Northern Straits Indians: Resourceful Fishermen of the San Juan Islands

Salmon Drying Racks and Other Fishing Stories

The waters of the San Juans were a bounty to Native fishers, who perfected their craft over millennia.

The Northern Straits Indians developed an extensive fishing technology to harvest the abundant fish of the straits, particularly the many varieties of salmon.

Salmon was the most important staple of the Native diet and plentiful with five annual salmon runs including chinook, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon. James Joseph recalled, "When they were gathering food the Indian people never stopped in one place. Didn't have no reservation then. They went from place to place… They had seasons for these moves. Like right now there's the herring season… Steelhead run in December… They know when the clams are good. They know all these seasons."

The Natives would often reef net the fish and then process them on beaches like American Camp, where the exposure to sun and wind facilitated fish drying. The large beach provided plenty of room for temporary dwellings and drying racks. As in other fish processing sites, the owner of the site and a crew built shelters on the beach out of mats or wood. The Northern Straits dried the fish on racks in between the dwellings and the shore, and they sometimes built fires in trenches to facilitate the drying or smoking of the fish.

The mats, which were made from leak-proof cattails or tules, could be rolled up and transported to other sites. Fishermen used these structures as workshops to make tools and implements, such as nets. In this way, the plants of the island were utilized to facilitate the salmon harvest. Since salmon were only available a few months of the year, the Northern Straits sought other fish as well, and these fish were processed at both English and American Camps. Spanish explorers during expeditions up the Strait of Juan de Fuca conducted from 1790 to 1792 reported "an incredible quantity of salmon and numerous Indians."



Northern Straits Indians: Resourceful Fishermen of the San Juan Islands
Anchor podcast - Everyday is a Throwback ~ Source: Podcast ~ Creator: Brooke Nicholson ~ Date: 1700-1800
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