Environmental History Seminar Controlling the Cost of Fish: Weir Fishermen and Price Control in the Sardine Herring Fishery, 1875-1903 10 April 2012.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:15PM Brian J. Payne, Bridgewater State University Comment: Josh Reid, University of Massachusetts, Boston

In 1876, Julius Wolff arrived in Eastport, Maine, to try his hand at producing a domestic sardine that could compete with the European imports. He successfully canned 600 cases of sardines, which quickly sold in the New York market for up to $12.00 a case. Although Wolff tried to keep his new business venture a secret the profits were undeniable and new sardine factories quickly sprung up in Eastport, Lubec, and Robbinston, Maine. By 1899 sixty-eight plants in Maine produced 1,170,568 cases of sardines. The sardine factories were in such fierce competition with one another in acquiring herring fish from the local weir fishermen that they were forced to pay extremely high prices for their catches. Weir fishermen maintained high prices for their catches by selling them via an auction system that directly pitted competing canneries against one another. Because weir fishermen controlled the access to the base material of production, juvenile herring fish, independent of the canneries' management they could exercise a considerable degree of economic power. Although not formally organized into a cooperative or union, these weir fishermen in Downeast Maine still yielded a similar style of control as those formal organizational structures in such a way as to protect their shared interest and to ensure continued local profitability.