Lobsters only began to be a major resource for P.E.I. into the 1870s. Advances in processing techniques were refined as canning became common and shipping options became available. There was no shortage of lobsters. The impediment was that the small oar-powered boats could operate only a mile or so from shore at most and processing had to be done near the fishing grounds. On the other hand the small boats could be launched from every shore and did not require harbours or infrastructure. Factories (as the processing plants were called) could be built anywhere – and they were. From only a few in the late 1870s there were hundreds a decade later, providing much-needed seasonal employment along the coasts.
The new industry soon caught the eye of the press and the following report from the 6 June 1878 Patriot is one of the earliest accounts of the fishery that we have.
LOBSTER FACTORIES – Last week we visited Shed Moore & Co. lobster factory in Pinette. It is quite a large establishment. There is a well-built breastwork on the beach for the foundation for the preserving and boiling house, cooling room, tin shop, bath department, paint room, and carpenter’s shop. Thirteen boats are employed and 1200 traps are set at present. The want of good bait is much felt. The fish are brought in twice a day – morning and evening. To keep the place clean and sweet the establishment is “flooded” every twenty-four hours. In the can shop six men are employed, and they waste no time loafing. Busier and more active workmen we never saw. The room where the young women work – some of them children – pleased us most. Neatly dresses, clean and active, we noticed some twenty female hands busy; and judging from appearances the lobsters from this factory may be eaten without misgiving. Sweeter and better tasting fish we never tasted.
The men and girls know their business and attend to it. The daily catch here is about 3000. The company would like to double that number, and after a while they, no doubt will. The can making is worth seeing – it can’t be described. The way the tin is cut, rounded, and tossed from one workman to another is wonderful. One thousand cans each for a day is not bad work. A large quantity of dry wood is also on hand. John Compton’s force-pump supplies water. It is some 200 yards distant from the factory and cast iron pipes connect it with the building. Mr. Compton’s [word unclear]. invention, and we must see himself before we venture on a description of it. [word unclear], however, and Mr. Compton deserves credit for its introduction. The industry of lobster packing is a comparatively new one, and those engaged in it deserve encouragement. They cause money to circulate, and give employment to men, women, and children who might be worse engaged. We wish them success.
Messrs. James Fraser & Co. are building a lobster preserving factory nearer Point Prim. The shore and anchorage are excellent. They have a fine lot of traps ready for use. They expect to employ some forty hands. Mr. Donald Gillis is putting up a boarding house not far off, and intends to accommodate all the men. The extension of this industry cannot fail to be productive of good.
The Fraser factory was up and running within days of the publishing of the article and by the end of July had already dispatched a shipment of the “preserved crustacea” on board the steamer M.A. Starr which had anchored just off the Point Prim shore to receive the cargo.
Today lobster are still caught in the waters off Point Prim. In the season the often-deserted wharves at McAulay’s and Pinette Bridge are busy spots as the lobster boats land their catches but they venture far from shore into waters that the 19th century dories rarely visited. The boats are bigger and the lobsters are fewer but the biggest change is the disappearance of the hundreds of factories which were once almost as numerous along the shore as the tourist cottages are today. More lobsters are shipped live or are frozen but some still make their way to the several factories which still “put up” lobster in cans, a process much like the one which created a new industry on the Pinette shore almost a century and a half ago.