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American Canners in the Gulf: Commodifying Lobsters 1870 to 1914

Thu, March 30, 10:30am to 12:00pm, The Drake Hotel, Walton No.


In the 1870s US canning companies such as Portland Packing Company, Davis, Baxter and Co and Burnham and Morill moved north into the Gulf of St Lawrence area and founded a new commercial fishery and economy. The constraints of biology and technology created a dispersed rural industrial infrastructure where lobsters had to be processed where they were landed. In fact, lobsters landed in the Gulf area were too distant from large urban markets to be transported live and so had no commercial value unless they were packed immediately.

New canning technologies and greater consumer acceptance of this preservation method meant that by the 1890s the lobster fishery was the most valuable fishery in the region and there were widespread concerns that the stock had been permanently destroyed through overfishing. The fishery and its processing into a consumer product transformed the marine ecosystem, local community relations and fostered lively debates about resources, national interests, and international ownership.