Fish Is a Fighting Food: North American Canned Salmon and the First World War


  • Ross Coen University of Washington


Salmon, Fish, First World War, Canned Foods, Pacific Northwest, Cannery, Sanitation


The Northern Review 44 (2017): 457–464

During the First World War, the Pacific Northwest canned salmon industry, which was headquartered and operated in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, sent millions of cases of its product to Britain and France for consumption by Allied troops and civilians. The war transformed the canned salmon industry in ways that reverberated long after the 1918 armistice. In order to meet the ever growing demand for fish, the industry expanded dramatically, almost doubling overnight in some regions, which led to overfishing, depleted fish stocks, and concomitant government regulation of fisheries that would only increase over time. In addition, the high rates of product spoilage—a direct result of new and disreputable packing companies entering the market in hopes of securing guaranteed government contracts—led to greater enforcement of pure food laws and safety regulations, an action that in turn educated the public about sanitation and the emerging science of nutrition. The adoption of canned salmon as a wartime ration may in hindsight seem obvious, yet the process was by no means inevitable but rather required industry lobbying and negotiations with the United States and Canadian governments over prices, delivery procedures, and general fishing operations. This article examines the complex and occasionally contradictory process of bringing Pacific Northwest canned salmon to Europe during the First World War. This article is part of a special collection of papers originally presented at a conference on “The North and the First World War,” held May 2016 in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Author Biography

Ross Coen, University of Washington

PhD Candidate in History






The North and the First World War