If we can’t save Irish moss industry, save the community
The Irish moss industry was once a vital industry on the Island, employing hundreds of people. The community of Miminegash, which still carries the banner “World’s Capital of Irish Moss,” was the epicentre of the industry.
Slowly and for unexplained reasons the Irish moss industry died. Some blame over harvesting. Others blame global warming and climate change. Still, others blame federal government scientists who planted what they hoped would be an alternative to the Irish moss industry – furcellaria – however, some claim, it choked off the Irish moss leaving only furcellaria to grow and thrive.
It turned out while there was a niche market for furcellaria, it was nowhere near as valuable as Irish moss.
What is stunning is how every level of government turned its back on the Irish moss fishermen, the community of Miminegash and western Prince Edward Island as a whole.
Yes, politicians will argue there was some money put aside to purchase excess Irish moss out of the market. There were feeble attempts to look at the root cause of what was killing off the Irish moss industry.
But nobody came to the rescue of the Irish moss industry.
When it looked like Oshawa was going to lose the car-manufacturing industry, federal, provincial and municipal governments came to the rescue.
When Summerside faced the closure of Canadian Forces Base Summerside, again governments at all levels and all political stripes came to city’s aid in an effort to ensure the city’s survival.
Miminegash may be no Oshawa or Summerside, but it deserved something . . . anything.
Hundreds of fishermen relied on the Irish moss industry. They’ve either moved on to other fisheries or they’ve left the industry, or worst yet, the province.
Even more people who worked at one of two Irish moss plants in the community were laid off, the plants either closed or reduced to a one or two man operation. The Irish moss interpretive centre – closed. The Seaweed Pie Café and Restaurant – closed. The little take-out restaurant by the harbour that teemed with customers, many Irish moss fishermen waiting by the side of the road to sell their harvest of Irish moss – closed.
The community was once home to a federal marine plants research station. In its hay day, more than a dozen people were employed there. Put that into perspective – a dozen good paying, federal government jobs in a community of 300 or so in Miminegash. That, in itself, is the equivalent to hundreds of jobs in a larger centre.
The federal marine plants research centre is shuttered. The building itself still sits there on the community’s waterfront, doors swinging open and closed in the wind, the metal roof peeling off through years of neglect, and long grass growing over the once manicured lawns.
The centre, much like the whole community, forgotten.
The Irish moss fishermen deserved better. Miminegash deserved better. Western Prince Edward Island deserved better.
There may have been no saving the Irish moss industry. That’s something only science could answer.
But Miminegash could have been saved. It didn’t have to be another example of rural neglect.
The corporations, which once thrived in Miminegash, based in the U.S. and in Denmark, owed the community more than simply walking away after they had taken millions of dollars out of the waters that surround western P.E.I.
The federal and provincial governments owed the community more than simply turning a blind eye to the loss of a once mighty industry in our province. But it may not be too late. Asked if the Irish moss industry would ever rebound, a man who has been in the industry most of his life, responded in The Guardian last week, “Not in our lifetime.”
Now is the time for everybody to act if not to save the industry to at least save Miminegash.
“When we had a sore throat our mother used to make us gargle kerosene.” — From the collection of Island author David Weale, email@example.com