Fishing has been a fundamental part of the life of Fidalgo Island inhabitants from time immemorial. The harvest of seafood by the Samish and Swinomish tribes, for sustenance and trade, continued with the arrival of European and American settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Anacortes’ fishing industry grew rapidly in the 1890s with the establishment of canneries built to process cod, clams and salmon. Salmon were caught using a variety of methods, including cannery-owned fish traps, reef nets, gill nets, trollers, and the definitive purse seine vessels that often were built right here in Anacortes.
John Tursi made a documentary film in 1953 which follows the path of salmon from the Skagit River spawning to the fishing in Burrows Bay, then from the cannery dock to the cannery floor. He narrated this film in the 1980s as it was converted from film to video, and the results are a valuable glimpse of mid-century Anacortes.
The Anacortes Museum contains a wealth of information on the fishing families and boats, as well as books on the subject including Fidalgo Fishing, Lost at Sea, Croatian Fishing Families of Anacortes, and, Pacific Schooner Wawona.
The first cannery in Anacortes was opened in 1893, and by 1915 eleven canneries were built along the Guemes Channel on the north shore of FidalgoIsland. Through the years many canneries have come and gone. While the seafood industry continues its local harvest, the last cannery closed its doors in Anacortes in 1999. What remains of the history are colorful canning labels, authentic cannery records, hundreds of fishing photographs, and intriguing oral histories that document this central part of our collective heritage and enduring tradition.
The Carnegie Gallery features the original office once serving the Fidalgo Island Packing Company, which was among the first salmon canneries built in Anacortes, near where the Washington State Ferry now docks. It was located at Ship Harbor and operated between 1894 and 1925.
Logging & Lumber Mills
From the 1870s on, logging and lumber mills were a part of the way of life on Fidalgo Island. Over the years there have been many types of wood mills: saw mills, shingle mills, box mills, lumber, pulp and plywood mills at locations primarily on Fidalgo Bay. These mills provided a mainstay for the citizens of our town. Many operations succumbed to the raging blaze of fire. The last mill fire destroyed the Custom Plywood facility in 1992; this signaled an end of an era that lasted over 100 years on Fidalgo Island.