Left: “Art,” ca. 1989. Rather than peughs, the beach gang uses power hoses to push salmon from the tender to the fish ladder. Tenders deliver freshly-caught salmon at South Naknek. Katherine Ringsmuth, private collection. Right: Gallery view - photograph by Brian Wallace.
THE BEACH GANG
“I feel the pull of water; from now on we will live largely by its schedule, the rhythm it sets. 'Tide.' The very word derives from the Old English for 'time.'"
— Nancy Lord, Fishcamp
From the mudflats and beaches of Bristol Bay emerged hundreds of shore-based salmon canneries. Working the space between shore and sea was the Beach Gang, who as one observer noted, was responsible for the “heavy mucking on the muddy beaches around the canneries in all sorts of weather.”
Once pilings were driven and docks built, the Beach Gang’s work moved to the cannery waterfront, but the name, which invoked the early days of the industry, stuck. On the dock, the Beach Gang’s primary task was to receive the daily catch of salmon from flat scows and tenders that delivered recently-caught salmon from the fishing grounds.
At the end of the season, the Beach Gang loaded the southbound vessels with boxes of canned salmon, destined for markets worldwide. On voyages home to San Francisco, the Beach Gang acted as sailors.
Few men earned a harder livelihood than the beach gang workers of the Alaska salmon canneries.