Cobb, John Nathan; Pacific Cod Fisheries, GPO, 1916 pg. 58, Google ebook.



The methods followed by the shore stations are somewhat different from those on board the vessels.

The shore fishermen usually arise between 3 and 4 a. m. in summer and between 4 and 5 a. m. in winter.

After getting breakfast the men row out to the near-by banks in their dories. From 9 to 12 they come straggling in with varying numbers of cod, the latter depending somewhat upon luck, but mainly upon the knowledge on the part of the fisherman of the "good spots" and the persistency with which he fished. The dories in use will hold from 180 to 220 fish, the number depending upon their size. A dory with the greater number could be handled only in calm or fairly calm weather, as it would be so low in the water as to ship a sea at every lurch in rough weather.

Upon reaching the station the fish are pewed by the fishermen from the dory into a box located on the side of the wharf and midway between the top and low water. From here the fish are pewed onto the dress-house floor (the dress house is either at the end of the wharf or midway of the same), the agent or his representative keeping the tally as the fish are thrown upon the floor.

In the bunk house is hung a board ruled so as to show the name of each fisherman and his catch from day to day, and as soon as all the boats are in the agent fills out on this board the catch of each man for that day, thus giving the men an opportunity to know just how they stand and to have any corrections made should they be necessary.

Dinner is at 12 o'clock, and shortly after the fishermen gather at the dress house and, dividing themselves into as many dress gangs as their numbers will permit, begin the work of dressing. No special dress gangs are employed at the stations, this work being considered a part of the fisherman's regular work.

That portion of the dress gang in the dress house is generally composed of a "throater," "header," "splitter," a "black skinner," a man to go over the fish and remove adhering backbones, clots of blood, portions of black skin, etc., left by those who had previously handled it, and a man to pew the fish into the throater's box. The duties of these men are about the same as on the vessels. Each dress gang is equipped with a box set up on legs and with a sloping gridiron bottom, so that water, slime, etc., will pass out through the bottom. In this box the fish are placed with their heads toward the throater. Alongside and attached to this box is a table. The header stands at the end next to the box, on the opposite side from the throater and splitter, and has in front of him a piece of iron fastened to the edge of the table, over which he breaks the backbone of the fish as they are passed to him. At the other end of the opposite side of the table stands the splitter. In front of him has been inserted in the top of the table a piece of wood about 15 inches long and about 10 inches wide. In this has been driven a sharpened nail, to which the fish are attached, so they will not slip away while he is splitting them, the board inset being for the purpose of obviating the necessity of renewing the whole top of the table after the splitter has cut and chopped here for a short time.

There are usually two or three gangs at a station, and, in addition to the above, there are usually two men who trundle the dressed fish in large wheelbarrows to the butt house, where two salters receive and salt them in the large tanks.

During the summer months the livers of the cod are saved and dumped into large casks just outside the dress house, this work being done by the header. Here they are allowed to rot out. The oil gradually comes to the surface and at intervals is dipped out into barrels or drums. No attempt at present is made to prepare medicinal oil, although the Union Fish Co. has a plant for this purpose at the Pirate Cove station. As the healthy and diseased livers are used together, only oil suitable for use in the arts is rendered at present.

The offal passes through chutes into the water under the dress house, from whence it is either washed away, rots, or is devoured by gulls and sand fleas. At some stations the latter are so numerous that in a surprisingly short space of time the bones of the fish are polished clean.

The salting houses are long, low structures, with but few windows, which leaves them usually in deep twilight. They are generally arranged with two rows of square or round tanks, with a passageway between them for the wheelbarrows to pass in and out. The large square tanks hold about 4,000 medium-sized fish, while the large round ones hold about 3,000 medium-sized fish. These tanks are generally made of redwood staves or planks held together with metal hoops or bolted together with iron bolts. At a few places small hogsheads are employed. These receptacles frequently are in use for years.

Before the dressing begins each salter brings from the salt house about the number of bags of salt he expects to use. This is usually figured on the basis of 17 sacks (holding 100 pounds each) to 1,000 fish. The quantity used varies, however, with the weather and the fatness of the fish.

The fish are carefully placed in the butts in layers, face, or flesh, side up. Salt is sprinkled over each layer, care being used to see that every part of the fish is covered. The layers are carried from 18 inches to 2 feet above the top of the butts, so as to allow for the settling which will occur as the water is drawn from the fish. No pickle is necessary on these fish, as they make their own. When the fish have settled below the top of the butt, which they will do in a few days, several layers of new fish are added. In Alaska the pickle in the butts is kept usually at from 87° to 97° salinometer test, the average being about 90°. As the climate in Alaska is nearly always cold and damp, there is but little danger of fish spoiling if ordinary care is used. Fish will keep indefinitely in strong pickle so long as they are covered with it. If kept for a long time the pickle must be added to occasionally to repair the losses, particularly from leakage. At the stations the fish at the top of the butts are usually inspected every few days. When the pickle begins to weaken the top layer is turned backs up and a few bags of salt laid on top. These press the fish down, and, the salt being in the bags, it dissolves much more slowly than if thrown loosely over the fish.

At a few stations where the salinometer is not in use the agent depends upon the use of a potato to determine when the pickle is strong enough. If the potato floats at the surface of the pickle it is strong enough for curing cod.

The pickle forms very rapidly in the early stages of the curing, and the surplus is allowed to escape at intervals through a bunghole in the butt.

Care must be taken to see than the roof does not leak during the heavy rains, as should fresh water drip into the butts the fish will become slimy.

Should the run vessel be delayed and a station become filled to its butt capacity, a space is usually cleared in the salt house and the fish taken from the first filled butts and kenched on the floor, a little salt being sprinkled between the layers and over the top. Every effort is made to hold them in the butts as long as practicable, as they retain their natural white color much better when in pickle, kenched fish usually acquiring a yellowish color.

When the station vessel arrives the pickle is allowed to run off the fish, and they are pewed out into carts and wheeled along the dock to a point opposite the vessel's hatch, where they are dumped into a chute and pass thence into the hold, where men receive and kench them in the same manner as on the fishing vessels, almost no salt being used, however, as the fish are already well cured and also have a considerable quantity of salt adhering to them.

At stations where the vessels can not lie alongside the dock, owing to shoal water, the vessel is usually anchored in the bay or harbor, and the fish are brought out to it in dories, which are loaded from a chute rigged up at the outer end of the dock. When a dory is full it is rowed out alongside the vessel and the fish pewed over the rail. As the vessel's rail is a considerable height from the surface of the water when she first begins loading, it is generally necessary to rig a stage about midway between the surface of the water and the top of the rail. The fish are then pewed onto this stage, whence one of the crew pews them over the rail onto the deck, where another man pews them into the hold. This method is very expensive, as it requires a large number of men, is quite slow, and also injures the fish through the excessive number of times that the pew is driven into them.

In 1912 one company had square rope nets made similar to those used by cargo vessels in handling small packages. A small one is placed in the forward end of the dory and a larger one in the after end, space for the boatman to stand being left between the nets. The fish drop from the chute into these nets. When the dory arrives alongside the vessel the cargo hook is lowered over the side. The four corners of the net have been drawn together at the top and these are slipped over the hook, the vessel's donkey engine started, the net with its contents lifted over the rail and lowered into the hold, where it is emptied by catching the hook in the meshes at the back of the net and starting the engine again. As the net comes up it is emptied, after which it is swung over the side and lowered into the dory, when the operation is repeated with the other net. By this method a vessel is loaded in about one-third the time previously required, while but few fish are lost alongside the vessel owing to carelessness in pewing. Another advantage is that it is not necessary to pew the fish after they are thrown into the carts.

There is a considerable loss of fish in passing them from the dock to the dory, especially in rough weather, when the dory is bobbing up and down like a cork. The use of chutes with closed sides and built-in sections, so that they could be lengthened or shortened as the tide ebbed or flowed, would save a considerable part of the present wastage from this cause.

If the net method is not employed the best way would be to have medium-sized scows for transporting the fish from the dock to the side of the vessel. With these the waste would be almost negligible, as they would be so much larger than the dories that practically no fish would be lost overboard while the scow was pitching and rolling in the swell alongside the dock, and owing to the greater weight and size of the scow the work of loading could be carried on in weather too rough for dories to work.