Salmon History

In The Beginning

Seafood were among the first products canned to heat sterilization in hermetically sealed containers, invented by Niclas Appert, a Frenchman in the years from 1804 to 1809.

Canning came to the United States in 1819 when Ezra Dagget and Thomas Kensett started canning oysters in New York City.  A year later William Underwood was canning lobster in Boston.

Large scale canning operations were not undertaken in this country until 1844 when Kensett initiated oyster canning in Baltimore in a substantial way.  As have wars since, the war between the states sharply advanced the use of canned foods and brought into being the advanced use of canned  and brought into being the first truly noteworthy pack-again a product of the sea.

This was in 1864, when george and willima Hume and A.S. Hapgood started a canning operation on the Sacramento River, in Sacramento, California, packing Salmon.  Two years later they opend on the Columbia River fishery with a cannery at Eagle Cliff.  Another year and a plant was started at New Westminster, B.C. on the Fraser River.

It was 10 years later in 1877 , that the first cannery was built on the Puget Sound and the great salmon canning industry of Alaska had ins beginnings at Kiawock in 1878.

From that beginning the opoeningn of the Alaska Salon fisheries spread swiftly along the territory’s tortured coastline, and within a few years men were canning salmon from the Sacramento River to the Bering Sea.

The Early Days

The canning of fish prodcucts was aided by the development of Sardines.  In 1877, the same year salmon canning started in the Puget Sound, Sardines were packed in Maine but it was not until 1896 that the famous Monterey and California sardine industry began in San Pedro.  Growth of the California was slow until the World War (1917) when sardines became so important to the survival of our country by feeding so many people.
In 1909 Tuna began to be packed in cans in Southern California, it was then that the Southern California Fish Company marketed the first commercial pack of 2,000 cases of Tuna sold through Seeman Bros. of New York City.  By 1912 the pack was up to 75,000 cases and four years later it reached the half million case mark due to the war.  Tuna canning hit the 1,000,000 case mark in 1925.  Today it is simply one of America’s favorites.

The Salmon “Run”

The movement of salmon toward the spawning ground is known as the “run”, and occurs about the same time of year for each local group of salmon. Salmon reach the apex of their physical maturity and perfection at the time of the run.  Then each fish has accumulated in its flesth all the elements needed to carry it on its up-steram migration, often up hundreds of miles of sweift turbulent water and produce the next generation.  At the  time Salmon enter their home river and leave the ocean, they cease feeding.  Only during this short period of peak conditioin does it come within the reach of commercial fising gear.  Taking of fish in spawning condition is prevented by closed seasons and closed areas.

Spawning and Hatching

As they attain the spawning grounds, the salmon pair off and dig shallow depressions in the fine gravel of the steram bends.  There the eggs are deposited and fertilized, being coverd with gravel ofro protection against natural enemies.  Both parent salmon die within a few days after spawing has been completed.  This death after spawinng  is invariable for Pacific Salmone and is one of the principal differences between the Pacific type and the Atlantic Salmon, which do not necessarily die after spawning.  Spawning is accomplished in the fall and the eggs develop in the gravel during the winter.  Hatching occurs early in the spring.

In some species the young fish pass almost immediately to sea to begin the saltwater phase of their cycle.  In others, they may remain in fresh water for two years before seeking the sea.

The Ocean Existance

Next to nothing is known of the salmon after they migrate to the ocearn.  Where they go man knows not.  Salmon in almost all stages of development are taken by trollers fishing within a few miles of shore, but how far they may range north and south or how far offshore is not known.

As they attain full maturity, they salmon come back tot  the streams; the Pink Salmon in two years, the other species at greater age to as much as eight years. Most common age of return is four years.

Red Salmon (Also known as Sockeye)

The Red or Sockeye salmon ranks first in total valure of canned output due to its higher per pound cost but is second to Pink Salmon in volume by weight.  In size this fish is next to the smallest, though it varies from4 to 12 poiunds, with an average of 6.5 pounds.

The Red Salmon range from the Columbia River to Bristol Bay, which is the principle source, although the Fraser River in Canad, contributing most of the Puget Sound Sockeyes, occasionally produces great quantity up to about 1913.  Today the catch is much smaller.  Principal Red Salmon streams of Bristol Bay a eth Kvichak, Naknek and Nushagak.  Other important sources:  Chignik; the Kodiak-Afognak region (mainly Karluk and Red Rivers); Cook Inlet and Copper River.  The Skeena, Naas and most other British Columbia rivers also have substantial runs with minor but valuable runss to a few Southeast Alska streams; the Skagit on Puget Sound and the Quinalurt on the Washington coast.  On the Qunalault and Columbia River this specis is known as Blueback

The normal life – cycle is four or five years.  Firve year Reds usually predominate in Bristol Bay runs and in some British Columbia streams;  Four yerar fish on the Fraser and Columbia.  Reds have a tendency to  develp cycles of abundance, with a more or less regular fluctuation in the productivity.  Thus there is a defiant ecycle in the Bristol Bay pack, and an even more marked “big year” cycle occuriring every four years in the Puge Sound-?Fraser  River production.  Sockeyes run into the Copper River in May and on the Fraser ther run has continued as late as October.

A peculiarity of this species is that the Red runs are only found in sterams floweing rom lakes in their upper reaches, thogh most spawning is in the small streams tributary to the lakes.

King Chinook

This is the largest of the Salmon.  There are many fewer King Salmon than other species.  The geographical range in the greatest amont salmon, for is is taken from Monterey to the Yukon and through a long season.  The King migrates over great distances.  Fish marked at sea off Southeast Alaska have been recovered in Columbia River, a thousand miles away.

The King spawn in relativlely small creeks, but runs of real importance are confined to the great rivers of the Pacific Slope-the Columbia, the Yukon, the Kuskokwim; Copper River, Taku and Stikine of Southeast Alaska; British Columbia’s Raser and Skeena; and the Sacramento of California, birthplace of salmon canning.

A great part of the Chinook catch is not canned, but sold on the fresh market at very high prices, Frozen and sold at equally high prices or cured/smoked and sold at even higher prices.  This is truly a prized fish, The King of Salmon.

The King usually has a live cycle of four to six years, sometimes seven.  Most young remain in fresh water until their second spring-many until the third – migrating to the ocean when of “fingerling” size.

Pink Salmon

First place among the species in quantity and second in value goes to the Pink, individually the smallest of the five salmon.  As with Reds, much of the pack is canned.  Miramonte cans whole salmon steaks, most brands pack skinless boneless which does not have as much nutrition or flavor.  The number of fish required to make a case of 7 ½ ounce cans of salmon varies from 12 to 30 or more, buth they are remarkably uniform in size in any particular locality or season.

Pinks are found in considerable numbers in most areas from the Puget Sound to the end of the Alaska Peninsula and a very few on the Bering Sea side.  Principal source in Southeast Alaska, where most streams suppo0rt sizable (sometimes very large) runs; but great runs also normally occur in the Prince William Sound and Kodiak areas of Alaska.
The Fraser River in alternate years is one of the great Pink streams, and fairly large runs also occur to many other rivers of British Columbia and Puget Sound-but none father north.

Life-cycle of the Pink is invariably two years.  It spawns usually in the lower reaches of streams of all sizes, not far from salt water, and the young move to the sea the following spring, as soon as they reach the free-swimming stage.

The two-year cycle has resulted in a remarkable periodicity in the Puget Sound-Fraser River district, which has a large run in odd-numbered years and practically none at all in even-numbered years.  A similar phenomenon, but far less striking, is noted in a number of other areas.

Coho or silver Salmon

The Coho or Silver salmon ranks third in volume of canned pack; and a considerable part of the catch is sold fresh or frozen.

Silvers are found throughout the whole range of the Pacific salmon, though runs of commercial significance appear only between Oregon and Cook Inlet.

Cohoes or Silvers normally constitute a substantial part of the packs of Puget Sound, the Columbia River, coastal areas, and especially of British Columbia; and in Alaska there are good-sized runs to Cook Inlet, Copper River, Yakutat and most parts of Southeast Alaska.

In most parts of Alaska few Cohoes are usually seen before mid-August.  From the lower coast as far north as Southeast Alaska a good many early Cohoes, still actively feeding, are taken at sea by trolling, or by purse seines off Cape Flattery and Vancouver Island.  The principal run in “inside” waters from northern British Columbia to the southern limit comes in October.


Chum salmon comes third in importance as to both volume and total value of pack.  Althougth much of the fish are canned, substantial quantities are sold frozen and fresh.  In average size the fish is lsiightly larger than the Red, but much smaller than the King.  Chums appear in substantial munbers in most Alaskan waters and those of British Columbia and Puget Sound, with smaller runs to the Colujmbia River and some coastal streams of Oregon.  The largest runs are those of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, though large packs aer sometimes made in the Prince W9illiam Sound, Kodiak and South Peninsula areas.

In most Alaskan areas Chms appear in fair numbers before midsummer, increasing towards the end of the season and keeping on untillate in the fall.  Elsewhere November and October are the months of greatest production.

Four years is the normal life cycle.  Chums commonly spawn even nearer tidewater than Pinks; and as with Pinks, the yourn pass to sea as soon as they are free swimming.

Commercial Grades of Salmon are Names of the Five Species

Principal commercial “greades” of canned salmon are established by the five different species: Red, Pink, Chum, Coho and Chinook.

All of these varieties areknown by more than one name.  This has been a source of much confusion.  This is increased by the fact that there ae some well recognized trade distintions based on locality of production or season.

Salmon of all species show little varitation in food value.  Except for specialty items, all are canned by exactly the same methods, procedure and equipment, and are handled with equal care.  Thus the lower priced salmon packs are not, as many have supposed, inferior or less carefully prepared fish of the same kind, but are actually different varieite form the more expxpensive.

A Natural Product

Almost all salmon is canned as a natural product, packed in the cans and processed as Nature made it, with the removal of only the non-edible portions of the Salmon.  In the regular pack it thus includes the skin and bones, softened and made healty and edible by cooking- and the natural oil and jices drawn from the flesh by cooking inn the seale3d can.  Nothing whatever is added.  Many manufacturers add salt, Miramonte Pink Salmon has no added salt so the Sodium level is the lowest in the industry.

Some of the higher-priced packs receive the addition of extra salmon oil, produced expressly for the purpose of highly sanitary methods.  Some special packs are also flavored by smoking or “kippering” the fish; and experiments have been made with other flavoring substances.  In all cases, under federal and state laws, the addition of any substance-even salt, or extra oil from the same fish-must be indicated on the label.

Yet another special type of pack is put up with skin and backbone removed.

Basis of Price Differences

Differences in market price between the species result mainly from consumer preference=-based principally on color and oil content; and from the natural abundance of the respective varieties as related to consuming demand, with little or no distinction as to nutritive value or flavor.

In certain localities, however, some species are more highly colored or richer in oil than in others, resulting in geographic distinctions, as between Columbia River Chinooks and Alaska Kings, or Puget Sound Sockeyes and Alaska Reds.  Sometimes such distinctions are the basis of substantial differences in price, sometimes merely in relative salability.

Seasonal variations also occur, the earlier pack of some species being preferred to the later;  as summer to fall-pack Chums, or spring to fall Chinooks.

The common and trade names applied to the different species, together with their distinguishing qualities as canned products and certain trade distinctions between “grades” within some of the species, are discussed below.

King, Chinook or Spring

The term Kind, obviously based on the large size and powerful appearance of the fish, is usually applied to this species from Alaska and Puget Sound.  The same species on the Columbia River and to some extent in Alaska, is know as Chinook-a name adopted from Indian groups of the Columbia River region.  In British Columbia it is known almost exclusively as Spring.

Flesh of the King consists of large flakes, usually very fat, tender and of fine flavor.  In color when canned, it varies from deep orange-red through salmon-pink to white, with correspondingly wide range of prices.

On the Columbia River (principal sources of Chinooks) the fish are carefully graded as to color and oil.  The most widely-recognized grades are “fancy’, “choice” and “standard” with marked price differentials between them; and Columbia River fancy Chinooks (sometimes termed “Royal Chinooks”) have the distinction of commanding the highest market price of all salmon.

From its use for the “fancy” pack the term “Chinook” has become associated with the idea of superior quality.  Alaska Kings, however, are definitely high-grade salmon, being normally priced very little below Alaska Reds.  Some areas of Alaska produce Chinooks that compare favorably with Columbia River fancy, though in very small quanity and not widely known.

Red, Sockeye or Blueback

Red salmon takes its name from the distinctive, bright orange-red color of the flesh.

In the Puget Sound and British Columbia districts this species is universally know as Sockeye, a name of obscure origin, belived to be a corruption of an Indian word.  The species on the Columbia and Washington coast is usually call Blueback.  The Washington coast fish may also be known as Quinaults.

Flakes of Red salmon flesh-as well as the bones, are small.  Texture is rather firm, and the fish has red oil and a distinct flavor.

The species reaches its highest color and oil content in Puget Sound, the Fraser River and some other British Columbia streams, the Columbia, and Quinault River.  Sockeves from these streams vie with fancy Chinooks as the highest-priced canned salmon.

The Alaska fish of the this species is usually known as Alaska Red or simply Red, but may be labeledAlaska Red Sockeye or Alaska Sockeye.  In general, Alaska Reds are somewhat less brightly colored and less oily (consequently firmer) than the Puget Sound fish.  The are also much more plentiful, and so are lower in price although they are the highest-priced of the species produced in large quantity.

Most of the Alaska Reds are packed on Bristol Bay.

Coho, Silver, Medium Red

The Coho, Silver or Medium Red, has flesh about midway in color between that of Reds and Kings.  In texture and size of flakes also it comes between Reds and Chinooks.

The term Silver or Silverside, widely used by fishermen of all districts, and by canners mostly for the Columbia River and coastal product, comes from the silvery appearance of the live fish.  They are almost always called Cohoes (origin of the word unknown) in Canada; usually on Puget Sound and often in Alaska; while the term Medium Red, largely used for the Alaska fish, arises from its “midway” position as to color and, in the trade is applied to the less brightly-colored packs.

Some fish of this species, caught in the Fraser River district of Canada, are also known as “Bluebacks”, which should not be confised with the Sockeyes or Bluebacks of the Columbia and Quinault Rivers.

Cohoes show considerable variation in color and oil, with resulting price differentials; the best fish being almost equal to first-class Sockeyes, while some are of rather pale color.  The brightest and fattest Cohoes are taken in the ocean, mainly by hook-and-line; being distinguished by the term “ocean-caught” or “troll-caught” Cohoes-often hand-packed and designated as “fancy”.

The Delicate Pink Salmon

Delicacy of texture and flavor is the outstanding feature of the Pink salmon, so called because of color of its flesh, a delicate pink, with its very small, tender flakes and small bones.

While Pinks vary somewhat in color of flesh, mainly according to district and time of packing, such variations are usually not striking, and there is seldom any appreciable differences in price between various packs.

Because of their abundance (almost half the entire U.S. salmon pack), and owing also to traditional consumer preference for the red-meated varieties, Pinks are normally priced somewhat lower than Cohoes, and considerably below Alaska Reds-putting them in the “popular-priced” class which, together with growing appreciation of their high food value and ot6her intrinsic merits, has made them a leading item in most consuming markets.  Considering food value and appetizing quality in relation to price, Pink salmon has come to be widely recognized as a most economical food.

Chum or Keta Salmon

Priced at a fairly constant differential below the Pink is the Chum or Keta salmon-the latter term beingthe scientific name of the species, adopted from early Russian vernacular, but not in common trade usage.  The usual name, Chum, is of unknown origin.  This species is also known among fishermen and packers but seldom to the trade, as “Fall” salmon, from the fact that it appears later in the season than other varieties.

The flesh when canned ranges from light pink to yellowish gray or white; contains relatively little oil; firm in texture, with large flakes, large bones, and rather thick skin, often dark in color.

Chums vary considerably in color and oil according to district and season.  Those of westward Alaskan areas, down to the including Kodiak Island, are often a fairlya deep pink, showing considerable oil.  In most districts those taken in summer are brighter and fatter, with lighter-colored skin, than the later pack, leading to a trade distinction between “summer Chums” and “fall chums”, often the basis of a slight price differential; and fall Chums from some districts normally bring somewhat lower prices than the bulk of the pack.  The term “bright Chums” is also sometimes applied to those having definitely pinkish-colored flesh and light skin.

Though lowest in the scale of consumer preference because of color, Chums come very close to the “fancy grades in actual nutritive value.  Their flavor, though considered distinctive by experts, is to others scarcely distinguishable from that of the more expensive varieties; and among consumers they are regarded as desirable especially as a basis for appetizing cooked dishes.


Salmon are caught by four fundamental methods-Entanglement, Entrapment, Encirclement, Hook and Line.

As a matter of fact, these four methods, with the single addition of Harpooning, include just about all of the methods used in any fishing.

Various factors influence the choice of method in salmon fishing:  species of salmon available; period of the year; maturity of the fish sought; characteristics of the water fished; legal considerations.

In some areas all mthods are employed simultaneously.


This is the most widely-employed form of commercial fishing, and is the application of the basic method of Entanglement.

Fundamentally, the gillnet con07/06/2007  Fish thrust their heads into the meshes and are caught when the swelling form of the body is held tihtly in the mesh.

Salmon gillnets usually are made of find linen twine, tied with double knots to prevent slippage, and are very strong.  Currently, nylon twine is gaining some favor for gillnets, due to its extreme strength and resistance to rot.

Gillnets are highly “selective”, in that an individual net can catch fish of only limited size range.  About that, the fish cannot get their heads far enoughj into the meshes to be caught; below it, they pass through.  The nets are hund between a “corkline” and a “leadline”,. Which keep them roughly vertical in the water.  Usually, the flotation of the corkline is sufficient to keep the net at the surface; but on occasion the gillnet may be fished as a “diver”, in which the leadline is sufficiently heavy to overcome the flotation of the corks, causing the net to fish along the bottom.

Salmon gillnets usually are permitted to drift with the tide or current, the fishing boat drifting with the net; but where gillnets are anchored they are known as “setnets.”

Gillnets are most effective when fished in somewhat muddy waters, and at night-as the fish then do not see the fine web in time to avoid it.

The Bristol Bay salmon catch is made entirely with gillnets, which are important also in the Cook Inlet and Copper River districts of Alaska.  Of the Territory’s salmon catch as a whole, about 20% is taken by gillnetting.

This form of gear is widely employed in British Columbia in the vicinity of the great streams, such as the Skeena and Fraser.  (As a matter of fact, the muddy water in the vicinity of the major streams always encourages gillnetting.)

On Puget Sound gillnetting is a minor factor, accounting for perhaps 10% of the catch; while on the Columbia River it accounts for about 90%

Salmon Traps

The salmon trap was a specialized form of fishing gear employed all over the world, and was the active embodiment of the fundamental principle of Entrapment.

In essentials, the salmon trap consisted of a Lead, which the fish followed into a series of compartments with funnel shaped openings leading finally into the Spiller, which was equipped for removal of the fish by a scooping process call “brailing”.

Salmon traps reached their greatest importance in Alaska, and were of two types:  floating and standing or pile traps.

The latter were composed of piling driven into the bottom in outline of the trap, and then clothed with netting.

Floating traps followed the same outline, but were supported from a floating structure composed of logs, and anchored in place.  The floating type of trap was sometimes used in “locations where the water was too deep, or the bottom too rocky, to make driven traps feasible.

In modern practice the webbing of all but the “spiller” of a salmon trap is composed of wire, which is discarded at the end of each season.  The spiller is of cotton netting for flexibility.

Salmon were taken in traps alive, and considerable quantities could be held at a time.  Consequently, traps provided a reserve cushion against sharp fluctuation in cannery fish supply.

There were about 400 salmon traps in Alaska, all in the Central and Southeastern regions.

Traps accounted for approximately 40% of the Alaska salmon catch.

Fishing by means of traps were somewhat curtailed as a result of criticism directed at them by operators of other forms of gear.  Oregon and Washington have forbidden the use of salmon traps.  British Columbia permits them only in the small areas.

In Alaska trap fishing has been under fire for years.  Objection primarily is based upon the granting to a trap operator of the right of fishing in a particular location.

Purse Seining

This form of fishing is the application of the Encirclement principle.  It was developed on the Pacific Coast as a specialized form of fishing with nets, and since has been widely applied throughout the world in catching fish which have the habit of schooling near the surface.

Purse seining is not effective against scattered fish. Presence of a school is detected by any one of several means, depending upon the kind of fish and locality.  In the case of salmon the schools are detected visually as the salmon are “finning” at the surface or jumping.  These actions may be a sign of a school.

The seine is piled on the stern of the fishing boat, which tows a much smaller skiff to which one end of the net is attached.  This small boat is dropped astern when a “set” of the seine is begun.  The fishing vessel then describes a circle about the school, the seine being pulled from the stern into the water.

When the circle has been completed, and the “tail” of the net recovered, the fishermen use a power winch to draw-in the “purse line”, which runs through rings attached to the lower edge of the net.  When these rings have all been drawn together and gotten aboard the vessel the net has been “pursed” at the bottom and the fish cannot escape.  The circle of the netis then reduced until the fish are crowded together and can be scooped into the vessel by “brailing”.

Salmon purse seines may be as much as 1,800 feet in length.

The number of purse seines fished in Alaska varies from 700 to 1,000, each of them fished by a vessel whose length is limited by regulation to a maximum of about 57 feet.  On Puget Sound the average seiner is larger, vessels running up to perhaps 75 feet; and about 210 purse seine vessels are active there each season.

In Alaska approximately 35% of the salmon catch is made by means of purse seines.  In Puget Sound the purse seines’ share of the salmon catch is at least 75%.


Salmon fishing by means of hook and line is relatively unimportant in the matter of volume of production as compared with gillnetting, trapping and purse seining.

Moreover, the percentage of hook-caught salmon which is canned is very small.  This method of fishing is used primarily to take salmon for the fresh, frozen or cured fish trade; and only a very small proportion of fish caught in this manner is marketed in tin.

This is due to the fact that when a salmon strikes the hook he is feeding, and the physical condition of the feeding fish lends itself better to marketing fresh, frozen or cured than it does to canning.

In some instances, notably in the case of Cohoes or Silvers, hook-caught fish may be canned, and are well esteemed in that form.

Hook-and-line fishing for salmon is called “Trolling”.  The fish are taken at sea on large “spoon hooks” or plugs”.  These latter are merely an over-sized adaptation of the bass plug of the casting sport fisherman.

The boats used range from 30 to 60 feet in length, and each fishes from six to 10 miles, with about five sppon hooks or plugs at varying depths on each line.

As they are feeding when taken, troll-caught salmon are dressed immediately, and then packed in ice in the hold of the fishng vessel.

In Alaska about 5% of the total catch is taken by trolling, but the percentage of the canned pack produced from troll-caught fish is much smaller than this figure.


Salmon is delivered to the cannery fresh from the water, either by fishing vessel itself or by tender which has received the fish from the fishing craft or a salmon trap on the actual fishing grounds.

The fish enter the plant by elevator-conveyor or hoist, and are carried to the fishbins on a belt conveyor, being sorted into separate bins according to species.

These fish bins have floors sloping toward gates through which fish for actual packing operations are drawn for delivery by conveyor to the Iron Chink.

This is a machine unique to salmon canning, which removes the head, tail and fins, slits the bely and removes the viscera, all at the rate of 60 fish per minute.

From the Iron Chink the dressed fish are carried to the “slimers,” a number of workmen who inspect each fish for condition, and who correct any faults in the mechanical cleaning.


The fish are next cut into lengths appropriate to the height of the can in which they will be packed.  This cutting may be done either by a separate gang-knife or by a unit which operates as an integral part of the filling machine, which is the next step in the operation.

The salmon can-filling machine molds a cylinder of fish to a diameter which will slip readily into the can, and then presses this into the container, an “extractor” at the same time permitting the escape of entrapped air as the cylinder of fish enters the can.  Modern fillers operate at speeds as high as 240 cans per minute.

From the fillers the cans go through weighing machines which check weights to a fraction of an ounce and reject any under-weight cans.  These are brought up to weight by inspectors, who watch all cans for imperfections in filling.

A measured amount of salt is deposited in each can just before the top is applied and loosely attached bythe “clincher,” from which it immediately enters the vacuum seaming machine through a pressure lock.

The Vacuum Packing Process

The vacuum machine operates inside a tight housing, from which the air is exhausted by a vacuum pump.  This continuous pumping removes the air entering with the can through the pressure lock, and also the air entrapped in the can.  The loosely clinched can top allows the air to escape, and as soon as this has been accomplished the machine finishes the seam on the can, providing a hermetic seal before the can moves out of the machine through another lock.

Filled cans are washed in a detergent solution, rinsed, and then distributed by machine into “coolers,” which are shallow iron trays.  A stack of filled coolers is built up on a low wheeled frame, and the entire stack is pushed into the retort or autoclave for the process cook.

This cook is usually 90 minutes at 240*, for 1 lb. tall cans, and at its conclusion the cans are given a second wash, then cooled and the trays unloaded mechanically.  They may be labeled at this stage, although in Alaska operations much of the salmon is labeled later.  Whether or not labeled at the cannery, the cans roll to a caseloading machine, which places 48 cans in the fibre case, passing it along to the machine which closes, glues and seals the case ready for shipment.

Hand-Packing Fancy Fish

The flow-sheet described above is that typical of the high-speed machine-butchering, machine-filling cannery from which comes the great majority of the canned salmon pack.

In some districts, notably the Columbia River, the salmon are butchered by hand.  This practice is followed because of the wide variation in the size of the individual fish in a catch of Chinook salmon; and also because they are caught over a longer season and are not delivered in the heavy volume requiring machine operation.

Hand-filling of the cans is also practiced, particularly when the volume of fish does not peak in a great run, and also when putting up fancy packs of the higher grades.

Hand-filling is confined to flat or oval cans.  Tall cans are never hand-filled.

Plant Investment Very Large

The nature of salmon runs, in which enormous volume of fish is taken in a period of a few weeks, sometimes even in a few days, makes it necessary to maintain a plant with capacity for handling the extreme peaks.

This obviously involves large investment, not only in a plant erected at a remote point where costs are fantastically high, but also in the men to man the machines at peaks of run.

This investment demand is one of the unusual cost factors entering into salmon packing.

Color Entirely Natural

Although salmon has been canned for 80 years, misconceptions still exist regarding the differences in the color of the several species, and also between different packs and grades of the same species.

These variations in color are entirely natural.

No artificial color is ever added to canned salmon; nor are differences in color ever the result of varied packing processes.

The several species have flesh of distinctive color, but considerable range of color may occur in the same species.  Such color range is particularly notable in the case of Chinook salmon, and is associated with natural seasonal or regional variations in the color of the flesh.

The color of the salmon changes in the process of cooking, as in the case of many foods; but pale salmon is pale by nature.


The canning process for all varieties and grades of salmon is exactly alike in its fundamentals.  Save for hand-butchering and hand-filling, as discussed elsewhere, there is no material difference in salmon-caning methods.

The difference in the color of various lots of canned salmon does not result from the packing process and cannot be influenced by it.  Chums and Reds are packed by exactly the same method, on exactly the same machines, but they look very different when the can is opened.


“Scorching” is a term used by the canned fish trade to express off-flavors in the canned product as result of improper cooking procedure.  “Scorching” does not usually involve actual carmelization or change in color, although in exaggerated cases fish adhering closely to the heated metal under scorching conditions may be slightly browned.

Prolonged cooling of processed salmon sometimes results in an excessive cook which produces “scorching.”  Again, this may result from an overfilled can in which expansion of the fish results in its being pressed too tightly against the heated metal of the can.

This condition is also called “stackburn” because it can be produced by stacking canned fish before it is cooled, the residual heat resulting in overcooking.


Process of moving canned salmon to market differs sharply from that of most canned fish items, or canned foods generally, because the majority of the pack is produced in Alaska during an intensive operating season, and delivery necessarily must wait upon steamer shipment and a thorough system of inspection designed to protect the buyer and insure him of first-class quality.

Because these several essential preliminary steps are not common to all canned commodities, and thus the distributive trade is not familiar with them, the principal factors involved in the handling of salmon between the cannery and its actual dispatch to the buyer are reviewed here-after.


Much of the salmon pack for a district is cannduring comparatively few dayss during the peak of the “run”.  This period of high production may constitute only a small part of the legal season for the area.

For example, the season on the Columbia River runs from May 1 to December, but the majority of the production there comes during the three weeks from August 5 to 25.

Similarly, fishing in Central Alaska aactually becomes legal May 1, but the peak of production is reached in August.

Accordingly, press announcement of the opening of the Alaska salmon season does not mean that new-pack salmon will be available for shipment in volume for many weeks; and newspaper stories of the arrival of the year’s first parcel of salmon at Seattle from Alaska may refer to only a dozen cases snatched out of the first day’s run weeks before substantial consignments will be received.


During the principal packing season in Alaska excellent steamer service is maintained, and the salmon is loaded out of the canneries without delay.  However, a ship must take cargo from several plants and several ports, and this takes time.

Moreover, shipments from Alaska to Seattle during the producing season will run from 100,000 to 250,000 cases.  Discharge of this quantity of salmon, picked up from many different producers, necessarily requires considerable time, for each lot must be segregated as to the packer and species.  Each “code” owned by each packer is kept together if it is at all possible.

The first step after unloading and segregating is for the ship’s supercargo and the dock supervisor to check the actual amount delivered.  No one can work on the salmon in the way of preparing it for shipment until these supervisors agree on count.


As one of the several safeguards taken to protect the buyer of canned salmon, parcels received from Alaska are sampled and examined by the staff of the National Canners Association, Northwest Branch, inspection laboratory.

Random samples are drawn from a ot, the number of samples per 1,000 cases varying somewhat according to the average size of the fish of that species.  Obviously, if the fish are large, such as Kings, a smaller number of cans is necessary to give a representative sample of the fish in the parcel than is the case with Pinks, where the individual fish are only about one-fifth as large.

Report is made to the packer of the results of each inspection.  In the even that this examination shows any fish of questionable quality in a lot, the packer is immediately informed and the particular code involved is set aside for re-examination.  This involves much more extensive sampling to determine the character of the parcel, which may be passed on re-examination or reconditioned, a process described elsewhere in this Hand-i-Book.


Due to the extreme speed with which salmon must be packed during the peak periods in the Alaskan runms, and to the uncertainty of label requirements until the goods are sold, a large percentage of the salmon packed in Alaska is not labeled and finally cased until after it has reached seattle and been inspected.

Crews of trained workmen do the labeling, removing the salmon from the cases, running them through labeling machines, marking and sealing the cases.  A crew can handle about 100 cases per hour.

Congestion at the steamer terminals during periods of heavy shipment and the demand for trained crews necessarily produces some delays in getting the goods ready for shipment even after they have been inspected and passed.

Another common cause of delay in connection with shipment of parcels to carry buyers brands is delay in receiving the labels, which also occasionally need trimming to fit the cans, or imprinting, and this occasions further delay.


Proper loading and securing of canned salmon in rail cars is a specialized operation, just as is labeling; and loading has become increasingly complicated with the growth of pool cars and stop-over cars, with their different labels and species to be carefully segregated.

Most salmon shippers have a weight agreement with the Transcontinental Freight Bureau of canned seafoods, and these weights are used in calculating the charges on cars.  Details of the most common weights are listed in an accompanying table.

Salmon sellers normally reserve the right to name the originating rail carrier.  In most instances a 60,000 lb. car is required to take the carload rate, but for Group A territory the minimum is 70,000 lbs; and for Group B it is 77,000 lbs.


The import duty on canned salmon has stood at 25% ad valorem for many years without change, save that by the Geneva agreement of 1948 it was bound at this rate.

For many years the import duty on fresh or frozen salmon stood at 2 c per lb., but in 1945 this was reduced to 1 c, and in 1948 further reduction to 1/2c per lb. was effected.

These reductions in the tariff on fresh and frozen salmon had rather important effect upon the American production of canned salmon, in that it facilitated the import of salmon caught in Canada and delivered to points on Puget Sound for canning.


Commonest source of consumer complaint based on finding foreign substances in canned fish is that of “glass”-which almost invariably turns out to be harmless phosphate crystals formed naturally in the can from the naturally-occurring food chemicals of the fish itself.

Cause of these crystals is not definitely known.  They occur very rarely, and are entirely harmless in fact, although they may very closely resemble small fragments of glass.  They dissolve readily in an acid solution, and the quick and easy test is to place the crystal in heated vinegar.  The harmless crystals, which are actually magnesium ammonium phosphate, will disappear quickly.

The crystals are perhaps most commonly encountered in canned crab , where they usually form on the vegetable parchment can liner.  Crystals forming in canned crab are usually minute.  Those incanned fish often are considerably larger.


Fish products suffer substantial shrinkage in canning, either through dressing in preparation for packing, or through loss in pre-cook or other preliminary treatment or both.

Salmon dressing loss ranges from 30% in the case of Chinook and 33% for Reds, Silvers and Chums to 35% in the case of Pinks.  The latter are the smallest of the salmon, and it is axiomatic that the smaller the fish the greater the percentage of loss in preparation.

Crabs present instances of product suffering shrinkage both in dressing and in pre-cook.  Loss of weight in dressing Pacific crabs and removing shell is about 73%, while the meat shrinks about 2% more in pre-cooking.

Percentage of shrinkage in a number of important canned fish products is as follows:  California sardines, 50%; California mackerel, 60%; Albacore, 60%; other tunas, 64%; Shad, 35%; Atlantic oysters, 93%; Pacific oysters, 80%; Shrimp, 75%.