27 February, 2010

The Last Sardine Cannery In the US to Close

For a hundred years, sardines have been processed in Prospect Harbor, Maine, at the Stinson Seafood cannery.  It was once one of 46 sardine canneries that dotted the coast of Maine at the peak of the sardine fishery in the early 1950's.  Now the Beach Cliff Sardines fisherman sign - a painted cutout that stands as tall as a telephone pole at the edge of the building's parking lot - looks out over the town from the last remaining sardine cannery  in the US.

Last remaining until April, that is.

San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC,  the current owner of the plant, announced on 17 February 2010 that they were ending operations in Prospect Harbor and closing the cannery.  Federal catch limits for herring - reduced to 180,000 metric tons in 2004 and further reduced to 91,200 metric tons this year - are blamed by the company for the closing.  They claim that the tighter limits have made it uneconomical to continue business there - even though Bumble Bee had previously told workers that they were committed to keeping the plant open regardless of the reduced catch level.

Maine is losing another bit of her history and her heritage. Prospect Harbor is  losing a piece of its identity.  And 130 people living there are losing their jobs, forced out of work in a county already struggling with a 10.9% unemployment rate.  Tender-hearted Bumble Bee says that they'll offer laid-off employees jobs that open up at their other plants in New Jersey, Canada, California, and Puerto Rico.  Mighty big of 'em. Maybe they think we've forgotten that the Snow's Clam Chowder that is now canned in Cape May NJ was also once a Maine product before they moved production out of New England and changed the recipe to slop.

Prospect Harbor, a village on the Schoodic Penninsula about 45 minutes east of Ellsworth, doesn't have many jobs to offer, and this closing is going to affect more than just the 130 people directly employed by the factory.  Area lobstermen, for example, are already being squeezed by historically low lobster prices.  They were able to buy herring for bait directly from the plant at a good, inexpensive price.  After April, lobster bait is going to be more expensive, further cutting into their pockets.

And in the meantime, selectmen and other officials from the affected towns are working to help find a buyer for the cannery and explore alternatives to sardine processing.

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8 comments:

Stella said...

Very sad. It seems that stories like this one are becoming common place lately. I would imagine that the 'changing palate' of America has not helped the sardine industry any more than Bumble Bee's profit driven ways...

Andrew Green said...

That is sad news....
Although I gotta admit that I've only bought one can of sardines in my life, and I couldn't bring myself to eat more than one.

Christina said...

I always liked Beach Cliff...they weren't too fishy tasting and were reasonably priced.

cheezmaker said...

My Dad used to eat them. It's sad to see corporate downsizings- I'm just glad that the company I work for is still family owned after 3 generations and going strong!

cheezmaker

icecycle66 said...

Bummer.

This past weekend I spent about 3 ours in 4 different stores looking for sardines packed in the US. I couldn't find any. I had to get my fix from Poland. I am still upset about this.

Why doesn't the United States make any of the things I love anymore?

Cyn ~ said...

Bar Harbor Foods in Maine still carries herring, which are sardines, and mackerel; they are sustainably harvested from the Gulf of Maine.
Visit them at http://www.barharborfoods.com

Dave said...

Cyn ~: I'm a big fan of Bar Harbor Foods, and wrote about their excellent wild herring fillets back in January (click here to read that article). But herring fillets have a different texture and taste than sardines.

Anonymous said...

I went to Bumble Bee's Beach Cliff web site just now. They continue to tout the benefits of sardines and they conspicuously mention Maine, Canada,and FDA regulations. However, I see the sardines in the Beach Cliff can I just ate are labeled as "Product of Poland."

Soon the only choice we seafood lovers will be have will be Chinese fish farm food. These are sad times.

Retired Navy man living in Texas.