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Atlantic Herring
 Herring Processing

From the net to the can, or, what is a Sardine?

 Herring Cannery
 Herring on Dock
 The Connor's Brothers sardine processing plant in Black's Harbour, New Brunswick (top). Herring awaiting processing (above).

The herring fishery supports a $40 million/year cannery in Maine. [1] A can of "sardines" in a grocery contains fish from one of several species of herring-like fish found and fished worldwide. The sardine cans on the shelves of a New England supermarket most likely contain young Atlantic herring. These one to three-year-old juvenile fish are caught in the net of a seiner, trawler, or weir, then steamed, seasoned, smoked, and packed into the traditional sardine can for human consumption.

The sardine canneries in Maine, New Brunswick, and most of the North Atlantic states exclusively process young Atlantic herring. In other locations, however, a can labeled "sardines" may contain an entirely different type of fish. The Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), or pilchard, is the fish that inspired "Cannery Row" in Monterey, California, immortalized by American writer John Steinbeck. While they share the same family (Clupeidae) and sometimes the same name on a can label, Atlantic herring and Pacific sardines are two distinct species.

Herring may turn up in several destinations other than grocery stores. The Atlantic herring is an important bait species for the Maine lobster fishery, and is processed as an ingredient in the fishmeal used by the animal/livestock and aquaculture industries. [1] In addition, the iridescent scales removed during the purse-seining process are utilized in women's cosmetics. The economic importance of Atlantic herring is one reason that the species has been the focus of intense study and prolific science writing.


Herring Processing Photographs from the Gulf of Maine Fishery

herring processing images
herring processing image captions


[1] Maine Department of Marine Resources Website, Herring Page. http://www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/herring/index.htm.

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