Catch A Pickled Herring

I have often wondered if the writer of that old song knew just what a 'pickled herring' was. Or where it came from. It certainly wasn't caught in the ocean in its pickled state as the title suggests. To change it from a fish, swimming freely in the ocean, into a pickled (salted) product, ready to eat, was a long involved process. Be that as it may, herring played a very important role in the lives of fishermen and their families.

In the early part of this century, the herring fishery was prosperous in many parts of Newfoundland. Herring appears to have been the most plentiful species in the Long Harbour area where Anderson's Cove was located.

At the start of this winter fishery, shortly after the Christmas holiday, seals and whales heralded the arrival of the herring into Long Harbour. American ships, from ports along the eastern seaboard, bought frozen herring from the fishermen of Anderson's Cove and other little outports in Long Harbour. The herring were frozen by simply spreading them on the ice, the ground, fish flakes, or wherever there was space available.

The herring fishery usually lasted until spawning, which was around the end of May. Nets were used during the first half of the season. In March, when the fish moved closer to land, in preparation for spawning, bar seines (very large nets) were used.

Sometimes the ice stayed in the little coves and inlets along the shores after the ice had gone out of Long Harbour itself. The men would cut a hole in the ice and lower an old-fashioned cod jigger down into the water. Sometimes the fish were thick enough to actually see them through the ice. If two or three herring were pulled up, a seine was then put across the edge of the ice, closing off the cove and preventing the herring from escaping.

Then the ice was sawed into pans, using every kind of saw which was on hand, and towed away. One man was put on the ice pan, holding the end of a rope which was also attached to the boat. He also had a pole to push down the net corks as the ice pan was towed over them. When the ice was cleared, the seine was pulled in secure around the herring.

Such activities were not without humorous, and sometimes not so humorous, moments but all are remembered vividly. Henry Herridge and Cyril Thornhill were watching the herring through a hole in the ice at Billy's Bight one time. All these little inlets had specific names. In this particular instance, the men apparently didn't notice how close to the edge they were until it started to crack. Henry managed to run back to safety but Cyril fell through as the ice gave way beneath his feet. Luckily, he suffered only a thorough, but cold, wetting.

Another time George Will Paul once put a seine across the ice at Billy's Bight. Paul, who had only one arm, was from English Harbour West. When the tide started to run out of Long Harbour, it carried the ice pan and Paul's seine with it.

In the late 1930's, a herring factory was built at Anderson's Cove. 1930's. It was owned and operated by F. Banikhin & Sons, which consisted of father Frank, sons Wilfrid and Cyril, and son-in-law Ben Swartz. Situated near the cemetery, at Anderson's Cove Point, the entire business was made up of three buildings. The factory itself, or main building, was about 60 feet long and 40 feet wide. There was also a bunkhouse, for workers who came from outside the community, and a cookhouse.

At peak periods, the factory employed more than 30 people. The building had no flooring except where the fish were packed. Two big drums in the middle of the dirt floor provided lots of heat. Sometimes coal was shovelled in until enough heat was generated to turn the stovepipe red.

Banikhin, originally from the Ukraine, is described as an honest and fair man in his dealings. Born in 1888, he came to Newfoundland in 1917, after a 10-year stint in the Northwest Territories. Some thought him a hard man due to his stern nature. He was very precise, wanting neither to owe a penny, nor to be owed one.

Employees earned about 71 cents per hour. He would also give out herring nets to the fishermen on the condition that they fish for him. A lost net would be replaced as long as the head rope was returned to prove the loss.

Boats, which collected herring from fishermen in the area, or dories from the immediate vicinity, landed their catch at a wharf near the factory. Fishermen received the going rate of $2.50 per barrel for all raw product delivered to the factory.

This wharf was constructed of log cribwork. Men in the community cut the logs, hauled them home, and sold them to Banikhin for twenty-five cents each. Some logs were sawed into planks at a local sawmill. Logs at the top of the cribwork were chopped flat on one side for nailing down the planks which formed the surface of the wharf. Hatchets were the main tools used in flattening the logs. (Several methods were employed but that's another story.)

Banikhin's wharf was long and built straight out from the Point. It reached out to where the water was deep enough for schooners to tie up beside it when loading or unloading.

The herring were dipped out of the boats with dip nets, which are circular nets with long handles, and into handtubs. A handtub was a sawed-off barrel that held about 16 gallons of raw product. From there it was carried to the factory, a distance of about 50 to 60 yards, over a board walkway. There the herring were dumped into chutes which fed the 60-foot long pen inside.

Workers, with their knives ready, were lined up along this pen, working in pairs. The herring were filleted and put into half-puncheon tubs filled with brine. These huge tubs held approximately 400 pounds. The fillets were left to soak there for about an hour. Workers then used dip nets to transfer the fish into barrels.

A couple of layers of herring were put into the barrel, then covered with salt. This process was repeated until the barrel was full. Next, a cooper would put the head on the barrel and fasten the hoops around it. The filled barrels were put outside for a couple of months to allow the herring to cure.

The next step was opening and repacking the barrels. During this process a fisheries inspector would be on hand to ensure that the product was of good quality and properly packed.

The repacked barrels were then coopered up again, making sure they were tightly sealed. Then the barrels were rolled outside again and covered with green boughs to protect them from the heat of the sun.

Sometimes a schooner came to pick up the barrels. Other times they were shipped out on big cargo boats. The water wasn't deep enough for the cargo boats to come in to the wharf. These ships anchored farther off, in deeper water. The barrels were carried out in dories and hoisted on board in large nets.

During the time this factory was in operation, the community of Anderson's Cove enjoyed a financial stability that it would never know again. Records state that 1,665 barrels of herring were packed at Banikhin's factory in 1952, for West Atlantic Products. The building burned down sometime after 1954 but by then the herring fishery was declining. The days of prosperity in the little outport had come to an end. Mr. Banikhin, who passed away in 1970, will always be remembered by the people of Anderson's Cove for starting the only industry of any significance in the history of the community.

© F. Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, April/May 2002

Non Fiction
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