Friday, May 9, 2008

Vallejo's Thriving Salmon Industry

On this date in 1890 the Vallejo Evening Chronicle reported that striking salmon fishermen had reached an agreement with local canneries and had returned to work:

Friday, May 9, 1890: The Strike Ended

The strike of the Fishermen’s Union against the canneries has at last terminated, and a compromise been effected satisfactory to both. On Monday the fishermen were selling salmon to the cannery at Martinez in large numbers, and several teams were engaged in hauling the fish. The catch on Monday was unusually large, and upwards of 1,000 salmon were landed at the wharves. Of this number, between three and four hundred were shipped to the city, and the cannery handled the remainder. The terms of the compromise as near as can be ascertained are three cents per pound and an agreement on the part of the canners to take the entire catch or as near so as possible. The run of fish is good at present, and if it continues times will be lively in this industry. The fishermen have acted sensibly by compromising matters with the canneries, but for a time it looked as though they would stand firm and demand the terms of the strike, which was four cents a pound, or cease fishing altogether. The salmon along the straits are said to be in better condition than those taken in the river, many of the fish landed on Monday weighing as much as 25 pounds.

During the late 19th century, salmon fishing was one of the mainstays of the local economy. Salmon canneries employed workers throughout the region, with canneries located in Benicia, Antioch, Martinez, and Rio Vista. The F.E. Booth Company established a salmon cannery in Collinsville in 1873, ultimately reaching production levels as high as 20,000 cans of salmon per day. A salmon cannery was started in South Vallejo around 1875. Many of the workers at that cannery were Chinese immigrants. Fishermen working the Carquinez Strait and the Sacramento River competed with each other, but they also faced competition from hungry sea lions that became entangled in the fishing nets while attempting to feast on the salmon.

Record salmon catches like the 1,000-fish day described above continued into the 20th century. In September, 1913, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle boasted the following headline: “Fishermen Get 18 Tons of Salmon as One Day's Catch.” The accompanying article stated:

“The Englebre Wiese Salmon Packing Company at South Vallejo is running full blast and during the last few days some unusually large catches have been made. Yesterday the fishermen brought in eighteen tons of salmon, one of the largest catches ever recorded in this vicinity, and it is believed the factory will be taxed to its full capacity during the remainder of the season. The salmon packing concern is one of the important industries of the south end, employing a large number of hands.”

In more recent years, water diversion, dams, over fishing and pollution have all but eliminated these vast numbers of salmon in the Delta region and along the Pacific Coast, resulting in a total ban on salmon fishing in 2008. But in earlier days the salmon industry helped cement Vallejo’s reputation as a thriving maritime city.

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