Menhaden: fish products replaced by tourism

October 27, 2017

The final comment about the menhaden industry by Rowland Marshall in Maddy Lauria's article Oct. 13 in the Cape Gazette said it all, "They fished them out, yep...tourism came along and replaced it. It's all good." Well, sort of.

A brief statement of fact to be sure, following a thorough discussion of issues currently facing menhaden fishery managers. Well-written article, but what I missed however was a little more background on "life in Lewes" and/or a clearer picture of what Lewes was like as a huge seafood port in the 1950s. I think that might have helped readers better understand how the menhaden industry helped to create Lewes and why we need fisheries management for the future. Even though the purpose and intensity of fishing for menhaden has changed (fish products, sport fishing bait, food chain supply), a more economic role is possible. A broader approach to managing the menhaden industry may just preserve this species for generations, and help keep our bays and town clean.

Lewes today is so pretty, well restored, very clean and neat. It is a tourism destination, not just a ferry stop, or gateway to other resorts. Surely neither residents nor tourists would wish to return to the Lewes of the '50s. And a clear vision of the industry then and daily life in Lewes would be a solid reminder and serve that endeavor. So where is this found? Below are the resources I was missing:

1. The Cannonball House, owned and operated by the Lewes Historical Society, would be a great place to visit, especially the Menhaden room. Photos and information on then-Mayor Otis Smith (and owner of the fish products company) all describe life in Lewes during the late 1950s. See the replica models of the fishing boats and hear the chanties sung by descendants of the original fishermen. It was hard, hot, smelly work, as shown by this mini view of coastal Lewes.

2. For further reading online about Lewes and two more fish spotters, please see one of the Gazette's Saltwater Portraits on Joe Hudson July 11. Joe and his best friend Ted Freeman flew for Otis Smith while they were in high school in Lewes, late '40s. They flew Stinson aircraft without radios at first, and they threw notes in bottles to fish boat captains below. Joe became a well-respected local crop duster. Ted later flew for the Air Force and is remembered with the memorial high way in his name, and an aircraft training facility in Georgetown.

3. Also online please find in High Tide News September 2016 "When Fish Smelled Like Money: The Old Menhaden Fisheries," by Sandie Gerken, February 2017 "From Sweeping Floors to Dusting Fields: Joe Hudson is the Dean of Delaware Crop Dusters," by Joanne Guilfoil. For both, visit

4. Last but not least, find more stories and photos of Lewes, Joe Hudson and Ted Freeman as "pioneer fish spotters" in the coffee table book "Flying Over Delmarva: Spray Planes, Banner Planes and Bi-Planes" and companion ABC book, both available at Lewes and Delaware beach book stores.

Joanne K Guilfoil

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