Southern California Fish Co.: San Pedro’s First Cannery

SAN PEDRO—A man named Albert Halfhill opened Southern California’s first-ever sardine cannery in 1893. The cannery – California Fish Co. – opened its door’s on Terminal Island, the man-made landform between Long Beach and San Pedro. California was the world’s leading producer of oysters when Halfhill founded California Fish Co.

The company exclusively canned sardines during its first 10 years of existence. Halfhill expanded his company’s operations to include canned tuna in 1903. Tuna became the leading commercial catch for San Pedro’s canneries by 1918.

Canned tuna was California Fish Company’s invention, offered as a cheaper alternative to chicken.

“Canned tuna was slow to catch on, but thanks to some clever promotion – including persuading grocers to give it away with the purchase of coffee – it took off and slowly but surely became one of the fastest growing industries in the [L.A.] Harbor,” an article about San Pedro’s fisheries in the Los Angeles Conservancy stated.

“The introduction of canned tuna coincided with the arrival of a small group of Japanese abalone fishermen from nearby White Point,” the L.A. Conservancy article continued. “Bringing expertise from their home region of Wakayama Prefecture, they soon proved to be extremely talented at commercial tuna fishing. Fishermen of Italian, Yugoslavian, Austrian and Japanese descent made up most of the fishing fleet, and the Japanese were particularly noted for their skill.”

A historical overview of San Pedro’s tuna fisheries by NOAA noted the fishermen who worked here during the late 1800s and early 1900s revolutionized fishing techniques. The use of bamboo pole and line gear techniques from Japan, for example, helped San Pedro fishermen increase catches of albacore and yellowfin.

Refrigeration techniques from Europe, meanwhile, were implemented in San Pedro, allowing Southern California canneries to ship their catches beyond the Los Angeles, San Diego and Baja California coasts.

The fishing economy of Terminal Island began to slow, however, in the 1960s, with the last major operation – Star-Kist – leaving town in 1984.

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