With a port facing the open Pacific and the protection of Sitka Sound’s many islands, this town has been shaped by the sea.
Present-day Sitka is a top Alaskan fishing port and a much sought tourist destination. Cruise ships and yachts bring thousands of visitors from the sea – and many who arrive by air also venture out in boats.
Sitka’s ocean bounty and strategic port must have lured Tlingit Indians to Sheet’ka – their name for the spot where tall mountains, thick forests, and abundant wildlife met the edge of the sea. One of the ocean’s best gifts was the great herring spawn in Sitka Sound. Herring eggs are a Tlingit delicacy and Sitka Natives bartered their eggs for other goods in an elaborate trade network reaching as far as what is now mainland Canada.
Today, Sitka fishermen and women catch Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon; halibut; black cod, rockfish, herring, Dungeness crab and shrimp. Divers harvest geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and other seafood. Along the shore, fish processing plants operate 24/7 during portions of the spring, summer and fall seasons.
The many, many fishing-related vessels in Sitka – along with a healthy recreational fleet – berth in what is the largest small boat harbor in Alaska. Local shipwrights, mechanics and other marine-related services abound.
Sitka history also comes from the sea. The Tlingits’ uncontested control of Sheet’ka changed in the 1800’s with the arrival of Europeans – Russians – lusting after sea otter fur. By mid-century, “Novo Archangelsk” was the most developed colonial settlement on the US West Coast. Passing whalers called Sitka “the Paris of the Pacific” – an island of European culture and technology in the wild “Great Land.”
On Oct. 18, 1867, the Russian Imperial double-eagle flag was lowered on Castle Hill and replaced by the Stars and Stripes. America had purchased all of Alaska for a mere $7.2 million – an anniversary celebrated each year in Sitka with concerts, contests and feasts.
You’ll find industry and history here and great pleasures too. Whether you’ve come for the world-class fishing, mountain trails, fabulous scenery or the quiet pleasures of “a quintessential small town.”
Welcome to Sitka!