The sun was shining, the waters were calm, the breeze was fair, and the bell of the Port Clyde Baptist Church was ringing out over Port Clyde last week. For those who have been taught that the sound of church bells means a call to church service, a funeral toll, blessing of a marriage, or declaring an emergency, the 8 a.m. weekday morning ringing might have caught them off guard.
In a symbolic gesture of support to the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative (MFC), who started the nation’s first Community Supported Fishery, the Port Clyde Baptist Church has made available the use of their church bell to revive the community tradition of calling neighbors to work when the fish comes in.
The story, as it went around the MFC’s new processing plant on Marshall Point Road recently, was that the church bells had called the women of the village to work at one of the fish factories when it was time to clean and pack the fresh catch.
It turns out; it was a loud steam whistle that blew at “the factory,” according to Verena Anderson and Enid Monaghan, both of Port Clyde, who went to work at the Port Clyde Packing Company. That detail, however, has not discouraged the church, nor Glen Libby, president of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative.
Here in Port Clyde neighbors have been helping spread the word about the effort to create a local, fresh, sustainable fish supply by talking it up and buying “shares” in the fishermen’s catch. Returning to a smaller-scale fishing and processing operation may be the way this village can hold onto its centuries old heritage.
When the MFC started the Community Supported Fishery in 2007, the only option then was to buy whole fish. Since the cooperative opened the processing plant in March, customers can now order shares of fresh whole fish or fillets. The plant gives the MFC filleting and freezing options, which creates more distribution opportunities for Port Clyde Fresh Catch fish and shrimp.
Also, it means there are jobs for community members. Filleting, picking, bagging, delivering-all of it done by hand-requires some additional help. Family, friends, and neighbors have been called on to get this next level of growth underway and one might find anywhere from two to ten people at the plant preparing orders.
“We’ve sat around after Sunday morning service discussing whether we’d like a whole share of fillets, a half share of whole fish, or a whole share of whole fish to share between us, and we just can’t decide,” noted Robert Sierer, Moderator for the Port Clyde Baptist Church. “However, there was no discussion about the use of the bell. We all agreed to support the fishermen here in the village. If it helps them make this a successful venture, it is theirs to use.”
“Bringing back a call to workers is symbolic of our hope to keep this fishery alive and thriving,” said Libby, “If you hear the church bell ring, and it isn’t Sunday morning, that means we’ve got fish and could use some extra hands filleting in the summer, or cleaning shrimp come winter.”
As officials struggle to craft fishing policies for the 21st century, the fishermen and villagers of Port Clyde are returning to simpler technologies. Telephones, email, beepers, and pocket sized personal devices all have their place (and they don’t always work in Port Clyde), but a good old-fashioned church bell reminds us that less is sometimes more.
Antonia Small is a photographer and writer who lives in Port Clyde.