A Good Place to Fish

fishingboatsFishing boats unloading
© Seaprints Photography

The History and Demographics of Petersburg, Alaska

Tlingit hunters and fishermen used the area surrounding Petersburg at least 2,000 years ago, and at low tide you can walk among the remains of their ancient fish traps and petroglyphs near town. Alaska Natives still comprise over 10% of the population. A federally recognized tribe is located in the community. A pair of totem poles, at the corner of Haugen and Nordic Drives, tell the story of the Tlingit ancestors traveling down the Stikine River to settle and live in the area.

In 1897, Norwegian pioneer Peter Buschmann arrived, and seeing that the clear, clean ice from LeConte Glacier could be used to pack fish, built the Icy Strait Packing Company cannery, a sawmill, and a dock. His family’s homesteads grew into Petersburg, populated largely by people of Scandinavian descent. By 1920, 600 people lived in Petersburg year-round. During this time fresh salmon and halibut were packed in glacial ice for shipment. Alaska’s first shrimp processor, Alaskan Glacier Seafoods, was founded by Earl Ohmer in 1916. A cold storage plant was built by Knut Thompson in 1926. Petersburg’s first cannery has operated continuously since, and is now known as Petersburg Fisheries, a subsidiary of Icicle Seafoods, Inc. Petersburg is one of the premier fishing ports in Alaska and the U.S.

canneryPetersburg cannery
© Clausen Museum

The busy, bustling town of Petersburg was incorporated April 20, 1910. The population has remained stable with fishing and the fishing industry still the main source of income. About 3,100 people live here year-round, with seasonal variation due to summertime cannery workers, deckhands and fishermen. Nearly 50,000 tourists visit Petersburg each year.

totemPetersburg Totem Pole
© US Forest Service

The commercial fishing industry is the community’s largest employer, with others in retail business, borough, state and federal agencies, visitor industry and logging.

Aspects of both Norwegian and Tlingit cultures still figure prominently in community activities, and fishing remains a staple for the local economy.