The marine wealth of the Salish Sea near the Stanwood and Camano Island area has been exploited for thousands of years.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Aboriginal peoples’ way of life included fishing, clam digging, and gathering a variety of aquatic life in the waterways of northern Puget Sound.
With the arrival of Euro-Americans in the Stillaguamish Valley in the 1800s and the ensuing 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, the beleaguered tribes ceded land, which also resulted in less access to a much of the abundance of water.
The newcomers, many of them from Scandinavia, had a vast knowledge of fishing and as a result harvesting of species such as salmon boomed during the 1800s and much of the early part of the 1900s.
Beginning in the 1920s, the popularity of recreational fishing for salmon and other species led to the establishment of nearly two dozen resorts in the region.
During the 20th century, issues such as species mismanagement, pollution, climate change, and a historic decision that reaffirmed the fishing rights of Indigenous peoples dramatically changed the seascape.
Over the past few decades, state agencies, the area’s tribal natural resource divisions, and other groups have worked to restore habitat and rebuild many of the area’s marine resources.
Over 6,000 years ago, Indigenous peoples, now known as the Coast Salish, began living in what is now western Washington and southwestern British Columbia .
The Coast Salish people took advantage of the region’s many natural resources, including plants, game, and marine life.
The culture of the indigenous peoples of northern Puget Sound, which included the Lower Skagit, Kikiallus, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Suiattle and Samish peoples, changed forever with the arrival of Euro-Americans in the 19th century who began to develop the land. .
The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot was a land settlement between the tribes and the United States government that established reservations and guaranteed “the right to fish on customary and customary grounds”.
However, over time these rights were subjugated as Indigenous peoples were moved to reservations and others began to harvest aquatic resources.
Many of the first Euro-Americans to arrive in the Stillaguamish Valley came from Sweden, Norway and Finland, all with a long history of fishing in the frozen fjords surrounding their country.
Newcomers saw abundance and for much of the second half of the 1800s salmon populations in particular were considered an inexhaustible resource and were fished heavily throughout the Pacific Northwest.
According to the University of Washington Libraries website, “Fishermen used many methods to trap salmon, including fishwheels, horse seines, gillnets, and traps. In the early years, these practices were mostly unregulated and left to the will of the fishermen themselves.
In 1883, the development of fish canning technology allowed greater transportation of the product and increased market potential.
Stanwood Seafood Processing
In “The Stanwood Story: Volume I”, author Alice Essex wrote that in 1898, “…the Friday Fish Company marked the beginning of commercial fishing activity at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River”
Essex wrote that the salmon cannery, which was near where Twin City Foods is today at 10130 269th Place NW, had a capacity of “4,000 to 5,000 cases a day and employed 50 men.” .
Another Stanwood fish cannery opened in 1917 on the Stanwood waterfront and Essex wrote that “…one day’s run totaled 500 cases of Chinook salmon with a crew of six men and 18 girls.”
In addition to salmon, the local production of oysters was continued.
The Stanwood Area Historical Society’s March 2005 publication Echoes describes the rise and fall of the Camano Blue Point Oyster Company which was established in the early 1930s.
According to the article, George Kosmos purchased “5,300 tidal acres between Juniper Beach and Livingston Bay [on Camano Island] of which 3,500 acres were suitable for the cultivation of oysters.
Kosmos planted thousands of Japanese oyster spats and in 1932 “the first load of oysters were towed from Livingston Bay to Stanwood Dock” where they were shucked and sent by refrigerated truck to Seattle.
The Kosmos oyster business was ultimately unprofitable.
According to the Echoes article, in January 1940, “…Cooperative Food Products announced that it would take over the Blue Point building to specialize in the canning of rabbits and fish.”
The Gaetz Oyster Company took another crack at the bivalve and bought the Blue Point Tidal Flats near Livingston Bay in 1943 and began processing the shells at Stanwood Wharf.
By the early 1940s oyster beds were also being farmed near Stanwood – Essex wrote that 10,000 seeded oysters had been planted, “on 1,000 second-class tidal acres at Warm Beach”.
According to the Echoes article, in 1947 an oil spill at Port Susan from “…the bow of a broken Russian tanker full of oil…” which had been towed to the area contaminated local oyster beds and ended the area’s shellfish industry. .
Border lane being replaced
In the early 1900s, as the fish population dwindled, many devices, such as fish wheels, were banned because they were so effective at depleting species.
Over time, a variety of additional commercial and recreational government regulations have been put in place, such as limiting catch quantities, regulating fishing seasons, and requiring licenses for certain fisheries.
Many restrictions have been met with resistance.
Essex wrote that a 1907 bill introduced at Olympia which would have made citizens, in part, pay for hunting and fishing licenses was met with a local petition protesting the removal of fees”. .. guaranteed by all laws enacted by the State or the United States”. states.”
Essex concluded: “And so it was in those days of transition, when the border lanes were gradually replaced by new rules of conduct.”
In the early 1900s, as commercial fishing moved further and further north to more plentiful waters, recreational fishing grew in popularity.
“Between 1920 and 1960, about 20 resorts were established, often changing owners several times, providing fishing boats and cabins for vacation rental,” Karen Prasse wrote in her history book, “Camano Island “.
Camano resorts have become renowned for outfitting vacationers for successful salmon fishing junkets.
According to a 2011 report by the Center for Wooden Boats, in its heyday of the 1950s, Cama Beach Resort had one of the largest fleets of sport fishing rental boats in the area.
Fishing tournaments sponsored by numerous resorts offering hundreds of dollars in prize money were a big draw.
Local author Jason Dorsey’s book ‘The Beaches of Camano Island’ describes a successful derby catch, “Fishermen from the resort town of Tyee Beach fished Camano Head and Anita Moore caught a salmon there 25-pound royal in August 1925.”
According to Stanwood Camano News records, in 1962, Bethel Blendheim landed a 53-pound king salmon off western Camano Island, a record size for the region.
In the 1970s, changing holiday habits and the continued decline of West Coast salmon runs caused many resorts to give way to private development or close as business dwindled. .
A paradigm shift toward territorial waters occurred in 1974 when a ruling by federal judge George Boldt reaffirmed the rights of Washington tribes to fish in customary locations.
According to Feliks Banel, resident historian of KIRO News Radio, the outcome of the lawsuit changed the way fisheries were managed in Washington state.
“The Boldt decision forced the state government to recognize fishing rights and tribal sovereignty,” Banel said. “He essentially divided the annual harvest from the fishery between tribes and non-tribal sport fishers and the commercial fishing industry.”
Kadi Bizyayeva, director of fisheries for the Stillaguamish Indians Tribe, said there were pros and cons to the Boldt decision.
“The bold decision reaffirmed that the tribes of Washington have the right to take 50% of the harvestable surplus,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to the fact that Puget Sound Chinook stocks have plummeted and are now regulated under the Endangered Species Act, we no longer have access to a true ‘fishable surplus’ of Chinooks. “
Chase Gunnell, communications manager for the Puget Sound region for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is familiar with the issues that affect marine life, especially indicator species like Pacific salmon.
“Many stocks of wild salmon and rainbow trout are currently returning to a fraction of historic abundance due to habitat loss, historic overfishing, barriers blocking access to the habitat of spawning and other factors,” he said.
Gunnell said work is underway to reverse the trend.
“Continued efforts to restore habitat and improve fish passage provide reason for hope in Snohomish County and beyond,” he said. “In recent years, WDFW has worked collaboratively with counties, tribes, local landowners and other partners to restore estuary habitat, including at sites around Stanwood such as Leque Island and Wiley. Slough.
Bizyayeva is also optimistic about the restoration of local estuaries.
“The work we’ve done to restore the Stillaguamish estuary on projects like Zis-a-Ba near Stanwood is really paying off,” she said. “We are already seeing juvenile Chinooks using the habitat, and we are confident that these projects will benefit both our salmon and local stakeholders.”
Jeff Fernandes, 65, who grew up in Stanwood, has fished the local waters for most of his life.
“When I was a teenager, we would go out early and go south of town to fish for silver,” he said. “Usually at lunch we would all have our limit of three each – they were between four and ten pounds.”
Not so much today, he said.
“Honestly, I don’t do much saltwater fishing anymore,” Fernandes said. “Between government regulations and the dire state of most species, it’s just not worth going out and getting nothing.”
However, Gunnell remains resolutely optimistic.
“It will take decades to restore salmon habitat and many challenges remain, but there are still many reasons for hope,” he said. “Through careful fisheries management, scientific habitat restoration, and collaboration, we can preserve the natural heritage that makes the Puget Sound area so special.”
“It took more than 150 years for the marine habitat to reach its current state,” she said. “I’m hopeful that if we all work together, we can restore these incredible waters we share.”
* Mary Jennings is a regular contributor to the Stanwood Camano News.
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