‘Nuff said. Let the newspapers and TV keep you up on that.
At the same time the oil rig was sinking and blowing its pipe wide open, another maritime disaster occurred—not with a bang, but a whimper, as the saying goes.
The last sardine cannery in the United States swung its doors shut. Besides a way of life for generations, hundreds of jobs in a small coastal town are lost.
This comes close to home, literally. The Stinson Canning Company shut down its Prospect Harbor, Maine plant not far from here, just the other side of Schoodic Point. Owned by Bumble Bee Foods since 2004, the reason cited was in part for “significant reduction in the federally-set total allowable catch for herring.”
According to Working Waterfront [ http://www.workingwaterfront.com ]:
The Prospect Harbor plant is the last of a long line of canneries in the state. Since 1876, there have been as many as 418 different sardine factories in Maine… At the peak of the industry, in 1952, there were 50 canneries in the state. The Prospect Harbor plant was built in 1906 and was purchased in 1927 by Calvin Stinson and Jonas Wass.”
The federal quota is partly to blame. Decline in appetites for sardines, kippered herring and fish steaks; the increase in cheap labor overseas and the spotty labor force along the coast of Maine; and the dramatic increase in shorefront property values and taxes have all contributed. Bumble Bee is a multi-national corporation and can find cheaper fish and cheaper labor somewhere else.
I knew it was a bad sign when the Southwest Harbor factory shut down in 1987. Part of the reason in that case was because management in the summer had to contend with labor finding more lucrative jobs in the tourist industry, with Acadia National Park all around us. And Southwest Harbor was growing more into the tourist and yachting trades. The property was soon converted into a yacht marina, with seasonal shops; and across the road condominiums went up, overlooking the harbor. The smell of a fish-factory wouldn’t have helped sell units.
We used to get lobster bait from the factory in Southwest Harbor, as it’s only three miles away. I think it was about $2.50 per bushel then (10 times that now), and we could save a couple thousand dollars a year on our bait bills if we had the time to lug it back to the island. When the factory closed, David Thomas and I got the town contract to haul garbage off the Cranberry Islands. We decided if we couldn’t haul bait onto the island, we could haul trash off, collecting it roadside in our pickup trucks and loading up the old Pandora (mine) and Just-a-Pluggin (David’s). Those were the days. Partners in grime. It sent me to the chiropractor.
Back in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, my father and grandfather had a herring weir between the Cranberry Islands (between the Net Ledge and the mouth of the Gut, for you locals). A weir is a stationary fish trap, built of pilings (logs driven vertically into the bottom) arranged in leaders like a fence, to herd the herring on the incoming tide. Between the pilings there was brush intertwined to keep the fish from getting through, and the brush would catch seaweed to help stop it up too. The leaders formed a V and intersected at a heart-shaped “keep-pound” that would hold the school of herring, keeping them milling around in circles until Dad and Grand-dad could get down there early in the morning to shut the door, haul up the bottom of the pound and get the fish into a dory or, if there were enough, to call the factory and pump the herring into a sardine carrier.
Grand-dad got into an argument once with the skipper of one of the carriers, probably over the price of fish. And there is a rock just to the westward of Maypole Point called the Haycock Rock—a big boulder all by itself in the sand—and they had it buoyed off so the carriers wouldn’t hit it when the tide was down. After their argument, Grand-dad made sure to move the buoy just before that carrier came the next time. It probably served the guy right, but it couldn’t have been good for business.
Don’t nobody mess with Grand-dad.
In Maine, the weirs gave way to the stop seines (nets strung across coves to trap the fish) which involved less investment, less-rigid land easement, and more mobility—and then the stop seines gave way to purse seines (surrounding the fish with nets pulled by boats—more mobile yet, and not restricted to shore). Since then, the purse seiners have yielded to the mid-water trawlers, involving two boats pulling the nets. With the advent of electronic equipment as well as bigger, more powerful boats, the fishermen go farther from shore for fewer fish, and hence the reduction in the federal quota. And the higher cost of fish.
And the closing of the last sardine factory in the United States, just a few miles from here.
I can only imagine the changes going on in the Gulf Coast right now.