The Fish Factory

Boats are Coming In
Sun is Going Down
Tide is Turning Now
I Call Your Name Out Loud
Oh Baby, Come and Meet Me Down at the Factory
Where the Stray Cats Get their Fill
Come and Meet Me Down at the Factory
Fish Factory Hell
Fires are Coming Up
Fish is Cooking Down
Oil is Boiling Over
Smell of Money All Over Town,
Oh Baby...

Fish Factory Hell by Barbara and Bryan Blake

 Two purse boats "making a set" in the Chesapeake Bay while the mother ship awaits.
The 1940s off Beaufort 
Menhaden fishermen "hardened" the fish.  The mostly African-American crew would sing work songs while pulling in rhythm.
Barbara Garrity-Blake wrote The Fish Factory (University of Tennessee Press,  available locally at Dee Gees in Morehead City or  She spent two years immersed in the fish factory culture of North Carolina and Virginia, riding the boats, interviewing fishermen, and collecting the old work songs.   Menhaden is a bony fish that is factory processed into oil and high-protein meal used in livestock feeds.  Garrity-Blake chronicles the history of the fishery, from the days when the smell of menhaden was the “smell of money”, to today as factories give way to condominiums. 

Crewmen used to lift heavy nets of fish by singing work songs in the African style of “call and response”.    Singing coordinated their pulling, but the old timers say it also helped generate a special boost of power to lift what could not otherwise be lifted by human strength alone.  Captains could find schools of menhaden by reading signs, like the hue of the water, the presence of “whips” or splashes, or what was revealed to them in a dream.

A menhaden crew on the Chesapeake Bay
pulling in the nets.
Some of the old timers mending nets at the last remaining fish factory in NC (Beaufort), now closed.
Beaufort Fisheries menhaden plant
A watercolor by Patsy Wells
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