“The comparatively new industry of gathering Irish Moss has assumed major proportions on the beaches from Kildare Shore around the North Cape to Miminegash on the west coast of Prince Edward Island. The owners of farms having shore fronts offer no objection to moss gatherers from far inland. It is being gathered by children of six years of age and old-timers of eighty-five. People with large families, often in meagre circumstances, have become opulent in two years. Gathering Irish Moss has become a bonanza for people with limited capital. The requirements are some jute bags or a horse and truck wagon. After every brisk breeze people swarm to the shores to gather their harvest, and they have become so adept in gauging the direction of the wind that they know fairly well to which cove or point to go. Prices, according to quality, are paid by the buyers who eventually sell to the J. H. Myrick Co. of Tignish.” “The Guardian,”13 December 1966.
East Wind Blows
No One Good
“The old saying that an east wind blows no one good in not always correct. Fishermen along the coast of P.E.I. know that when an east wind blows, Irish Moss will blow in from the sea. Irish Moss means good money for them-whole families will leave whatever they are doing and start raking in the moss as the waves and wind carry it shoreward. Some families have made as high as $50 a day (1944) with a good haul.”
“Merely gathering Irish Moss is not all. To obtain the best prices, moss must be dried. Anyone knowing the fickleness of Maritime weather will know that drying quickly constitutes a problem. The quicker the moss is dried, the better the product. All drying (before mechanical dryers) was done by wind and sun. All manner of methods were used-some used dry racks upon which the sprigs of moss were placed face-up to the sun. Many just spread the moss on roads adjacent to the shore. It was a common sight to see moss strewn along the sides of the road to dry. When dried, the moss is baled into bundles resembling baled hay. This is shipped to the U.S., processed and eventually placed upon the markets in powdered form.”
“Who buys Irish Moss and what do they use it for? Processing extracts from the dried seaweed a substance called ‘carrageenin’, a gelatin. For example, a pound of the substance will ‘stabilize’ a ton of chocolate milk and keep the chocolate particles from settling to the bottom of the mixture. Two percent or even less can produce jellies or thicken liquids and it is extensively used in meat and poultry canning to keep the contents from becoming mushy. A small quantity added to oil breaks it up into tiny drops that will mix easily with water-used to make water- based paints. Ice cream, salad dressing and cream cheese acquire smooth, even textures when the Irish Moss extract is used. With all these potential buyers, and with new uses being found every year, the market should hold up indefinitely.”
“In 1940, the total output of Irish Moss in the Maritimes was a mere ten thousand pounds. The following year P.E.I. recognized the demand for the moss and produced 206,000 lbs, compared with 53,000 lbs marketed by N.S. The Island continued to lead the mounting production figures until 1949, when it produced one and a quarter million lbs. By 1950 the curing and shipping of Irish Moss had grown important enough to make people in and outside the moss business to ask: ‘Can the industry be maintained? Can it be expanded? What does the future hold for this prosperous war baby?