Nov 21, 2012

Lobster Processing: why Maine BANNED it in 1895.

York Island lobster fleet 1894
Maine celebrated when the state legislature banned  lobster  processing in 1895.  Huh?
Why?  Because thanks to the new national railroads, postal services and telegraphy, the national & international market for processed Maine lobster meat exploded out of control in the 1890s and threatened to drive lobsters into commercial extinction.  
A hundred and twenty years later, and processing is back.  The processed lobster meat may be frozen or refrigerated today, not canned, but the same impossible enforcement problems faced by Maine's 19th century marine wardens will apply today, as more and more processors open up, and as market demand exceeds production.

 Read below excerpts from Maine Sea  and Shore Fisheries  Reports from between 1901 and 1908 describing what happened, and why the Maine legislature and Governor acted and shut all lobster processors in the state down 
(Note: back then, lobsters were measured from tip of snout to fork of the tail, so the legal sizes mentioned in these reports are larger than today's carapace-only measure.)
"Lobsters....This fishery should have more than a passing notice. It is worthy of protection. It is a home industry. As each year rolls around more men, more boats, more traps, are being added to the business. It is unlike any other fishing. There is no salting, no curing, no waiting for a market, no anxiety about a market. They are staple goods as gold from Klondike mines.

"Prior to '95 we had many canning factories on our coast, whose only business was to can lobsters from April 15 to July 15 upwards of nine inches in length. The lobster business was almost annihilated. The can lobster filled almost every grocery store from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The people of the great West knew only canned lobster. Prior to '95 there had never been a live lobster shipped beyond the western border of New York state. 

"Lobsters had become scarce on our coast owing to the constant drain upon the small lobsters for factories. One of the methods of destruction in the canning days was the habit of carrying from three to five inches lobsters before the close time was off, crowding from 3,000 to 5,000 into space not large enough for 2,000, and on the 15th of April when the factories
"could secure them, more than half of the small fish were dead. It is said that one million were lost in this way each spring. We had but five wardens then and they were very poorly paid to look after the business. I have only shown a part of the willful destruction under the old law to compare with what has been done under the law of '95, when factories practicallywent out of business, never to return, I hope.

"The 10 and 1/2-inch law is the best for the protection of the young lobsters we have ever had. The fishermen claim that it is the salvation of the lobster industry, but it does not suit everyone - the violators or the summer tourists.

"The business has increased since '95. The number of men has increased four-fold ; the traps and gear have increased; the prices received have increased; pounds from four in '95 to twenty-three in 1902. Steam smacks have taken the place of sailing smacks; rapid transit and refrigerator cars are carrying our lobsters all over our country. 

Each year the demand is greater, and the question is - Can we ever supply the demand? Answer - Yes. Good liberal appropriations, great care and attention will increase the supply of lobsters and all will be benefited thereby.

"Now take the lobster law. There are certain clauses in our lobster law which make it very hard to enforce. The clause 'mutilated, uncooked lobsteris prima facie evidence of their being short,' while mutilated cooked lobsters although short are all right. I have found in several instances mutilated cooked claws and tails of lobsters. If not less than the required length where were the bodies of these lobsters ?

"The lobster dealers may say it will hurt their business to make a law stopping the sale and transportation of lobster meat, but it should be done. What is the lobster meat that the dealers sell? It is nothing more or less than 'dead' lobster which they pick out of their cars every morning and boil and pick out the meat. Now this is no guessing, but something that I have seen for years. 

"Another way the dealers get rid of a good many dead lobsters is by selling them to the hawkers or peddlers, and they will take all they can get. In certain localities the fishermen will break the claws and tails from the bodies and throw the bodies away. At their homes someone will have the water hot and in a few minutes the claws and tails will be cooked, so the wardens cannot take them if they can get into their houses, which they can't do without a search warrant which is about impossible to get."  Letter from Warden George E. Cushman.

"Warden Isaac H. Snow states in his letter: "I would have the lobster law changed so that wardens can take mutilated lobsters cooked as well as uncooked."

"From the introduction of the lobster canning process at Eastport, about 1842, dates the beginning of the extensivecanning interests of the United States in all its branches. Lobster canning was first attempted in the United States at Eastport shortly after 1840, and was made successful in 1843, the method finally employed having been borrowed from Scotland, which country is said to have learned the process from France.
For the successful introduction of the same into the United States we are indebted to Mr. Charles Mitchell, who at that time resided in Halifax, N. S., who learned his trade of John Moir & Son of Aberdeen, Scotland, the first Scotch firm, it is claimed, to put up hermetically sealed preparations of meat and fish.

"Mr. U. S. Treat, a native of Maine, appears to have been most active and influential in starting the enterprise and introducing canned goods into the markets of the United States. Mr. Treat, with a Mr. Noble of Calais, and a Mr. Holliday, a native of Scotland, started the business of manufacturing hermetically sealed goods in Eastport in 1842, experimenting with lobsters, salmon, and haddock. Their capital was limited, appliances crude, and many discouraging canning difficulties were encountered. The experiments were continued for two years with varying success and in secret, no outsiders being allowed to enter their bathing room.

"In 1843 they secured the services of Mr. Charles Mitchell, who moved to Eastport. After Mr. Mitchell's arrival in Eastport no further difficulty was experienced in the bathing or other
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"preparations of the lobsters, and a desirable grade of goods was put up, but found no sale, as such preparations were unknown in our markets. Mr. Treat visited our large cities with samples, but was unable to make sales except on consignment. In 1846 Mr. Treat purchased the island between Eastport and Lubec, which has ever since been known as Treat's Island. In 1854 to 1856 we find him shipping canned lobsters to California. In 1850 there were but three canneries in the United States. In 1856 J. Winslow Jones of Portland commenced canning. In 1843 a one-pound can of lobster sold for five cents, three and one-half pounds, live weight, were required to make a one pound can. No lobsters weighing less than two pounds were then used for canning.

"Concerning the period from 1850 to 1880 sufficient information has not been collected to furnish a connected history of the progress of lobster canning.

"In 1880 there were twenty-three canneries on the coast of Maine, and over forty in the British provinces controlled by United States capital. The combined cash capital invested in the twenty-three factories in Maine was $289,834.

"In addition to the cannery buildings, the several Portland firms which were operating canneries had factories in that city for the manufacture of tin cans and wooden cases, and also warehouses for the storage of the finished product.

"Of the twenty-three , canneries in this State in 1880 ten prepared lobsters only, six, lobsters and mackerel, one,lobsters and clams, six, lobsters, mackerel and clams, and one of the last also put up salmon, fish chowder, and clam chowder.

"In 1879 the factory at Southwest Harbor began to put up lobsters in the shell for export trade. They were boiled, the tail bent under the body, and then packed in cylindrical tin cans twelve and fourteen inches long, put into the cans dry, bathed afterwards and vented in the usual manner. These lobsters were used chiefly for garnishing dishes for the table. In 1879 Mr. J. W. Jones estimated the average weight of lobsters taken for all purposes in Maine 1 ½ pounds; N. S., 2 pounds; Bay of Chaleurs, 2 ½ and Magdaline Islands, 3 pounds.
In 1879 one small steamer was used for collecting lobsters for the factory at Castine. The smacks of that time had an average
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valuation of about three hundred and fifty dollars ($350). The price obtained by the fishermen in 1880 average about one dollar per hundred (count) for canning lobsters. It is reckoned in 1880 that 9,494,284 pounds oflobsters were used at the Maine canneries, valued at $94,943, from the fishermen, and the number of men supplying the same was not far from 1,200, and nearly, if not quite all of these, were also interested in selling to market smacks, which yielded much greater profits.

From the 9,494,284 pounds of live lobster used by the canneries 2,000,000 pounds of canned lobsters, valued at $238,000 were put up on the coast of Maine. No account of the total production of canned lobsters on the coast of Maine during past years is at hand for comparison with those of 1880, but the fact of a very great falling off in the production from year to year is well known, and can be proved by the statistics of small sections. It is stated that the total production of 1880 was greatly exceeded, in ten years previous to that date, by that of a few canneries alone.
"Until 1842 lobsters were not in sufficient number at Eastport to induce people to fish for them. The canning oflobsters having commenced at Eastport in that year, smacks were sent to the western part of our State for their supplies. In 1855 they first began to fish extensively for lobsters about Eastport.

"In searching for information in relation to the production of our State, I find that the first report of the Fish Commissioners of Maine was made in 1867, the year that I first set foot on Maine soil. From that time forward to 1884 the lobster is never mentioned in any report of the State Commissioners, notwithstanding the canning industry was going on at that time. Salmon and fresh water fish seemed to have had most of the attention of the Commissioners during that period.
"There seems to be no way to compare the production of today with that of the seventies and eighties, for, during the canning period from 1855 to 1890, the U. S. Fish Commission's Report is the only source from which any reliable information is obtainable. In that year, 1880, there were sold to smacks and canners in Maine 14,234,182 pounds of lobsters. At that time they say only lobsters weighing 2 pounds were used for canning. We will figure them as weighing 2 pounds each, which will make the catch of that year 7,117,026 in count, and these were caught by the use of 104,456 pots, which shows an average catch to each pot of 68 lobsters. Thus it is shown at that time our production was far ahead of today. From about that date the catch decreased very rapidly until in 1895, when as I have said elsewhere, laws were enacted to stop the wholesale slaughter which was being made by our canneries, for at that time they were canning those nine inches long, and even smaller.

The canning business, which received the blow given by the legislature of 1895 when it repealed the nine-inch law died in that year, and with the death of the canning industry the lobster business of the State commenced to revive. I consider that in 1893 the business was at its lowest ebb, and since that date, according to statistics, thelobster supply has steadily but slowly increased.

"Our protective laws at the present time, if observed, are adequate; the transportation facilities ample, and the business generally, appears to be in a healthy condition among the dealers. If it is not so with the fishermen then they have only themselves to blame. The laws were enacted at their instigation, and wholly for their benefit, and it lies wholly with them, whether or not they are observed, for if they never save anything but a legal lobster the law never can be violated, no smacksman will be able to purchase one, no dealer can buy or sell one, no person can get any but a legal lobster to eat. 

"In short, unless the fishermen for whom the short lobster law was enacted, save short lobsters nobody in our State can violate it unless by importing from some other state or country. It would seem to anyone not familiar with fishermen and their movements that this would be a simple solution of the whole problem, when by observance of the laws by them ( for whose benefit the law was made, and who know as well as you or I that every violation made by a fisherman is an injury to his own business as well as to his brother fisherman's) that to observe the law would be the only thing he would do.


"Many years ago one of the leading industries connected with the fisheries were the canning factories. These flourished at a time when lobsters were very plentiful, and the regular market price was one cent a pound to the factories and three cents apiece for large lobsters for private use. The fishing season then extended from March to rough weather in the fall, no fishing being done during the winter months. 

"These factories preferred small lobsters, and it would be impossible to estimate the enormous number of young lobsters used by them even in a single season.These factories were the first cause of a large decrease in the annual catch. A law was finally passed making the legal length for canning the same as for ordinary use and it was hoped that the decrease would cease: but the closing of the factories did not stop the destruction of small lobsters. neither did it give the proper protection to the seed-bearing lobster.
The fishermen still continue to
"use the small lobster, even using them for cunner trap bait and hen-food. They also continued, after it became illegal to do so, to rub the seed from the spawn of female lobster, and sell them to the lobster buyers with the other market lobsters. These practices were not only common, but the usual methods of most fishermen. Is it any wonder that the catch became smaller and smaller each year until corrective measures were taken? 

"Finally our legislature passed a law making it illegal to have in possession any lobster below a prescribed length, ten and one-half inches, now three and three-fourths inches body measure; and made a general appropriation for the Department of Sea and Shore fisheries, which provided funds, for a warden service to enforce the law.  

"Their experience from using lobsters of that size has been that they are practically exterminating the speciesAt a meeting recently held in Boston. which was attended by commissioners and representatives of the several states, it was unanimously

"agreed that the Maine legal length, method of measurement, etc., are the best to adopt."

1 comment:

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