|Tender PETREL, |
76-ft, built in 1918. Photo by author.
"My story deals with only one small facet of reaping the silver horde of sockeye salmon, that of accompanying a cannery tender to the fishing grounds on two different occasions to buy freshly-caught salmon from the fishing seiners during the later summer months. The tender was the PETREL, Captain Ellsworth Trafton, fish-buying for the A. & P. Cannery in Anacortes, WA. Ellsworth known as "Taffy" to his friends, had been associated with fishing much of his working life. He, his brother Ted, and their father, Jack Trafton had operated the schooners ALICE, AZALEA, and WAWONA under the Robinson Fisheries Company banner. A friend of theirs, E. Harry Anderson, a first-tripper in WAWONA in 1940, had been invited to join the PETREL and to ask a friend; that's how I found myself aboard during the '65 and '66 seasons.
Purchasing the fish directly from the boats on the grounds obviated trips to-market by the fishermen. Boats fishing for A. & P. stationed themselves in the path of the Sockeye returning from their sojourn at sea to spawn in the freshwater streams of their birth. The "grounds" were along the west side of San Juan Island where the runs turned northward from the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward the mouth of the Fraser River and other streams.
After taking on supplies from the cannery just west of Anacortes, Taffy headed the PETREL toward the grounds about eight A.M. each day. During the run a good breakfast was served up by Cliff, the cook, in the ample galley of the 76-footer, a wooden vessel of eighty-gross tons built in 1918 and still going strong. Norman Hansen, deckhand and engineer, spelled Ellsworth at the wheel while he ate and discussed prospects for a good season. Fishing had become so "spotty" in recent years that predictions were difficult, guesses at best.
|A purse seiner on the Salmon Banks, |
San Juan County, 1979.
Photo by Josef Scaylea
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
The procedure was to lower one of PETREL'S baskets into the fish hold of the vessel, standby while the fishermen pewed it full of salmon, hoist it out, and discharge the fish into a hopper which rested upon a weighing scale. Each load was weighed and tallied; when the fishboat had discharged, her skipper came aboard to receive a receipt for the catch. Each catch was put on ice in the tender's hold for delivery to the cannery the next morning. These Sockeye at spawning season run about twenty-four inches in length and weigh about seven pounds.
Cliff had dinner on the table by the time we had washed down the decks and were headed through Mosquito Pass on our way back to the cannery at Anacortes. Taffy knew the islands as well as his own name and he put the PETREL through her paces. But our scheduled return was interrupted by orders via the radiotelephone from the cannery: pick up a load from another tender anchored off Green Point. So it was haul-out-the-gear once again, moor alongside, receive several tons of fish with illumination provided by the masthead lights and .... finally, run the last leg of our course.
It was after one-clock in the morning before we were again moored at the A. & P. dock. Ellsworth was dog-tired, but sent both Harry and me home with a nice salmon for breakfast."
Gordon Jones for The Sea Chest, September 1976
The Journal of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society