As told by Dale Malchoff
Since early in this century port Graham has had a cannery adding to the local economy. About70 years ago the Fidalgo Island Packing Company opened a cannery which later burned.
Building sites and company ownership have changed and today sees a Whitney-Fidalgo owned cannery along the water front on the north side of Port Graham.
In his second year as plant superintendent is Patrick Kelly who looks forward to improved employee conditions. “This year we have enlarged the galley se everyone who works here can eat three meals a day without having to go home,” he commented.
At least 25 employees come from port Graham. The company brings in an office staff, cook, eight Machinists, 12 Filipinos and a few college students if there are more positions than the local people can fill.
In full operation, the canner runs nearly 20 hours a day and packs between 2,500 to 3,000 pound and quarter-pound cans from the first of June to late August. Canning and egg processing are the main functions of this plant.
Pink salmon is the primary product although they do can chums, reds and a few silvers and kings.
“The salmon eggs and packed to Japanese specifications with their technicians here as advisors,” said Mr. Kelly.
Sujiko, the Japanese name for salmon roe, is cured in brine, packed in wooden boxes and served as a delicacy during Japanese holidays.
Fish are brought to the cannery by tenders or local boats and unloaded onto an elevator that goes into the fish house. There the fish are slimed which includes cleaning, trimming fins and removing blood. The eggs are removed from female fish and flumed with water under the dock to an elevator that brings them up into the egg house.
The salmon then go down to the cannery in a flume that deposits them in bins. Then the fish are lined up to be placed in the filler or a worker cuts them and the cut fish are placed on a line for pound or quarter-pound cans. The filler packs the fish into cans along with salt which is measured automatically.
After the cans are filled, they pass on to the patching table which is usually filled by local woman. Their job is to correct under-weight or over-weight cans, turn skin over and cut all bones and skin away to make a good seal.
The clincher comes next and places the tops, marked with the code, on the cans which go into the seamer where the cans are sealed with two operations and have a vacuum placed in each.
The cans are then placed into gondolas that are under water to protect the cans from being dented. Filled gondolas are placed into retorts (cookers).
When the cans are removed from the retorts, they do on to casing. They are placed on pallet boards and separated by layers of cardboard. When a pallet is full, it goes into the shrink-wrap which melts a large plastic bag all around the cans to prevent moving while shipping.
While all this is going on other cans are shaped and flanged and have bottoms put on in another area of the cannery called the can shop.
After this has been done the packed
pallets are placed in the warehouse until they are shipped to the Anacortes
Quality control’s job is mainly to insure the excellent quality of the salmon and plant from the arrival of the fish until they are processed and ready to be shipped.
They check the chlorination in the water, check seams visually and by teardowns, inspect the fish upon arrival, check retort records along with the retort operator to make sure the cans are fully cooked and place the codes in the marker which stamps the lids with the codes.
About six weeks before the salmon season, fishermen or tenders delver herring which is stripped of roe that is packed in plastic buckets, again to Japanese specifications.
The Port Graham plant is one of
seven canneries the Whitney-Fidalgo company