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Canning Fish

Updated January 06, 2020

Hope Kleine

SDSU Extension Health Education & Food Safety Field Specialist

Written collaboratively by Hope Kleine and Jake Elfmann.

Canning is a great method to preserve and extend shelf life for many types of foods, including fish and seafood products. Using safe preparation and storage practices allows for anyone to store nutritious, high-quality protein. It is important to practice safe food handling, storage, and preparation techniques because contaminated food will not be safe to eat following canning.

Preparation and Storage

Outline of a canning jar with text explaining the raw pack method. To raw pack fish, loosely pack fish into jars, leave 1 inch of headspace. No liquid is added, since juices will form during processing.

Cut fish into strips, chunks, or pieces that are suitably sized for pint or quart jars. Leave approximately 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar. Finally, add a label and date to your storage container and then store in a cool, dark, dry place. Canned meat is best consumed within 18 months after processing.

Fish and shellfish can be significant sources of food poisoning bacteria such as Clostridium Botulinum and require longer processing time in a pressure canner than do other foods at home. Freshwater fish suitable for canning include: Catfish, Northern Pike, Salmon, Smelt and Trout. Panfish such as crappies, perch and bass, walleye and other pike are much better preserved by freezing.

When Canning Fish:

  • Remove internal organs and skin fish.
  • For large fish, remove bones and fat from skinned fillets. Cut into pieces that will fit in canning jars. Small fish may be canned whole, minus heads and tails.
  • Keep cleaned fish on ice or refrigerated until ready to can. Store at 40° F or colder no longer than two days until canning.
  • Fatty fish such as catfish, northern pike, smelt, salmon and trout are to be loosely packed raw with no added liquid.

Pressure Canning

When canning meats, it is important to use the right equipment. Only a pressure canner will reach the high temperature needed to kill the harmful bacteria in meat. Water bath canning methods, used to store high-acid or acidified foods, will not reach the required temperature and is not suitable for canning meat. 

Adjusting for Altitude

Altitude can affect how much time is required when canning foods. Anyone canning at 1000 feet above sea level or higher will need to make adjustments when processing foods in order to safely preserve food. The altitude of South Dakota ranges from 1200 feet to more than 6000 feet above sea level, so it is important to understand how your local altitude level will affect your canning process. View a topographic map of South Dakota to determine your local altitude. Refer to the information below for how to adjust for altitude when using a pressure canner.

Table 1. Fish

Type of meat
Pack Style
Jar Size
Process Time
Dial Canner Gauge (0 to 2,000 feet)
Weighted Canner Gauge (0 to 1,000 feet)
Weighted Canner Gauge (1,000 feet and above)
11 pounds
10 pounds
15 pounds

Reference the National Center for Home Food Preservation for information about canning quart jars of fish.

Additional Information

For further information on canning meats, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series, or the SDSU Extension Food Preservation page.

Related Terms

Canning, Food Safety