Thursday, May 7, 2015

We’ve been “Herring” About Petersburg

Off-loading the Day's Catch
Petersburg, a major fishing community, provides the opportunity to see and meet the local fishing fleet.  We had the pleasure of meeting Ray, a local fisherman in his 30’s aboard his DeFever, one of the earliest models built.  Designer Arthur DeFever began his boat building business primarily for fishermen and later changed his business for the commission of pleasure boats.

Net Shed

So why do most fishermen still have old boats?  We learned from Ray that government laws and regulations dictate that boats used by fishermen must be made in the U.S., which means that fishermen are left with the older boats to use and purchase.

Historic Hammer Slough

That’s unfortunate because these are the folks who risk their lives for our dinner plates.  New boats, now built primarily for pleasure boaters, are produced overseas and then shipped to the United States for sale at a yacht brokerage.

Hammer Slough, Historic Petersburg

It is not surprising that boat maintenance becomes a major challenge and cost for fishermen.  Upgrades including new engines and electrical equipment can be added to these older boats but the hull must be original in order to satisfy current laws.

Boardwalks along Hammer Slough

Boat manufacturers find it more economical to produce boats overseas and more money is to be had in the pleasure boat, yacht market.  For the fisherman, custom built boats commissioned in the United States are very expensive, a big investment and risk for the small operator or individual fisherman.  So the challenge remains – how to maintain the fishing industry.  We noticed several homes in town were for sale; Ray confirmed it’s due mostly to the older generation retiring or passing.

Hammer Slough

The fishermen who survive the industry are usually second and third family generations who have built up enough money and resources.  Petersburg has a long history as a fishing community and received its name from Peter Buschmann, a Norwegian immigrant who arrived in the late 1800’s.  Peter built a cannery, sawmill, and dock between 1890 and 1900.  Ice from nearby LeConte Glacier was a convenient resource to pack fish for shipping.

Sons Norway Hall 1912, Petersburg

The community attracted more residents, mostly of Scandinavian origin, and new businesses for the fishing industry were developed.  The first shrimp processor was founded by Earl Ohmer in 1916 and a cold storage plant was built in 1926 by Knut Thompson.  Many buildings and homes from this early fishing era remain, providing some great photo ops for the artistic eye.  Salmon, halibut, black cod, crab, and herring are all part of today's waterfront industry in Petersburg.

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