Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gig Harbor Netsheds (The Largest Inventory on the Puget Sound)

Sunday's Blessing of the Fleet allowed us to participate in the annual event honoring all commercial fishermen.  Yes, some of the boats had already left in early mid-May, but there was still a great representation of vessels sitting on the water waiting for the ceremony.  (I was surprised that some people thought our entire fleet was on hand for the blessing - I believe we have 20 to 25 active purse seine vessels.)

The first Blessing I saw was in San Francisco Bay in the early sixties which was an ecumenical service conducted by both Roman Catholic and Anglican (Episcopalian) clergy.  While living in Houston, I would go to the ceremony in Galveston.  The ceremony is asking for a bountiful catch, a safe season and a safe return home when the season ends.  I believe it is especially meaningful when an entire community takes part regardless of religion.  Oh, by the by, the first Blessing of the Fleet in Gig Harbor was during the 1971 Harbor Holidays, which eventually became what we know today as  the Maritime Gig

So what does this have to do with net sheds? Where are the fishermen repairing equipment, working on their boats, keeping their 'tools of the trade' in top condition? This work has been historically performed in their net sheds, and still is.  

Over this and the next 16 blogs we will touch on these historic structures which allowed our first settlers to conduct their business of commercial fishing.  

I want to thank the City of Gig Harbor for allowing me to use material from the Historic American Engineering Survey on Gig Harbor Net Sheds.  The complete surveys can be located  

The old GILICH NETSHED is the first of 17 netsheds along Gig Harbor’s waterfront that will be the subject of this week’s blog.  A copy of the survey can be accessed at survey includes Engineered drawings in Plan and Profile thanks to funds provided by the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the National Trust.  To view images of the Gilich Netshed (now owned by Blair/Moller) go to  

If you missed it you can read more about Tony and Donald Gilich on the Harbor History Museum blog page.  It was published on March 13, 2013.

You can also obtain a copy of a brochure for a self-guided tour of the 17 netsheds from the City of Gig Harbor, the Harbor History Museum, or the Chamber of Commerce or click 

To me and many others, the netsheds of Gig Harbor are a constant reminder of the first major industry here after the white settlers arrived.  It was the Europeans escaping hard times in their homelands that came to Gig Harbor and either took up fishing or continued fishing earning them and their families a livelihood on the water harvesting the bountiful fish in the surrounding waters.  The principle fishermen were Croatians, but there were many Scandinavians as well.

The 'netsheds' were built by the immigrants to provide a place to mend nets, repair their boats, provide a gathering place between fishing seasons and perform other jobs necessary to get their boats ready for the next venture at sea.  Fishing is a full time job otherwise known as "12-month job".  Many men fished the Pacific Ocean waters from the coast of South America to the Bering Sea.

Today's fishermen ranging in age from their 60s (maybe 70s) to their early 20s are still carrying on the traditions and values of their ancestors. Fishing is a living, thriving, industry - young people still enter the fishing profession after completing their education.   Over the past 36 years that I have lived in Gig Harbor I have seen many historic net sheds and fishing families properties disappear.  Some of these historic properties have changed hands and have been adapted to reuse and rebuilt retaining little if any of the original features.  

When you look at the west side of Gig Harbor Bay and you'll find  the 17 net sheds we are identifying in this and the next 16 blogs, you can see the remnants of what was one of the most vibrant working waterfronts on the Puget Sound.

Okay, so now I have encouraged you to check out a few of these structures -  how do you go about it? As I mentioned earlier, the City of Gig Harbor has prepared a brochure for a self-guided tour of all 17 net sheds.  Grab a copy and then decide how you are going to do it. But remember that except for the Skansie netshed these net sheds are privately owned and you will need permission from the owner to enter unless they are operated as a business enterprise open to the public.

If you have a boat, that is the best way; it allows you to close your eyes and visualize how busy those properties were in their heyday.  But, though not quite as impressive, you can do the same thing walking along Harborview from the old Ferry dock at the mouth of the harbor all the way up to West Shore Marina.  

Tune in next week for the next in our series on the historic net sheds of Gig Harbor.

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