It was only in the late 1890s that the salmon packing industry began to pay serious attention to the production of frozen salmon. Just before the 1902 salmon season began on the Columbia, Samuel Elmore proposed that the CRPA enter the frozen and mild-cured salmon business on a large scale. While they did have a small freezing unit and a cold-storage plant at the Elmore and Kinney facilities, Elmore made plans to build a much larger plant in the unused Hanthorn cannery at the east end of Astoria, so that all of the cold storage and freezing operations could be carried out in a single location.
Steelhead was prized in Europe, so Elmore initially focused on purchasing steelhead from other companies and had the Blue Mountain Ice Co. in Portland do the actual cold storage and processing. Once the steelhead arrived at the plant, they were washed and then frozen in the round at about 25 degrees below zero F. They were then removed from the freezer and glazed by dipping them in ice cold water, wrapped in a parchment-like paper and moved to cold rooms to await shipment. When the whole fish arrived at the markets in Germany, they were thawed and put on display, where they looked as if they had just been caught. The European customers would clean them at home and serve them whole, usually stuffed and baked.
CRPA’s cold storage facility was instrumental in processing new company product lines, such as frozen crab, shrimp and bottom fish to replace mild-cured salmon. These product lines provided new employment opportunities for local women, who did much of the bottom fish filleting and crab shaking needed to prepare the seafood for sale. The “Bumble Bee Ladies,” as they were called, were renowned for their expertise producing top quality boneless fillets. The secret lay in having a razor sharp knife, and the company employed a man just to sharpen the filleters’ knives. Excerpted from Flight of the Bumble Bee, by Irene Martin and Roger Tetlow