Crew working the docks as salmon are run on a ladder into the cannery

The Diamond NN Cannery’s working waterfront, ca. 1930. Heinbockel-Payne family collection.

THE DOCKS: Working the Tides

The Beach Gang schedule is set by the river’s twice-daily 22-foot tidal fluctuations.

Tenders, barges, and gillnetters line the cannery’s dock at high tide. Forklifts, cranes, and four-wheelers flutter with maritime activity during this busy time. The Beach Gang offloads cargo containers, receives salmon deliveries, attends to boat repairs, and loads the salmon pack at the end of the season.

The Naknek River drains like a bathtub at low tide, revealing miles of mudflats. Work activities on the dock quiet, and the Beach Gang retreat to their locker for a quick nap before the river rises, and the process begins again.

NO Marka’ Da’ fish!

In the early days, fishermen used an iron hook attached to a long wooden pole called a “peugh” to pitch the salmon from the boat to the cannery’s tenders. They often pierced the salmon with the implement, a process that left the salmon noticeably bruised. Because almost all salmon was canned, few noticed.

Later, consumers demanded higher quality. Peughs were banned, and the seafood industry introduced brailer bags that could be filled with fish and lifted onto tally scows. Responding to consumer preference as the industry shifted from canned to fresh frozen, salmon were moved by water hoses to eliminate rough handling and visible marks on salmon.

One modern Bristol Bay brailer bag maker, Nomar, gets its name from Italian fishermen saying “NO Marka’ Da’ Fish!” The saying underscores the industrywide focus on fish quality at the end of the 20th century.