The Strangest Fishery

In his book Sea Rogues’ Gallery Gordon Newell wrote about bootleggers on the Sound and what he referred to as “the strangest sport fishery in Puget Sound history.”

“By 1925 the Coast Guard had 22 patrol boats working Puget Sound. There were frequent thrilling chases, with shoreside dwellers awakened in the dead of night by roaring motors and machine gun fire. If the rum-runner was unable to outrun the cutter, the liquor, like the Chinese coolies of an earlier day, could be dumped overboard. This led to the strangest sport fishery in Puget Sound history. Local fishermen abandoned their salmon gear and went fishing for jettisoned whiskey cargoes with glass-bottomed viewing boxes and long-handled grapnels.”

When I was working a salvage boat in South Florida, bales of marijuana once washed ashore, the jettisoned cargo of some nervous smuggler in the Florida Strait. Each bale was valued in excess of $100,000.

News of the discovery was broadcast locally. The civic response was comparable to the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. Every boat that could float—and some that proved they couldn’t—was launched in a campaign to scour the ocean of a potential hazard to navigation, especially hazardous if the navigator smoked the stuff. Launch ramps were queued a half mile deep. It seemed you could walk dry shod gunnel to gunnel from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. The Coast Guard’s preoccupation shifted from drug interdiction to emergency response. Boats lost power, ran out of gas, began taking on water. Two people died trying to land a heavy bale through four foot surf in a small boat. Fortunes were made, lives were lost.

2 thoughts on “The Strangest Fishery”

  1. I’ve never seen an American-side account of local Prohibition-era smuggling, interesting……you might want to look for a book from used bookshops around BC “Slow Boat on Rum Row” which is about one guy’s adventures hanging out in the fog off Port San Juan (Port Renfrew’s harbour) waiting for the ship from Tijuana to rendezvous with….a whole section of the book is on the radio codes used by the smugglers, including the itneresting tidbit that someone on the inside at CFB Aldergrove was in on teh game….

  2. Mike, thanks for adding to the local knowledge and for the reference. I’ll look for a copy. It would be interesting to collect a folk history of smuggling on the NW coast – with less emphasis on accuracy than on people’s perception of smuggling. I suspect some geographic areas, even now, look less harshly on the practice than others.

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