Commercial fishing /fish packing & farming
The abundance of salmon in the Pacific rivers amazed the first settlers. Their awed response comes down to us in the eponymous tale of returning salmon choking the rivers so thickly that one could walk across the water dry-shod on their backs. Like the Native peoples, the earliest European American settlers caught salmon for their own subsistence, along with sturgeon, eulachon, and shellfish such as crabs, clams, oysters, and shrimp.
Soon, however, the settlers developed commercial fisheries for these species. A commercial oyster fishery developed in Newport in 1863, supplying the San Francisco market. Oysters were also commercially harvested in the Coos estuary, and oyster farming began there in 1874. The coastal oyster industry lasted a few decades, until the native stocks were nearly depleted. It was revived in the twentieth century with a species imported from Japan.
Commercial salmon fisheries developed in the 1860s, supporting early salmon-canning enterprises in Astoria, Tillamook Bay, Yaquina Bay, and Gold Beach. By the turn of the twentieth century commercial fishing was an important part of the economy of every major coastal town. Fishermen supplied crab, blackcod, halibut, albacore, pink shrimp, and several varieties of rockfish to packers and fresh markets both local and inland. Sportfishing later joined commercial fishing as an important part of the coastal economy, and today it is a mainstay of the economies of Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Florence, Winchester Bay, Gold Beach, and Brookings.
The Northwest salmon-canning industry got its start in 1866, when Hapgood, Hume & Co. built a cannery on the Columbia River at Eagle Cliff, on the Washington side. This was two years after the company had built the first cannery on the West Coast on the Sacramento River. Their first season’s pack on the Columbia River, four thousand cases of chinook salmon (each case consisted of forty-eight one-pound cans), fetched $64,000.
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