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Fishing and canning factories

sardina pilchardus
sardina pilchardus
Long, flat body laterally, skin covered with great scales, opercule (1) streaked fan-shaped, fins pelviennes implanted (2) at the back of the balance of the dorsal fin (3), very indented tail fin (4), and fin anale (5) blue-green Backs, silvery sides marked with a blue longitudinal band(strip), sometimes some blackheads forming a line at the back of the opercule (2). Silvery womb. Total length : between 15 and 25 cms

Fishing the sardine on the coasts of Brittany is an activity which dates back to the antiquity.
Until the middle of the19th century, fish was used fresh and covered with salt, by the local population or dispatched by quick carts to cities. The rest was sent to the press. Sardines were piled up there in barrels and pressed to extract oil which was used for lighting the houses. The barrels of pressed sardines which could be preserved for one or two years, were exported towards Nantes, Bordeaux and Spain..

A radical change due to the discovery of the sterilisation of canned food made the sardine fishing a source of prosperity for a great part of the littoral populations.
At the time when sardine fishing was at its highest,it was an easy way to make money, but after the sardine decline in1902 it was a disaster.

canning factory Breuzin Delassus, Port Louis
coll. part.
Farmers abandoned their lands to go fishing.
Little by little the sardine fishermen left the Port de la Pointe to get closer to the factories settled around Le Lohic. There will be up to 7 of them. Jetties were built to facilitate the unloading of fish. (The Marquet pier-1875).
In 1906, Port Louis still had six factories which were producing 600 tons of canned food and pressing 15 tons of sardines. Locmalo counted 274 boats in those days and there were up to 1370 sailors. In 1911, Port Louis was classified the 14th French fishing port. Until the first world war there was a succession of periods of abundance and of crisis. Sometimes there was too much fish, other times not enough, and together with foreign the competition it created a lot of difficulties. From 1902 till 1908, for example, Brittany went through starvation in some ports.
Today it is difficult to imagine all these sailing-boats going into to the port, this excitement on quays and piers, this feverish activity of canning factories : an excitement mainly due to this tiny and whimsical fish : the sardine.

The canneries workers

canning - coll. part.
The employees were coopers, barilleurs,and numerous women pressing the sardine but also children doing various jobs. The women working there had the reputation of being saucy and many of them were unmarried mothers. In the XVIIIth century, they were 3 women working at the press for each boat delivering fish. In the district of Port Louis in 1757 there were 1800 people working at the press.
The man responsible for the arrangement of sardines in the barrels, the barrilleur, was in theory considered as a clerk but he was also responsible for the distribution of the rogue and the salt to the boats working for its press-house. In 1830, there were 50 presses in Lorient district with100 coopers and 400 women.
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The Salt

Presses were very big consumers of salt. They provided themselves under the administration of Louis XIIIth, to Brouage (Maritime Charente) in Le Pouliguen or in Le Croisic .
At the end of the XVIIth century, the salt resulted mainly from salterns created by the monks of Gavres Prieuré. After the Revolution these salterns belonged to a man named Gay from Lorient who had bought them, when Gâvres Prieuré was sold as a "national property" in 1791. These saltworks were later leased to Guillaume Danigo.

The sardines in oil

As soon as they arrive at the factory, sardines were brought on tables, women workers cut off the heads and bowels with a knife without opening the belly, thanks to a particular dexterity. Waste was thrown into buckets, whereas fishes without heads were quickly washed and then plunged into tubs full of brine. The duration of the saumurage varied according to the thickness of the fish.

étals de sardines
In front of the Papegaut,
the young women are putting sardines to dry - coll. part.
Sardines were laid in regular rows to dry outside or put in steam rooms. Once dried they were plunged into tubs of boiling oil for a few minutes. Then they were drained and put into tins either in "white", that is to say bellies up, or in "blue", the contrary. Then the tins were filled with oil and sealed. The last operation, the sterilisation, consisted in introducing the tins into the autoclaves kept at 110 degrees Celsius for about one hour. There were various seasonnings, some of which were kept secret.

The Tinplate

As soon as 1810, English used tinplate to make the first cans.
This material : light, strong, moldable, was very much adapted to this use.
The manufacture of tinplate started in Bohemia towards the end of XIIIth century. It was made of steel, cleaned in acid and dipped in tin.
In France tinplate was first manufactured at the beginning of XIXth century.
Mr Colin, from Nantes, made the first canned food with sardines in oil in 1830.

Nowadays the composition of the tinplate is different. The basic material is steel covered with tin, or sometimes with chromium. The sheets of tinplate intended for the manufacture of tins can be printed and varnished. Printing is done thanks to the process of chromolithography on metal as soon as 1870. Nowadays tinplate is printed according to the offset process. The printed sheets of tinplate are delivered to the canneries where they are cutt off. Hennebont ironworks supplied the tinplate makers of the district.

  • The discovery of the sterilisation has to been to Nicolas APPERT, "confectioner" in Paris in 1804.
last modification :05 27 2005