Learn how to can freshwater fish with the bone in, so you can make even the boniest fish edible!
I first started canning freshwater fish when my man and I discovered there was an overabundance of a “junk fish” in the river that runs through our valley. Pikeminnows were plentiful, but they were so full of bones, the most you can do is nibble at them after cooking.
Even though these fish are native to our northern waters, they feed heavily on the fry of other fish and are considered an invasive species. Which is why there’s no limit on how many you can keep here in our Canadian waters!
For us, it’s the perfect, freshwater fish for home canning. Pressure canning softens and even disintegrates the bones of small freshwater fish types.
So instead of throwing pikeminnows back, we began keeping every one we caught. After cleaning them, we would pop these fish into the freezer until I had enough to run a canner load in my dial gauge pressure canner.
Types of Freshwater Fish for Home Canning
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (most trusted canning site on the internet!) only gives directions for canning fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc. These fish hold their texture beautifully after being canned.
However, there are other online sources (like the SDSU extension) that gives directions for canning lean or white flesh fish. Here’s a list.
- northern pikeminnow
- northern pike
Panfish types like bass, perch, walleye, crappie, etc, will go mushy in the canning process. Freeze these fish to preserve them.
Canning Tools You’ll Need
- pressure canner
- pint jars or 500 ml (half pints or 250 ml are great too)
- canning lids
- jar lifter
- cooling rack
- sharp knife
- cutting board
You must use a pressure canner to safely preserve fish via home canning.
Do not use a water bath canner, steam canner, pressure cooker or instant pot.
All fish and sea food are low acid foods and can carry the dangerous bacteria clostridium botulinum. To ensure your fish is safe for eating, high temperatures and long processing times are needed. You can only get these things with an actual pressure canner!
There are two different types of pressure canners you can use for fish: a dial gauge pressure canner or a weighted gauge pressure canner. In my kitchen, I like to use the weighted gauge, but both types will give you safe home-canned fish in the end.
- fresh fish
Pressure Canning Fish at Home
Prepare Your Fish
When it comes to home canning, fish and seafood have the highest risk of causing food or botulism poisoning. Handling your fish properly helps negate some of the risk.
If you catch your own fish and intend to can them, be sure to remove internal organs within 2 hours of catching. Keep the fish chilled until ready to pressure can.
Don’t have an abundance of fish? After cleaning it, you can freeze your catch until you have enough to run a full canner load. Just be sure to completely thaw the meat in your fridge before canning.
I like to wipe thawed fish with vinegar to remove slime before I pack it into jars.
Make Canning Equipment Ready
Wash your wide mouth jars, collect lids and add water to the bottom of the canner, as directed by your manufacture’s instructions. Also be sure to add the canning rack!
While you can preserve fish in quart jars, you need to follow a special set of directions. You can get them HERE if you’re interested.
Raw Pack Fish Into Jars
Remove fins and tail from your fish. When working with smaller fish, you don’t need to remove the backbone. Just cut each fish to length so it will fit in your glass jars while still leaving 1-inch head space.
Add salt to bottom of the jars. Slide fish in, with skin side against the wall of your jar. Do not add liquid.
Wipe the rim of your jars with vinegar, then add lids and canning bands.
Process Fish in the Pressure Canner
Set jars in the bottom of canner and fasten the lid. Turn heat up and wait until you see a steady stream of steam escaping.
Let it vent for 10 minutes, then bring it up to the proper PSI for your altitude and pressure canner type.
You can get step-by-step directions and a complete guide for your canner type and altitude at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Or, you can check out the printable recipe card below.
Process fish for the recommended length of time, then let your canner sit undisturbed until your dial reads 0. Open canner and set hot jars of fish on a cooling rack.
Let Jars Cool and Store
Let your pint jars of fish sit for 8 hours or until they reach room temperature. Test each jar of fish for a seal. Refrigerate any that failed and the sealed jars are safe to store at room temperature.
Shelf life of home canned fish is 1 year.
Common Questions on Canning Fish at Home
Can any type of fish be canned?
As far as freshwater fish are concerned, bass, bluegill, crappie, perch, sunfish and walleye (panfish) aren’t good candidates for the home canner because of their soft texture. They do much better in the freezer!
Can I pressure can fish in quart jars?
Yes, but you need to follow a special set of directions for jars larger than a pint. You can learn everything you need to know in this tutorial right here.
Should I add olive oil, clam juice or other liquids to my home canned fish?
No. Don’t add any liquid to your home canned fish. If you properly fill your jars, the fish will create juices of its own, without turning the meat into a mushy mess.
Is it safe to pressure can smoked fish?
It is safe to can smoked fish if you use the cold smoking process. But smoked fish comes with its own set of directions. You can get safe instructions RIGHT HERE.
How to Use Home Canned Fish
There are soooo many ways to use your delicious canned fish in the kitchen! Here’s a few ideas.
- fish sandwich (treat like tunafish)
- fried fish cakes or patties
- fish pasta
- fish chowder
- Mediterranean fish salad
- Sicilian fish soup
How to Pressure Can Fish
- pressure canner
- 7 pint jars
- jar lifter
- cooling rack
- sharp kitchen knife
- cutting board
- paper towel
- fresh or thawed fish
- 1 teaspoon of salt per pint jar
- white vinegar for wiping down fish
- Add water to your canner and set on the stove.
- Prepare your fish by removing head, tail and all fins.
- If skin is slimy, dampen a paper towel with vinegar and wipe down so fish is easier to handle.
- Remove backbone in large fish (such as steelhead).
- Cut fish into lengths according to jar height, being sure to leave 1-inch headspace at the top.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to pint jar (only 1/2 tsp for half-pints).
- Pack fish into jars.
- Wipe jar's rim with vinegar.
- Fasten canning lid and band into place.
- Put jars in pressure canner and tighten lid.
- Turn burner to high and wait until you see steam escaping from the vent.
- Set timer and let steam escape from vent for 10 minutes.
- Put weight on vent (or close if you have an old fashioned canner).
- Bring pressure canner up to the proper PSI for your canner type and altitude.
- When the proper PSI is reached, start your timer and monitor canner to be sure it stays in the proper PSI range.
- After timer goes, turn off stove burner and let canner sit undisturbed until the dial returns to 0. Do not remove weight, open valve, or remove lid during this time.
- When your dial reaches 0, you can remove the weight or open the vent.
- Carefully remove the canner lid, being sure to lift the far side first to avoid getting a nasty steam burn.
- Use a jar lifter to set hot jars on cooling rack.
- Let jars of fish sit undisturbed for 8-12 hours.
- Test jars for a seal, putting any that failed into the fridge to be used in a week's time.
- Sealed jars of fish can go on a pantry shelf and are stable for 1 year.