Menhaden Fishing Industry


The Atlantic Menhaden is a small herring-like fish found in the coastal waters of the Eastern United States. Used by Native Americans to fertilize crops, these oily fish were also used by European settlers to produce fuel for lamps. In the mid-19th century, technological improvements resulted in more-efficient processing methods and the menhaden fishing industry was greatly expanded. Products included oil for use in paints and fertilizer to support the growing nation’s agricultural economy. In 1883, the Luce Brothers and S.S. Brown & Co. built the first menhaden processing plant in Lewes. Located at the center of the East Coast fishery, the community soon became one of the country’s most productive locations for the menhaden industry. By 1938, the Consolidated Fisheries Company of Lewes was the largest processing plant in the United States. The discovery of vitamin B12 in menhaden and its use as a source of protein in animal feeds and other products resulted in even greater expansion following World War II. Under the management of industry leader and long-time Mayor Otis Smith, Lewes was one of the largest landing ports in the country, serving as the home base for a fleet of 25 ships employing over 650 crew members. By the mid-1960s, a decline in the number of fish resulted in the termination of local menhaden fishing operations and the end of an era for the Lewes community.


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The Delaware Public Archives operates a historical markers program as part of its mandate. Markers are placed at historically significant locations and sites across the state. For more information on this program, please contact Katie Hall at (302) 744-5036 or via email at katie.hall@state.de.us..

LOCATION: Shipscarpenter, Lewes Street north of.