I’ll admit it: I like sardines. Yes, sardines – the oily little fish that come in a can. In fact, I bought some just last week. Wyatt’s response, “Are those sardines? Gross.” is fairly typical of the way people view sardines in this country. I, however, have a genuine fondness for the little guys, and it has nothing to do with the sweet graphics on the old tins.
When I was in the Gambia 6 years ago, we took a trip “up country” stopping at several remote villages. There was no refrigeration and it was too hot to cook – temperatures were steady at nearly 130F. It was there, several hours up country along the Gambia River, that I was introduced to the sardine sandwich. Cut a small baguette (baked daily in most locations) in half lengthwise and spread with mayonnaise on both sides. Layer slices of tomato and several sardines, close sandwich, and eat. I was skeptical, but the sandwich was delicious, and smart. No cooking required (except for the baker who made the baguettes) and no refrigeration of ingredients (mayo contains oil, which is a preservative, sardines come in a can, tomatoes were grown fresh locally). I ate sardine sandwiches often over the rest my time in the country. I don’t think I’ve eaten once since, but I was thinking of that sandwich when I decided to buy sardines the other day.
This morning I heard that the last sardine cannery in Maine will close on Sunday. I grabbed my can of sardines, packed, I thought, by a Maine company, and sure enough: “Produced in Canada for Bar Harbor Foods”. You really don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
The Sardine industry was once the largest industry in Maine, producing over 3 million cans of sardines in 1950, and employing thousands in the 50+ actively packing factories that dotted the coastline in the 1950s. For years, the industry has been in decline, giving way to canned tuna and more stringent fishing regulations. I’d heard about a sardine museum in Lubec, but a little googling revealed that it too has closed. It seems another may have opened in Jonesport. On a positive note, I discovered a really neat Sardine Society.
More than likely the flourishing sardine industry went hand in hand with over-fishing and pollution of the coastline, but I can’t help but feel a little bit sad. I think I’ll make a sardine sandwich for lunch.