World Championship Sardine Packing Contest

The World Championship Sardine Packing Contest was launched in 1970 in Rockland, Maine. But by 1990 the contest had fizzled out, due largely to an inability to find anyone willing to compete in it. This reflected the decline of the sardine packing industry in the region, as well a shift to mechanization.

The contest in 1972. Source: facebook

Circa 1971. Source: Digital Maine

Five-time champion Rita Willey became known as "the Mahammad Ali of all sardine packers." There's an exhibit honoring her in the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum. According to the museum:

when Rita was the reigning champion, she could pack 400 cans per hour. That means cutting and packing five fish per can. Her fame landed her on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, "What's My Line?", "To Tell The Truth", and "Real People".

image source: Maine Travel Maven

Evidently there must still be sardine packing contests held on occasion, though no longer in Rockland. The video below shows a 2005 contest sponsored by the Canadian firm Connors.

     Posted By: Alex - Mon Jun 29, 2020
     Category: Sports | World Records | Fish

This is going to drive me only slightly crazy for a few weeks. I once heard a rather risque joke about sardine packers. At the time, I thought, "great, one more joke I'll never forget but will never be able to use because no one ever brings up sardines in casual conversation anymore." Then, miracle of miracles, I was able to trot it out only about a week later! But now, after 30+ years, the joke I was sure I was never going to forget is only an empty folder in my back-brain, and my chance to use it again (maybe, I don't remember exactly how risque it was) has come, and I have to let it pass unheralded.
Posted by Phideaux on 06/29/20 at 12:31 PM
The only stories I've heard about the sardine packing industry were those written by John Steinbeck (Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat) about the culture surrounding the people of Monterey, California. The stories may be fiction but the characters are based on those he knew. Those days are long gone for that area.
Posted by KDP on 06/30/20 at 09:34 AM
That's... not where my mind went for the phrase "world championship sardine packing". My suspicions were more sophomoric.
Posted by Richard Bos on 06/30/20 at 01:37 PM
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