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Other problems were listed: One fishermen refused to sail on the Star of France. Another fisherman was caught using small mesh gear.Fishermen were paid by the fish, not the pound, so they padded their catch by adding sections of net with mesh under 4½ inches to catch more small fish.The cards don’t list race but do mention “complexion.” Scandinavians tended to be labeled as “fair” or “light,” while fishermen from the Mediterranean were usually listed as “dark.” Some were described as “ruddy.” They list the canneries where the fishermen worked and the ships they sailed on: the barks of the APA’s Star Fleet and the steamers that succeeded them in the 1920s.They recorded injuries: fractured ribs and injured hands. It’s often caused by eating raw or under-cooked salmon but can also come from handling fish. The work was hard, the hours long, and the tides, winds, and weather were unforgiving.A History of Sockeye Salmon Research, Karluk River System, Alaska, 1880-2010 will be published in 2014. Richard Borttoff, for the most recent episode of the radio program Way Back in Kodiak, “Canned at Karluk.“ Of course, it wasn’t just scientists who were interested in the Karluk red salmon runs.Thousands of fishermen and cannery workers joined the hundreds of Karluk villagers on the Karluk Spit, beginning in the 1880s.For them, the Bristol Bay season lasted five months, from May to September. The catch is spread out much further – and that’s actually a good thing. Gennaro Camporeale was born in Italy in 1893, came to America and lived in San Francisco, half a mile from Fisherman’s Wharf. And in 1922, he landed 45,500 reds, 270,000 pounds of salmon pulled onboard by his hands and pitched into the tally scow.
These are the faces of the iron men of Bristol Bay. But each of these fishermen have their stories too. It joins a box end from an Alaska Packers Association cannery at Karluk and a handful of other objects related to the early history of salmon fishing and processing in the region, and helps us to document and interpret Kodiak’s incredible maritime heritage.
There were others from the Mediterranean: Croatia, Greece, and even one from Algeria.
There were other Scandinavians: Swedes and Finns; also Germans, Danes, and Russians. There were US citizens and Native Alaskans too but most came from overseas.
Among other things, they had several boxes of 4 by 6 inch cards: the company’s records of their Bristol Bay fishermen from 1908 to 1941.
They paint a vivid picture of the fishermen who caught sockeye during the bay’s sailboat era. Most fishermen were immigrants: Europeans from fishing nations like Italy and Norway.