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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Early Vallejo Industries: Salmon Canning

James Kern

During the late 19th century, salmon fishing was one of the mainstays of the local economy. Salmon canneries employed workers throughout the region, with canneries located in Benicia, Antioch, and Rio Vista. The F.E. Booth Company established a salmon cannery in Collinsville in 1873, ultimately reaching production levels as high as 20,000 cans of salmon per day.

A salmon cannery was started in South Vallejo around 1875. Many of the workers at that cannery were Chinese immigrants. Fishermen working the Carquinez Strait and the Sacramento River competed with each other, but they also faced competition from hungry sea lions that became entangled in the fishing nets while attempting to feast on the salmon. In the late 1800s canneries paid a penny a pound for whole salmon.

The salmon industry was only one of the many maritime-related businesses in Vallejo. Others were flour milling, lumber yards, private boat yards, wheat shipping and, of course, the U.S. Navy’s thriving shipyard at Mare Island. Record salmon catches continued into the 20th century. In September, 1913, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle boasted the following headline: “Fishermen Get 18 Tons of Salmon as One Day’s Catch.’ The accompanying article stated:

“The Englebre Wiese Salmon Packing Company at South Vallejo is running full blast and during the last few days some unusually large catches have been made. Yesterday the fishermen brought in eighteen tons of salmon, one of the largest catches ever recorded in this vicinity, and it is believed the factory will be taxed to its full capacity during the remainder of the season. The salmon packing concern is one of the important industries of the south end, employing a large number of hands.’

In more recent years, water diversion, dams, over fishing and pollution have all but eliminated these vast numbers of salmon in the Delta region. But in earlier days the salmon industry helped cement Vallejo’s reputation as a thriving maritime city.