude taken by the Seward fishermen." 
By 1956, the park coastline was becoming an increasingly popular fishing venue. Nuka Bay was now home to boats owned by Port Graham canneries; the Libby, McNeill and Libby company, which had a cannery on Kodiak Island; and one or more of the Seattle-based processing ships. These fishing boats, in turn, were supported by tenders that waited nearby. Aialik Bay, on the other hand, was fished primarily by Seward-based boats. During this period the Resurrection Bay harvests, which had been anemic since the 1930s, fell to the point that Seward's only cannery closed after the 1955 season. Despite the lack of a nearby cannery, Seward fishers continued to harvest the small if valuable Aialik Bay sockeye run. 
As a result of the stepped-up activity, federal fisheries personnel in 1956 increased their presence in park waters and moved to ensure the protection of the sockeye run that had been revealed to them the previous year. William Miller, who had been working as a Fish and Wildlife Service stream guard since 1953, was stationed at the mouth of Delight Creek from mid-June to late July; he then moved to Nuka Island, where he stayed until mid-August. He also served a stint at the head of Beauty Bay in Nuka Bay's West Arm. Another stream guard dispatched to the area that summer was John Frye, who arrived at the mouth of Delight Creek before Miller left. A Fish and Wildlife Service floatplane, which patrolled the Outer District for the first time, augmented Miller and Frye's observations and enforcement capabilities.  During the same general periodprobably in the mid-1950s, according to one old-time fishermanthe Fish and Wildlife Service stationed a stream guard in a tent at the edge of Pederson Lagoon, in Aialik Bay. Here, as in Nuka Bay, the guard remained until fishermen left the area. 
Miller's experiences as a stream guard, like Swanson's, were more or less typical of those who served in that capacity elsewhere in Alaska during territorial days. It was Miller's job to monitor activity surrounding the buoys that had been placed 500 yards from the mouth of salmon streams. Because pink and chum salmon commonly school at stream mouths, regulations prohibited fishing boats from passing beyond the buoys, which were marked with plywood, three-foot-square stream markers. Fishing boats, however, often lurked just beyond the markers, particularly at high tide. In an intricate game of cat-and-mouse, many boats triedin various, devious waysto fish inside the buoy perimeter without being detected. Miller, equipped with a small, motorized skiff, was asked to establish a presence and prevent fisheries violations; during his stay on Nuka Island, he was responsible for monitoring the fishing activities at several island streams simultaneously. Miller led a rugged life that summer; on Nuka Island, he stayed in one of Pete Sather's abandoned fox shacks, while at Delight Creek, he camped in a tent. 
Miller and the other stream guards recognized that the Nuka Bay pink runs for 1956 were "not as great" as in 1955, even though the even-year pink fishery was traditionally dominant. Worried that the pink population could not be sustained under the current system, fisheries agent John Skerry recommended that the season end on August 18. The suggestion was quickly implemented. The stream guards also made a number of baseline stream surveys. Streams surveyed for the first time included Nuka Island Creek, Home Cove, South Creek, Mike Bay, and Duck Bayall of which were located on Nuka Islandalong with Desire and Delight creeks, which flowed into McCarty Fjord. Stream mouths marked that summer were located at Delight and Desire creeks, Home Cove, the unnamed cove south of Home Cove, and Nuka Bay Creek. 
From 1957 to 1959, the park fishery continued to be managed in much the same way as in 1956. At least one fisheries enforcement person was dispatched to Nuka Bay each summer; stream guard work continued to take place at Delight Creek and several Nuka Island locations.  On a more occasional basis, personnel tallied escapement levels, surveyed streams, and measured stream temperatures. One summer, the agency patrolled the area with its Grumman Goose; a year later the agency's patrol vessel, the Kittiwake, checked Nuka Bay's closure markers. 
Specific changes during this period were few. The various stream guards welcomed one of those changes; in 1957, the shelters at both Nuka Island Creek and Delight Creek were upgraded from tents to an 8' x 10' tent frame, with walls and roof made of corrugated aluminum. A second change involved enforcement methods. The existing system of stream mouth protection was apparently less than effective, so agency managers adopted a stakeout system in which the stream guards hid in the undergrowth and watched for stream robbers. This practice was more cost-effective than the previous system had been and it resulted in more fisheries violations, but local fishers became angrier than ever at federal fishing policies. 
Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002