Well, here’s some glum news: The last sardine cannery in the U.S. is closing its doors this week.
The AP via CBS reports that Stinson Seafood, a century-old cannery in Prospect Harbor, Me., will can its last sardines this week, thanks to declining demand and reduced fishing quotas for Northeast herring (the name “sardine” connotes numerous kinds of small, oily fish that belong to the herring family).
Sardine canneries used to line the Maine coast, with production peaking in 1950. But shrinking demand over the last 50 years was exacerbated by competition from countries with lower labor costs, namely China and Thailand, as well as low retail prices and small profit margins. In addition, the popularity of sardines, once a lunchtime staple, was gradually undermined by America’s growing appetite for canned tuna. As sardines fell victim to changing tastes, their virtues were ignored by diners turned off by their strong odor and unapologetically fishy taste. While sardines have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance lately, thanks to their appearance in upscale restaurants, they’re still a much maligned fish.
Chris Lischewski, the president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, which owns Stinson Seafood, told the AP “it’s pretty unlikely” that sardine canning will return to the U.S. While the Sardinistas, the self-described Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine, is reportedly working on a business plan to promote non-tinned sardines in restaurants and on store shelves, it looks like they’ve got a long, slow swim upstream.