July 1, 2007
Well Traveled BaitMaine worms reach a global market
by Kitty Wheeler
Worm diggers spend hours at low tide, stooped over their rakes in the search for bloodworms buried in the mud. This is their livelihood, and the length of each worm and the number of worms they catch are crucial to the diggers' success. They sell the worms to a bait company for an agreed-upon price after their digging is finished; if the company is closed that day, the wormers store their catch in an icebox until it reopens.
Harrington Bait Company sits on Western Road in Woolwich. Phil Harrington was a digger for 27 years until the work conditions became too demanding. He then opened a bait shop where most of his family works. Margaret Harrington, his daughter, is the manager of the bait shop; her daughter, who graduated from Morse High School in Bath last month, is one of the box packers. Assorted other young people fill in with shipping chores. The pace of work depends on when orders are placed.
The price of one bloodworm is 25 cents; sand worms are less valuable, 15 cents apiece. The bloodworms are long, six to ten inches, half an inch thick and red. Sandworms have tentacles on their bellies, and they are smaller and not red. Sandworms can be cultivated, so they are less desirable.
The average wormer digs 500-600 worms per day. The average salary for diggers is $20,000. The geographic radius of the Harrington Company's diggers is 40 miles. There are ten other bait shops on the coast of Maine.
Harrington sells wholesale to buyers on the East coast of the United States, in California and in four countries in Europe: France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Worms are packed in seaweed before they are boxed, 125 worms per tray. If worms are sent abroad or to California, a frozen gel pack is enclosed in each box to keep them alive.
Trucks pick up the worms, carefully packaged in labeled boxes, from Harrington's when orders are sufficient to have them shipped. There is a meeting area in Boston where worms from one truck are transferred to other trucks, some heading down the coast, others taking worms to Logan airport for air travel. With the recent demands of Homeland Security, each package must be opened, then resealed and loaded on to airplanes. Health certificates have to be filed with security as well. Small boxes cost $2.40 each to be shipped on a truck; plane travel obviously ups the shipping fee. Wholesalers must pay for these shipping costs.
Bloodworms or sandworms are used as bait by fishermen. The national and European demand for worms shifts according to when the fish are biting. And many fish prefer other bait, so wholesale orders fluctuate. Worms are used only for saltwater fishing.
Harrington's has ongoing costs, and some wholesalers are slow in paying their invoices. If some worms die enroute, wholesalers are not happy. The continued support of the wholesalers, however, is vital to the ongoing success of the worming business.
Margaret Harrington, hunched over her computer looking for more orders, states "we are running this business to keep people employed."
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