Today the last big sardine cannery in America is closing its doors. The Stinson Seafood plant, located in Prospect Harbor, Maine, is closing after a century of operation, due to reduced fishing quotas and increased competition from countries that can produce the product at a lower cost.
While Stinson is the last big cannery, there are some canneries that are still in operation, either offshore or on a vastly smaller scale. In Monterey, California, The Cannery Row Sardine Co., which began operation last year, has its fish canned in Santa Cruz. In Monterey -- made famous by John Steinbeck with his 1945 novel Cannery Row -- there's even a group of "sardinistas" that has been championing the little fish, taking as its mission the job of getting us all to eat more sardines, at least the fresh variety, if not those sold in cans.
Sardines were once the most important commercial fish in California, until they were fished to the point of commercial extinction. The Pacific sardine populations began to recover in the 1980s, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and now support a "modest fishery" off California. The Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists sardines as a best choice option, which I guess means that we should all become sardinistas, at least from a sustainability standpoint. And why not, as fresh sardines are very tasty when grilled or roasted, especially with bread crumbs and green garlic. (See Nate Appleman's A16: Food + Wine cookbook, p. 171.)