Posted by: wadahp | April 6, 2011


Harvest From The Sea

Fishing Techniques – Overview

View of: A netshed in Gig Harbor reflects the fishing heritage of the community. Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc., 2010.

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, fishing in Washington state still occurred mostly by methods adopted from Northwest Native Americans. These methods included line and hook, reef nets, basketwork, brush weirs, and fish traps. Fish traps were set up along river migration routes and along shorelines. Fish wheels, which were essentially large rotary scoops, also became popular.[1] Fishing techniques in Washington adapted to allow for increased harvest and more off-shore, deep water large hauls. In the 20th century, Washington fishermen began to use expanded, large-scale hook and line (trolling), encirclement (purse seines), entanglement (gill nets), and entrapment (stationary traps/pound nets). After fish traps and wheels were banned in the 1930s, nets became the most common method in commercial salmon fishing. Yet another fishing method, which is starting to make a comeback, is the long line method.

View of: Circa 1895 photo showing fish traps across a river on the Puyallup Reservation. Source: Washington State Library, Digital Collections.

Fishing Communities – A Way of Life

Fishermen and their families were at least partially responsible for molding their communities, including Gig Harbor, Anacortes, Everett, and many more. The early immigrants often came from Northern or Eastern Europe and encouraged relatives to follow, thus forming strong ethnic enclaves. Fathers fished with their brothers and sons, passing along traditions and family businesses. Seamanship was taught from a young age. Women and girls had important roles in the industry as cannery/processing workers, especially from about the 1930s. Life revolved around the sea and the fishing seasons. Sending crews off in the spring for the north and welcoming them home in the fall became a widespread, tradition. In Everett, “Get Away Day” marked the start of the annual salmon season, as the Everett fishing fleet went to Alaska every year. Even during the winter off-season, there was work to be done from land. Fishermen repaired nets, worked on their boats, and sometimes built boats.

View of: Fishermen repairing nets at Salmon Bay Terminal. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, published in Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State, 1950.

[1] H. M. Corning, The New Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1950), 84.


  1. “Up until the beginning of the 20th century, fishing in Washington state still occurred mostly by methods adopted from Northwest Native Americans. ”

    I find this statement – “mostly by methods” – hard to believe, given the length of time Europeans had been fishing on the US East Coast – since the Basques, at least, if not longer. Can references for this assertion be cited?

  2. Thanks for you comment, Pete – I’ll alert our consultants who are providing this content to see if they can shed any light on their sources.

  3. Thanks for the comment. With regard to citations for this assertion, one of the sources to check out is the 1941 WPA guide for Washington, entitled “Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State,” sponsored by the Washington State Historical Society. Pages 84-85.

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