Cannery A to Z: H is for Herring

Picture above: Herring gibber, used to quickly gut herring in preparation for canning.

H is for Herring, the little fish that could. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery was built in 1894 with the specific purpose to can salmon for export to Europe and its colonies. This changed in the 1940s, when salmon stocks declined and the cannery switched to canning Pacific herring for the Allied troops in WWII. At the time, herring was plentiful, cheap, and a good source of protein. Unfortunately, the market for canned Pacific herring was not as great as hoped, and so the operations at the cannery then switched again to herring reduction, a process which reduces the herring into fish meal and fish oil. Herring reduction continued at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery until 1979, when the local herring stocks collapsed.

Now, over 30 years later, the Pacific herring are slowly beginning to return to local waters. It is an important keystone species, which means that it plays a very important role in the food chain. Herring eat plankton and then other fish, birds, and mammals eat herring and herring eggs. Herring is a critical link between the energy in the plankton and all the animals who eat herring and herring eggs. It is also a culturally significant species, having been harvested for thousands of years by coastal Indigenous communities. For more information about Pacific herring, have a look at our past blogs like The Fish that Feeds the Coast, about the herring spawn on Vancouver Island just this year, and Herring here, herring there, about the different herring fisheries (for food and bait, herring roe, and roe on kelp).

And visit the Cannery to see the different kinds of machines that were used to process herring throughout the years, and all of the different products and uses for the little but mighty Pacific herring.