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Passamaquoddy herring scale basket

Passamaquoddy
Handmade
Herring Scale Baskets


Scale Basket History

Scale basket

An account provided by
Joyce Morrell
Owen House B&B
Campobello Island, New Brunswick

Buy a Scale Basket

I sat with the [scale] baskets in the Co-op for a short while, since it was raining and I felt like hearing the stories about the baskets. This is some of what I heard.

— Joyce Morrell


Herring scale baskets at weir.The scale business began in the 40's and by 1970 none of the Passamaquoddy baskets were in use. The Mearl Corporation was situated on the end of the main wharf in Eastport. The big building where the Passamaquoddy built the baskets was also there at the wharf and so was Holmes Packing Co. The Mearl Corp. burned down around 1960 and the drums of acetone would explode in the fire like bombs. It was a scary fire to watch and quite a sight. The Mearl Corp rebuilt at Broad Cove after that.

IHauling up the purse seine.n the early years there were no carriers with the apparatus to handle scales. The men in the weir would surround the herring school with a purse seine and draw it together to make a purse and the (usually) orange dories would make a circle around the twine with the seine boat. The men in the dories would "dry out" the herring by pulling in the twine hand over hand into the dories. The herring would rise to the top in a concentrated ball. Then they would use dip nets to dip the herring out into the seine boat.

The seine boat was built with tiny-slatted bottom with about one-inch wide pieces of wood with small separations between that would allow the scales and water to run down into the bottom of the boat. When the herring were taken out of the boat the scales and water could be dipped out and put in to the scale baskets. The men would walk around in the herring a bit to loosen the scales so they would fall into the bottom of the boat.

They would get anything from three cents a basket to a dollar a basket depending on the market. Usually they could get more for the scales than they did for the herring, and that was U.S. money, so they liked to get the scales. They would get 15 baskets sometimes from a load of herring.

Full purse seine, scale baskets ready.Paul Cline said that once the herring were concentrated in the seine, they would walk up and dip the edge of the seine boat underwater and let a bunch of herring and water in over the side. They would get those herring into the carrier and then they would dip the edge of the seine boat underwater again and get some more herring and water and so forth until all the herring were in the carrier. The seine boat was usually half full of water and fish. Periodically they must have had to bail!

Most people remembered the scale baskets being used for laundry baskets. Any one who has lived here a while and has gray hair would smile and remember their childhood. "Oh my God!" would be the reaction when they saw them.

One man talked about an ashtray that was solid pearl esence and quite beautiful. 

Photography credits:

  • Top, studio photograph — © 2007 Gary Guisinger, Guisinger Photography, Perry, ME;
  • Basket in grass, 3 purse seining mages, and basket on beach — © 2007 Joyce Morrell, Owen House B&B and Gallery, Campobello Island, NB.

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