Posts Tagged With: nets


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About a mile from Semiahmoo Cannery is the Semiahmoo Cannery Museum. Easily identified by a totem sitting in front of twin buildings. The museum is run by volunteers and asks for donations. The second building most likely supports it by rents from weddings and other affairs.

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The bride smiled sweetly when I took her picture. There was also a bride at the cannery, but I was unable to get her picture. Suffice it to say, both parking areas were very full and busy on Saturday. But, brides are always good luck. What a happy time for them.

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It started with fleets of small boats, netting salmon during the run and hauling their catch to the cannery.

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Every day, these guys would go out and load their boats with fish maybe two or three times in one day. They’d bring in enough fish to feed an army.


They would net enough fish to actually fill the boat, and look at the size of the salmon then. Not a small one in the net.

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Salmon became the biggest West Coast Industry along with logging and big companies stepped in to reap the bounty. Fleets of company boats went out salmon fishing everyday instead of individually owned boats.

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There was a cannery on every river from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, 50 of them.  They all knew each other an competed. Only one, at Dillingham, Alaska is still in operation. There are new ones, but not the old canneries from the 1900’s. Most are gone. The boats, went to huge wooden sailing ships, like the one above, then steel sailing ships, to motorized ships. It became very big business indeed and is still a corporate operation today.

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The real dirty work of cleaning fish by hand,  and loading cans and boxes of fish for market demand, was done mostly by about 30,000 Chinese workers imported to do a dirty and dangerous  job. Some had boats and fished for themselves but they were not welcome to compete on the water.  Always industrious, they still managed to send money to their families in China, considering it was a short, seasonal job.

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All that changed with the invention of the Iron Chink, patented with that racially charged name by Edmond Smith of Seattle in 1905. It revolutionized the canning industry. Each of the nine Iron Chinks at Semiahmoo took the place of 15-20 laborers on the fish line. The machine could process more than 100 fish per minute. The industry grew exponentially.


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The only reminder of the Chinese contribution to the industry in the museum, the Iron Chink and these two whiskey bottles.

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Before the big ships and the big corporations took over the industry, local fishermen decided to fish the way the Indians did, by building fish traps across narrows in the rivers. The take diminished so badly within a couple of years that the traps were outlawed. The Indians fed themselves, they didn’t fish commercially.

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The cans were flat, then rounded and fitted with a bottom and rim before being filled with fish and sent through the cookers, and capped.

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Then they were labeled, packed for shipping and found their way into our pantries.

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Labeling and building boxes was a side industry of its own. This stencil machine was invented in 1911.

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The stencils were metal and used over and over again.

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Applied to the ends of the boxes, that held four dozen small cans of salmon, less of the larger cans.

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The Penguin was a popular local boat under Captain Thorstenson.

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All of the pictures are copies from the museum, showing the industry as it went from one man operations like this one…DSC07673 (Copy)

To huge netting operations like this. The museum has a wonderful film that captures the story as it unfolded from the 1880’s to present day. In the film, a woman who worked the office of the cannery said, “If you ask around, even today, you can hardly find anyone who didn’t work the salmon, or had an uncle, father, or grandfather who worked the industry. And they loved it.” This museum is only open during the summer months and we missed it on my first visit here in 2011. It is well worth visiting.




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Mark Conner kindly took time to take us out in his boat to show us how he catches catfish. We loaded in at his dock seated on his fish tubs.

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He held the boat steady. I brought my little pocket camera because I thought my big camera would be in the way. It doesn’t take as good pictures, but is adequate.

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He quickly sped out a couple of miles into the Lake  which is fed by the Manmertau River. He likes fishing for catfish and has done it since he was a boy. He was  born and raised here in Lake Arthur.

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He slows the boat and takes a visual read of points on land that give him the position of his underwater nets-no instrumentation. He’s done it so many times, he just knows where they are. He plants a stake in the bottom of the lake that keeps his net in one place.

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He tosses out his home-made drag anchor.

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He hand pulls the drag until it catches the ring on his net.

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He snagged it on the first try.DSC04758 (Copy)

The ring he hooks is  only about six inches across.

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The ring is attached to a heavy anchor you can see between his feet. Then Mark drags up the heavy net. You have to be strong to fish without a hydraulic lift. The water here is only about eight feet deep, but there is no visibility.

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Up they come, a seething mass of catfish. Normally, he would have waited another week to check his nets. Most of them were thrown back in for size.. He pulls them out with his bare hands. They have stinging whiskers and it is important to avoid getting stung.DSC04739 (Copy)

He got four nice sized fish, three channel cats and one other type I’ve forgotten the name of. I didn’t know that catfish had different species that plied the same waters.

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Since we were out anyway, he lined up on another net near this flooded island. The state has put a wood duck nest  on a metal post that you can see to the right of center in the picture.

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The second net, he has eleven,  didn’t have anything in it but his bait and he steered us  back to his house.

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This time he steered the 16 ft. fishing boat right between those cypress trees in the middle, and brought us to shore instead of the dock.

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He gutted the fish on his stainless steel fish cleaning station.

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The fish is hung from a hook and Mark uses a special tool to grab the skin and strip it off. He works amazingly fast.

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After skinning, the heads and fins are cut off.

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Even though his partner, Marlene Ritter,  bought him a beautiful filet knife, he prefers this big blade that he’s used forever. Mark will sometimes clean 100 fish a day or more. He works in the petroleum industry. Fishing is his hobby and he gives most of the fish he catches away. DSC04777 (Copy)

He showed us a logger head turtle skull from a turtle he bought and ate. He told us you are only allowed to catch one turtle a year. They are pretty scarce and hard to find. Marlene gave me a bag of the special corn flower to make a batter to fry the fish. Louisianans do fried everything very well.

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My first batch was a bit light, but the second one was the right color. They tasted heavenly and with Marlene’s recipe to fry some mustard into the batter?  Scrumptious and fresh as it can be. What a delight. The fish provided 8 beautiful filets, perfect, without a hint of bone because Mark slices that filet away from the rib cage on both sides and tosses the middle. DSC03257 (Copy)

We went back to the bar to say goodbye to our friends. A crawfish farmer was planning to take us out in a mudbug and we waited on a phone call. By the time it came, we were showered and dressed for the evening’s dance. I wanted to buy some boiled crawfish to take with us before we left and the next thing you know, we were at Leslie and Cody’s place and we left there with  a date with Cody. “I’ll take you he said.”

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I was too tired to dance, so I peeked in the door and took some pictures. Marlene and Mark, he has his back to the camera in the afro wig, cuttin’ a rug. These folks know how to have fun.



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