We spent a week back in Petersburg to do a little maintenance and pick up our last set of guests for the summer. The harbor was abuzz with fishing boats since the salmon season is now in full swing.Petersburg Fisheries, pictured above, is one of three fish processing plants in town and is the oldest continuously operating seafood plant in Alaska, started in 1899.
During the season the salmon fishery goes through a cycle where it opens for a number of days and then closes for a couple of days, giving the fishing boats a chance to rest, restock supplies, make repairs, and sometimes change their gear to target a different species of salmon. One minute the harbor can be a ghost town with only a handful of boats on the docks, and then overnight the docks are jammed full and boats are moving around night and day as they land at the cannery dock to offload their catch at the appointed time.Sometimes the fishing boat delivers to the cannery directly, and sometimes they deliver their catch to a “tender”, a larger boat known in other places as a “buy boat”, that can hold a great deal of iced fish and can provide some supplies to the fishing boats. The tenders position themselves near the fishing boats so it’s a short trip for the fishermen to offload their catch and resume fishing. Once the tenders are full they make the longer trip back to the fish processing plants while another tender steps in to take its place out on the fishing grounds.
This past winter was very mild in Southeast Alaska and our spring was unusually warm and dry, so now we’re seeing how those things have impacted nature this summer. The warm spring was too warm for the salmon so they stayed in deep cold water longer, making their arrival back to their spawning streams a few weeks late. Fishermen saw poor results for the fuel and their hard work early in the season, though things have finally picked up now. The warm spring convinced a lot of plants that summer was beginning (too soon!), and this year’s berry crop is early and particularly plentiful. The bears are happy to have so much food available so they’ve been staying in the forest eating berries while they wait for the late salmon that are now just filling the streams to spawn.These are king salmon (also call “chinook”), and they spawn at the end of their life cycle, in the same stream where they were born. Salmon start out as a fresh water fish, spending a year or two in their home stream before they morph into a salt water fish and move to the ocean where they live for a few years – a different number of years depending on the species. The last act in their lives is to return to the fresh water where they started life, fighting against the current and leaping up waterfalls to reach the gravelly shallows where it’s best for eggs to incubate. After they spawn, they die, but their impact continues as bears, eagles, ravens, and scavengers eat the dying salmon, carrying pieces of fish well into the forest where the nitrogen-rich fish enrich the soil and keep the forest healthy.
The last effect of our mild winter and very warm spring is that plants got an early start on summer and now in early August they think autumn is nearing. The Devil’s Club has its bright red berries, and many other plants are changing, preparing for winter.The rainy pattern is starting up again, but even on a misty day the scenery is beautiful.Our friends Bill and Mary are cruisers so they’re not daunted by a little rain, and we enjoyed a picnic and some hiking on Mitkof Island.We’ll be heading south with them, heading towards Ketchikan with some adventures in Wrangell, Anan Creek Bear Observatory, and a few other interesting spots along the way.