The fish industry of Alaska is destined to assume immense proportions.
Upon the authority of Professor Bean, of the United States Fish Commission, more than one hundred varieties of fish are found in the Alaskan waters. Salmon, ranking first in importance, is found in great numbers in the streams from the lower extremity of Southeast Alaska to the Arctic ocean. The most favored varieties are those known as the red or silver salmon, weighing from eight to twelve or fifteen pounds each, and the king salmon often weighing as high as fifty pounds. The latter variety is found only in a few localities in Southeast Alaska and in the Yukon, many miles above its mouth. It is said that specimens have been caught weighing over one hundred and twenty pounds.
The first salmon cannery in Alaska was erected in 1878, and at the present time there are thirty-six, most of them are in operation each season.
The growth of this industry was extremely rapid, canneries being constructed at a cost of from fifty thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand dollars each. Enormous profits gave rise to much speculation, but it was found that the supply of canned salmon when the canneries were run at their fullest capacity was too great for the demand.
In 1892, a combination or trust was formed, which resiilted in closing down several canneries, but the owners came into a general pool and received a pro rata interest in the proceeds arising from the packs of the canneries in operation. Some of these canneries have a capacity of from forty thousand to sixty thousand cases each year, and when it is understood that a single case contains four dozen one pound cans, and that in the year 1889 the combined pack of all the canneries was nearly seven hundred thousand cases, an idea can be formed of the vast number of salmon caught.
Upwards of seventy-five vessels are now engaged in the whaling bnsiness, and they mnst penetrate several miles above Bering strait before they encounter any of them. The business is hazardous and great risks must be run. In the summer of 1877 nearly fifty vessels were lost, and a number of crews perished, preferring to remain on the vessels rather than risk making their way across the sea to land. This catastrophe led the government to establish a rescue station at Point Barrow, the most northern point of Alaska, which is provisioned with supplies sufficient to last one hundred men a year. It is in charge of a government official whose duty it is to render aid and succor to shipwrecked sailors.