New England Fish Company photograph collection, circa 1936-1959

Overview of the Collection

New England Fish Company
New England Fish Company photograph collection
circa 1936-1959 (inclusive)
1950-1959 (bulk)
Photographic prints and blueprints (1 box)
Collection Number
Photographs documenting the activities of the New England Fish Company
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2065431929
Fax: 2065431931
Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

The New England Fish Company (NEFCO) was founded in 1868 when eleven wholesale fish dealers met in Boston, Massachusetts, for the purpose of systematically marketing the catch of halibut fishermen. Headquartered at Gloucester, NEFCO established a system of cooperative buying and distribution. In the 1880s the company’s growth accelerated with the addition of other Boston fish companies and fish dealers from New York. The demand for halibut and the limitations of the catch in the Atlantic drew the company’s attention to the waters of the Pacific Northwest. With the Northern Pacific Railroad terminus in Tacoma in 1887, a method of transporting the fish overland was at last possible..

Because of Northern Pacific Railroad Company’s refusal to permit fish refrigerator cars to be attached to passenger trains, NEFCO decided to base their West Coast operations in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Canadian Pacific Railway permitted the practice. In January 1894, Grier Starratt of Vancouver, British Columbia, was hired to represent the NEFCO at that location and the steamer Capilano from the Union Steamship Company in Vancouver was employed for the 1894-1895 fishing season.

The West Coast location thrived due to a wealth of halibut and successful transportation. In 1897-1898, a new steamer New England was built especially for the North Pacific and arrived in Vancouver from Boston via Cape Horn, in March 1898. The steamer arrived too late for the fishing season, but in time to transport passengers to and from Alaska for the gold rush. Captain H. B. Joyce signed them on as crew members since the vessel was not licensed to carry passengers.

In 1901 NEFCO incorporated and its business practices changed from a cooperative structure (producing and selling to its member companies) to offering and selling its products to any buyers. The company filed articles of association in Portland, Maine on November 25, 1902 to “carry on as principle and as agent the business of buying, catching, propagating, breeding, storing, packing, canning, curing, preserving, dealing in and selling fish of every kind and description, including oysters, clams, lobsters and all other forms and varieties of shell fish; also of buying, making, manufacturing, acquiring, dealing in and selling all products and by-products in whole or in part of fish and shell fish”. In December of 1918, the company was reorganized and incorporated to form the New England Fish Corporation.

NEFCO in the early twentieth century also began to handle fresh and frozen salmon. The volume of fish caught on the West Coast necessitated shore plants. In 1904, the Canadian Pacific Railroad leased to NEFCO a dock and building especially built for the Company’s use. In 1907, after deciding to seek a supply of halibut in Alaska, particularly for freezing, the Company built a cold storage plant in Ketchikan.

They also began acquiring other companies, including the Northwestern Fisheries Company of Boston, which included an interest in The Doty Fish Company (later wholly owned) in 1908. A. L. Hager headed operation of the Northwestern Fisheries Company, supplying the Boston and New York dealers with Columbia River Salmon. Shortly after the purchase, NEFCO made Hager head of West Coast operations in Vancouver, British Columbia and head of The Canadian Fishing Company, Limited, (CANFISCO), when NEFCO purchased the company to handle Canadian business with fresh and frozen fish. Hager was involved in the Halibut Treaty between Canada and the United States in 1923 and in the International Salmon Treaty between the same countries in 1937.

Business expansion was rapid. A freezing, cold storage, and ice-making plant was built in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1910. And in 1912, NEFCO purchased Atlin Fisheries Limited, in Prince Rupert, B.C., a large station for buying and handling fresh halibut and salmon. In 1918 NEFCO built its first salmon cannery at the CANFISCO plant in Vancouver, B.C., and in 1923 salmon canning was begun at the plant in Ketchikan, Alaska. NEFCO purchased many canneries, but over the years consolidated its holdings until there were eleven large plants—from the Columbia River up the coasts of Washington, B.C., Alaska, and Western Alaska.

Fresh and frozen plants were also expanded. There were six large fresh and frozen fish plants in Oregon, Washington, B.C. and Alaska. In the late 1920s NEFCO developed quick freezing methods, and produced frozen packaged fillets and slices, ready for consumer use. Production was halted in 1932 since retail facilities could not handle the product, but it was resumed in 1938.

On July 1, 1931 NEFCO headquarters moved from Boston, Massachusetts, to Seattle, Washington, because the bulk of its operations were on the West Coast. Harald Synnestvedt served as president of the Company in the 1930s through the 1950s.

To aid its growth in the herring market, CANFISCO (a NEFCO subsidiary) purchased the Nootka-Banfield Company Limited and its associate companies. Starting in 1932, NEFCO began purchasing halibut livers for the sales to pharmaceutical companies and animal food manufactures for fish oil. World War II provided ample opportunities for NEFCO’s growth based upon sales of canned herring and canned salmon. The Company also sustained itself during wartime by sales of fish meal, fish oil, vitamin oils, and fresh and frozen fish products.

Over the years the company played an international role in acquisition, processing, marketing, and trading of seafood with operations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and Bermuda. They also were involved in the manufacture and distribution of pet food, insurance, and property management.

In the 1970s a number of lawsuits were filed against NEFCO relating to discrimination and anti-trust violations.

NEFCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 on April 23, 1980; nine days later the company re-filed for complete liquidation under Chapter 7.

The decline and bankruptcy of NEFCO can be explained by a compounding sequence of events and choices: 1) in the early 1970’s a significant round of financing from Prudential Insurance Company enabled rapid growth and diversification; 2) lack of internal and audit controls; 3) years of poor sales, such as in 1974; 4) years of big salmon runs, such as the summer of 1979, when NEFCO had a huge inventory but prices fell.

On March 31, 1989, the bankruptcy trustee’s office closed after collecting $82.2 million for the company’s assets. The depressed state of the industry and a botulism scare in the early 1980’s prolonged the liquidation of the company’s assets. Sam Rubenstein, the trustee, paid or settled all claims (both secured and unsecured) of creditors in full with interest.

NEFCO, along with its subsidiary, CANFISCO, had plants and canneries throughout Alaska, Canada, Florida, Oregon, and Washington State. In Alaska there were plants in the Bristol Bay area (Egegik Cannery and Pederson Point Cannery), the Kodiak area (Gibson Cove and Uganik Cannery), the Peninsula area (Sandpoint Cannery), Prince William Sound area (Orca Cannery in Cordova), there were Seward Fisheries (which consisted of a cannery, cold-storage plant and fish meal plant at Seward, a freezing plant at Homer, and a fish receiving station at Ninilchik), in Southeastern Alaska (Ketchikan Cannery, Ketchikan Cold Storage, and Noyes Island), and the Theresa Lee processing vessel. In Canada, there were plants in Prince Rupert (Atlin and Oceanside), Nova Scotia (Woods Harbour), and in Vancouver, British Columbia (the CANFISCO home plant). NEFCO had a plant in Miami, Florida; and plants in Newport and Warrenton, Oregon. In Washington State, there were plants in Anacortes, in Seattle (Hilton Seafoods, the Petfood plant, Pier 65, Pier 89 cold storage facilities, and Pier 89 production plant), in La Connor, and in La Push. There was additionally a labeling facility at King Terminals, Inc. in Seattle.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Photographs relating to the activities of the New England Fish Company. Includes an album depicting the salmon canning process which shows women workers. Also includes photographs of the boat "NEFCO Scout," convention banquets, interiors of canneries, a blueprint of a proposed additional space for NEFCO at the Northwestern Pacfic Railroad Company in 1936 and a shell which has a painting from a photograph on it of Harald Synnestvedt shaking hands with Irving Usen.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Status of creator's copyrights is unknown; restrictions may exist on copying, quotation, or publication. Users are responsible for researching copyright status before use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Donated by Jon Cruz, September 25, 2015

Separated Materials

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)