Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where Have all the Herring Gone?

Kind friend Dale Lincoln stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with a story that will make you think...

A few weeks ago did you learn from the news that lobster fishermen were having a difficult time procuring herring to bait their traps? After hearing that news some people may ask: “Where have all the herring gone?”

More than four hundred years ago (1604) when Samuel D. Champlain explored the area known today as the Coast of Maine ( and started a settlement on an island in the St. Croix River near Calais, Maine) he made mention of the abundance of fish in the area. It is very likely that herring were some of the fish that he noticed. Three hundred years later, my Dad, in his youth, lived in a house very close to Cobscook Bay at Perry, Maine. He often told about the roaring sounds, during summer nights, as millions of herring churned the water in the bay near his home. It isn’t unusual that from the early 1900’s until after the 1950’s, there were many sardine factories and other herring processing plants along the coast of Maine. Today, due to the scarcity of herring, very few sardine factories are in operation.

During the summer of 1952 I learned one of the answers to the question: Where have all the herring gone? At age fifteen, I had the exciting and profitable job of digging clams four hours each day. The row boat I used with the job took me to many parts of Cobscook Bay. I made friends with the fishermen and traded clams for fresh, unsalted herring and mackerel. That job of digging clams allowed time each day to have fun. There were days when I would eat breakfast with my Dad (about 6am) before he went to his job as foreman at a sardine factory at Eastport, Maine. That same day he would return home after 9 pm and find me listening to the Red Sox on the radio. Many days after clamming I went trout fishing, practiced playing baseball, and went swimming in the Pennamaquan River. My wages from clamming for four hours were often more than my Dad's wages for working twelve hours at the factory.
Fish were plentiful around the waters off Eastport. Maine. Along with herring and mackerel there were haddock, cod, halibut, flounder, and pollock. Upon hearing that large pollock were being caught from the fish factory piers at Eastport was the reason why Norman, Nelson, and I finished clamming one day, then went fishing off the pier at the Riviera Packing Company in Eastport. My heavily weighted hand line, baited with a herring, was tossed into the ocean. Within a few moments my hands were sore from pulling the fishing line, but I landed a pollock that weighed more than 20 pounds. For the next few days instead of having fried clams, fried herring, or mackerel for supper, my mother prepared and served pollock. (Must mention that large fresh herring fried in a skillet is still one of my favorite foods—but large, fresh, unsalted, herring are hard to find today.)
It was a few days after that successful fishing adventure when my friends and I returned to the pier at the Riviera Factory. We did not catch any fish at that place but we heard that large pollock were being caught from the wharf, about a mile away, at the fertilizer plant near Deep Cove. We didn’t catch any fish at that location but I haven’t forgotten what I saw near the fertilizer plant: Several large pollock, caught a few hours earlier, were being wasted in the sunshine. Near-by were several, ten-foot high, pyramids of very small herring. (The herring were less than three inches long.) Within a few hours they would be ground into meal and become fertilizer. Herring were plentiful!
A very important life-cycle was eliminated during those times of plenty. Today we know that the question: How many seeds are in the apple? is not as important as: How many apples are in the seed? There are no descendants from the millions of “brit” herring that went to the fertilizer plant or were wasted in the process of trying to put them in sardine cans. Some people have forgotten or have never learned that millions of very small herring went directly to the fertilizer plants each year along the coast of Maine. Those fish never had a chance to reproduce. It isn't hard to imagine that a link in the ocean's food chain was severely weakened.

I can remember my mother reciting this poem to me several times:
(Author unknown)

I shall not throw upon the floor the crust I cannot eat,
For many a hungry little ones would think it quite a treat.
Willful waste makes willful want and I may live to say.
“O how I wish I had that crust that once I threw away.”

By: Dale C. Lincoln
Perry, MaineI
In Zephyrhills, Florida
Nov 19, 2008


Monkey Fist said...

I'd like your permission to re-post this entry on

Mike Skillin, Skillin's Greenhouses said...


I checked with Dale Lincoln and you are more than welcome to post this entry. I like your website!


Mike Skillin

MonkeyFist said...

great, thank you very much. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dale. I've been waiting for your return.My opinion--one of your best. You certainly have had an interesting terrific life and I'll be looking forward to your next installment.

Barbara G.