This morning we are forced to say goodbye to one of the longest running fish industries in Maine and this country. Due to stringent fishing regulations and a decline in consumer tastes, the last operating sardine factory in Maine and the U.S., Stinson Seafood Company in Prospect Harbor, shuts its doors today and becomes just another bit of Maine history. I, for one, am sad.
Hard and honorable work is becoming harder to come by in this state. During my parents’ generation, everyone knew someone who worked at a local cannery. My grandmother, my Dad’s mom, did some brief stints at the job, and I remember her telling me as a little girl how sliced up her fingers got, and about all the bandages, the fast pace, the backbreaking work, the heat, and the hairnets. She told me to go to school and get an education.
But with a twinkle in her eye, the part of the job that she recalled appealing to her most was the cameraderie between the women (yes, this was women’s work, because women were thought to have greater dexterity and stronger backs than men.) And I can only imagine the stories those women told each other, the therapy and support they provided each other on a daily basis as they toiled the hours away. Hard work and loyal bonding of friendship are a Maine way of life.
I hope this industry’s end is not a foreshadowing of our fishing industry in general. I can picture down the road people going to a Maine lobster or fish museum much like we go to a dinosaur museum now, to catch a faint glimpse of the past. And I worry for all those in the lobstering and fishing industry. All around us, every day, we are losing a little bit of our way of life here in Maine. Not all change is progress, people.
Take a moment to read the following article on the closing from the Associated Press. I hope it causes you to pause, reflect, and renew your commitment to support all things local as much as possible.
Me, I’m off to buy some canned sardines while they’re still around and see if I can lay my hands on a copy of “58 Ways to Serve Sardines”, the definitive Maine cookbook. I guess if my grandchildren ever ask me about sardines, they’ll have to try them at a white-table-laden-upscale-fancy-fresh-restaurant. But that’s just not how Maine sardines are eaten.
They’ll never have them as I had them as a snack growing up, by peeling back the key of a can’s lid and unlocking a tiny and tasty little Maine secret. I’ll just have to take them to see the artifacts at the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in Jonesport. That is, if it’s still around.
(For a different slice of sardine history, check out Maine food historian Sandy Oliver’s blog post “Sardines Secret History.”)