Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

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San Juan Island’s Public Aquarium

San Juan Island's Public Aquarium

As the old saying goes: The only thing sure in life is death…and taxes. Change is inevitable, but most of us are a bit nostalgic. “Back in the Day” is a current popular saying, so let’s turn back the clock and talk salmon. Back in the day, salmon canning was a big deal on San Juan Island. The Friday Harbor Packing Company ranked fifth out of 19 canneries in the Puget Sound and Northern Straits area back in the year my mother was born, 1912. Today that cannery has been replaced by condominiums and a shopping strip called Cannery Landing.

Then came John Jackson with his mink farm. He was buying fish heads and other parts from the Friday Harbor Packing Co. to feed his animals, when he decided he would do better processing the whole fish himself. The cannery pictured,at what is now Jackson’s Beach, was the result. It was an active fish cannery into the 1980’s, buying frozen fish from the mainland and canning them here on the island.

The entire beach and headland, once known as Little Island where the old cannery stands, was purchased by the Port of Friday Harbor in 1985 and plans have been rattling around since then for how to best use the cannery building for the public good. My idea was to make it into an aquarium. With my experience as aquarist with Oregon State University’s Marine Science Center, I saw myself as the perfect candidate to set up and run such an attraction. Notice how the building is built right up to the water, the perfect source of quality sea water for an aquarium.

Sadly, 28 years later, nothing has changed (hmmm, I thought change was inevitable!) The question of where the dollars would come from to set up a public aquarium, as well as the geography with the location being a couple miles from the ferry landing were and still are issues to address. My concept to move the ferry landing to the old barge loading area at the now defunct gravel pit east of Jackson’s Beach from its in-town location wouldn’t have set well with the businesses in town, though such a move would reduce pedestrian and vehicle congestion considerably in Friday Harbor. Ok, FINE, so it doesn’t make sense for the ferry foot traffic to walk to town. They could, instead, walk next door to the aquarium!

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