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 History of Sweeney Fisheries

A History of Growth & Success

From its founding in 1923, Laurence Sweeney Fisheries grew to become active in all aspects of the fishery. From catching to processing to shipping, Sweeney Fisheries was one of the most significant players in the East Coast fishing industry.

The Fishery

Laurence Sweeney's vessels fished swordfish by harpoon dart, and long-lined for a variety of species including cod, haddock and swordfish. Sweeney Fisheries took part in the winter fishery as well, long-lining for halibut on Georges Bank, and was one of the very first companies to exploit the rich scallop beds on that area.

Laurence Sweeney's vessels did not use other methods of fishing, preferring to license and rig his own boats for the species that brought the highest return in the fresh and frozen fisheries. The fish for his dried and salted products, originally the heart of Laurence Sweeney Fisheries, was purchased from independent fishermen. After Laurence Sweeney's death in 1983, the directors of the company, consisting of his son and two daughters, determined to take the company in a new and lucrative direction: frozen herring roe for the Japanese market. By 1988 the company had shut down the dried salt fish production due to the declining market and the difficulty of acquiring good quality fresh fish for processing. Herring roe, pickled herring for the European market, fish meal for the aquaculture industry, and frozen scallops for the American market became the company's major products until it was sold in 1994.


Soon after entering the fisheries, Laurence Sweeney put his business skills to work in another enterprise: freighting goods by sea.

With the easing of wartime restrictions on consumer goods after 1945, the demand for commodities of all sorts resulted in a mini shipping boom. Mr. Sweeney, with his long experience in the West Indies trade, was well-placed to take advantage of this opportunity. While his small freighters continued to ply mixed cargoes between the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean islands, he also outfitted at least three vessels for long term service in the Gulf of Mexico. These vessels were painted a tropical white and refitted at Sweeney's Yarmouth Marine Railway with "houses" over both fore and aft hatches. The houses had oversized ventilators set in the roof to provide a little cool breeze.

The Banana Trade

The 150-foot MV Walter G Sweeney was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. While other Sweeney vessels served Miami out of Mexico and Cuba, the "Walter" sailed from Mexico to Texas. Sand bars along the shallow Gulf barred the ship from entering Obregon, and a mooring raft was anchored well off-shore. Long lines of flat-bottomed, open lighters brought the fruit to the raft, where the crew manhandled the "sticks" into the Walter's holds.

Crews worked the banana trade for a six-month stretch followed by a flight back to Nova Scotia for a month with their family, then back to the West Indies. Eventually, most of the deck crews were hired from the Cayman Islands, and these sailors proved to be both reliable and hard-working. The Walter G. Sweeney stayed in the the Caribbean until 1948, when she returned home to Yarmouth.

The Sweeney Fleet

With more than eighty vessels built or contracted over the years, the Sweeney fleet was one of the largest on the east coast. Freighting and Fishing as North as the Hudson's Bay and as South as Venezuela.

Click here for details on the fleet...