The trend of canned seafood has expanded beyond simple tuna sandwiches during the pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Sardines swirling in preserved lemons. Mackerel basking in curry sauce. Chargrilled squid bathing in ink. All are culinary delicacies long popular in Europe that are now making their mark on U.S. menus.

The canned seafood sector in the country has expanded beyond just tuna sandwiches, which was a trend during the pandemic as Americans in quarantine sought out more of their pantry essentials.

In recent times, the American market has continuously grown due to the endorsement of social media influencers promoting the advantages of consuming protein-rich foods in eye-catching metal cans. On Tinned — Fishionado’s TikTok account, Kris Wilson shares simple meal ideas, such as a dish combining leftover rice, soy sauce, avocado, and a soft-boiled egg with a can of smoked mussels from Fangst, a Danish company.

Canned seafood, also known as tinned fish in Europe, has become a popular option at wine bars across the United States, from San Francisco and Houston to New York. Customers now enjoy eating directly from the can. Some establishments have even created tinned fish clubs, similar to wine clubs, where members receive monthly deliveries of different types of seafood packed with various spices, oils, and sauces. TikTok videos featuring tinned fish, including tastings and tutorials on removing the fishy smell from cans, have collectively gained over 30 million views.

According to Circana, the sales of the canned seafood industry in the U.S. have increased from $2.3 billion in 2018 to over $2.7 billion in the current year.

In 2020, Becca Millstein launched a canned fish company in Los Angeles due to increased consumption during lockdowns caused by the coronavirus.

During the period of quarantine, when we were confined to our homes and had to cook all meals ourselves, it became quite tedious to make satisfying dishes,” she explained. “I ended up relying on canned fish a lot, but unfortunately, the choices in my nearby grocery store were not very appealing.”

During her time in college, Millstein resided in Spain and also traveled to Portugal, two countries where canned fish is a staple in the local cuisine. Therefore, she was aware of superior alternatives that were available.

“I was eating the same canned fish that my great grandmother Rose in Brooklyn was eating in the 1930s,” she said. “I thought that was just insane.”

Fishwife Tinned Seafood Co. was founded with the goal of providing sustainable and high-quality seafood options.

Millstein reached out to canneries in Spain and Portugal and also got in touch with fishermen on the West Coast who then introduced her to canneries in Oregon and Washington.

“Our goal is to inspire and energize the canned seafood market and revolutionize it into what we believe it has the potential to be,” stated Millstein. He emphasized that this involves providing much more than just tuna fish sandwiches.

According to Millstein, Fishwife products range in price from $7.99 to $10.99 per tin and are designed to be high-quality foods that can be enjoyed on rice bowls, charcuterie boards, or in salads. She also mentioned that her company’s sales have increased by 250% from 2021 to 2022 and are expected to rise by approximately 150% this year, although she did not disclose specific numbers.

Fishwife offers a variety of products, such as canned smoked salmon that is cured with salt, garlic salt, and brown sugar and then combined with Sichuan chile crisps from Chengdu, China. Their anchovies, sourced from the Cantabrian Sea, are packed in high-quality Spanish extra virgin olive oil obtained directly from farmers in northern Spain.

The company uses a sustainable method of catching smoked albacore tuna in the Pacific Northwest, using one fishing pole at a time to reduce harm to marine animals like sea turtles, sharks, rays, dolphins, and seabirds that may be unintentionally caught during commercial fishing.

According to Millstein, these items are suitable to serve to dinner guests, rather than just being a hasty and inexpensive protein source for personal consumption.

Co-founder of DECANTsf, a wine shop and bar in San Francisco, Simi Grewal explained that her business started offering tinned fish as a food option for customers due to the lack of a suitable kitchen for cooking.

She mentioned that it is extremely adaptable, particularly when it comes to pairing with wine.

Canned seafood products sold at the store range in price from $8 for Ati Manel garfish, a slender fish preserved in olive oil from Portugal, to $36 for Conservas de Cambados’ ‘Sea Urchin Caviar’ from the estuaries of Galicia, Spain.

“Many people assume that tinned fish is a low-cost product. However, this program is highly curated and I spend numerous hours each month researching and finding the latest items from these producers.”

According to Maria Finn, a chef and writer from the Bay Area, canned fish is appealing to a wide range of people, from food enthusiasts looking for novel flavors to survivalists stocking up their emergency shelters. Finn herself brings tinned mussels from Patagonia Provisions on her yearly mushroom forays for a convenient meal and carries packed cans of Wild Planet sardines in her bag in case of a wildfire near her home.

She made a joke, saying that if anything could prolong one’s life, it would be a tin of sardines preserved in olive oil.

Canned seafood can remain edible for a maximum of five years without the need for refrigeration, providing an eco-friendly option compared to meat. Meat is the primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and has a larger carbon footprint than any other protein source. Scientists have determined that the production and consumption of food by humans contributes to almost 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, canned fish does have its disadvantages.

The FDA has advised individuals, particularly pregnant women, to limit their consumption of fish, specifically tuna and swordfish, due to potential high levels of mercury. However, some canned fish options like sardines and anchovies have lower mercury levels and can still provide nutritional benefits. It’s important to note that canned products typically have higher amounts of salt compared to fresh seafood, according to health experts.

Greenpeace has conveyed worries regarding excessive fishing in order to fulfill the increasing demand, and advises purchasers to conduct their own investigations to ensure that the products are environmentally sustainable. The environmental organization states that longlining, a popular method for catching tuna, can also inadvertently trap other species such as turtles or dolphins.

In the past, California had successful factories that canned sardines in the seaside town of Monterey, which served as the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s novel “Cannery Row.” However, the decline in fish population led to the disappearance of this industry decades ago. Today, the canneries have been replaced by hotels, restaurants, and gift shops.

According to John Field, a research fishery biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service, the resurgence of small local canneries and sustainable fishing may be aided by the decline of large factories. However, he does not foresee a return to large factories in the future.

He acknowledges, however, that he is uncertain about selecting a can from the menu.

He expressed a preference for fresh fish over canned when dining out at expensive restaurants.


Watson delivered a report from San Diego.