How and why did the OSU Seafood Laboratory develop in Astoria?

Salmon canning began in California in 1864, but shortage of fish encouraged a move by companies to the banks of the Columbia River, where fresh salmon were abundant.  The subsequent canning boom produced rapid growth in Astoria and, by 1918, more than 15,000 people worked within the Columbia River salmon fisheries. 

After World War I, poor salmon supply led the canneries to look for other products.

Oregon’s tuna, which had traditionally been shipped to California for processing, became the focus and several canneries (including Columbia River Packers Association, Bumble Bee, and Pt. Adams Packers) soon began packaging tuna in-state.

As commercial canning grew and became an important part of everyday life, Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) established the Food Industries Department (now Food Science & Technology) chaired by Ernest Wiegand in 1937. It is the second oldest Food Science department in the nation.  (University of Massachusetts was first.)

The following year, Astoria’s leaders met with Professor Wiegand to identify ideas that would be beneficial for both the community and the College.

In Wiegand’s words, “I mentioned the fact that we had been approached by some of the manufacturers with reference to spoilage in frozen crab meat and a few other items. … we were somewhat handicapped in carrying out our work in Clatsop County in view of the fact that we did not have adequate facilities for doing the freezing work” (Rogers, page 2)

Judge Boyington noted that a cannery on Youngs Bay, which was owned by the County Court, was now standing idle.  He “believed that the County Court would be interested in turning this plant over to the Experiment Station for research purposes if funds could be provided to maintain the plant to expand the operations in this field.” (Rogers, page 2)

“The fish problem was discussed by one of the members of the Planning Board who was familiar with fishing conditions and canning in that area and he felt that money could possibly be provided for such an undertaking … He felt that the effect would not only be local, but also state-wide, and would be of real value to the fishing industry” (Rogers, page 2)

With funding from the Fish Commission (today known as Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife) and the Agricultural Research Foundation, a building provided by Clatsop County, and staffing of scientists by Oregon State College’s Food Industries Department in collaboration with the Agricultural Experiment Station, the OSU Seafood Laboratory was established in Astoria in 1940.

Rogers, Pamela A.  1998.  Astoria Seafood Laboratory.  Corvallis: Oregon State University.