The last commercial natural pearl essence plant in the world
will be closing in a few months. The former Mearl Corporation,
a long-time employer in Eastport, will be shutting the doors
of its Broad Cove plant for good during the second quarter
of this year, according to Ted Lowen, director of communications
for BASF, the German chemical company giant that acquired
the plant when it took over the Engelhard Corporation last
June. Engelhard had acquired the Mearl Corporation in 1996.
The pearl essence plant now has only three remaining employees
-- down from over 250 workers that were employed during the
Mearl's heyday. After closing the plant, BASF will begin
dismantling the site and will seek a low environmental risk
certification from the state Department of Environmental
Protection. Lowen does not believe there will be any significant
environmental issues. He expects that BASF will consider
looking for a buyer for the property early in 2008.
Eastport City Manager George Finch says, "We're very
interested in working with BASF for the future disposition
of the property that will leave the city in good standing."
He notes that the property is one of the major industrial
pieces of land in the city, and the city does not want to
lose it as a site for possible industry. He has met with
state officials about the property and says the city "will
actively pursue opportunities for that land in conjunction
According to Lowen, the decision to close the plant was
not related to BASF's acquisition of Engelhard, and he notes
that Engelhard had looked at shutting down the facility
in 2005. He says the site isn't profitable, and the natural
pearl essence has been replaced by mica-based pigments.
The pearl essence, obtained from herring scales, is used
in the cosmetics industry, previously for fingernail polish
and in more recent years for shampoos.
The employees were informed over the Christmas holidays
about the closing, and he notes that the decision was not
a surprise to any of them. "We're sorry to see our
presence in Eastport come to an end after a great, long
history and tradition there," comments Lowen.
The Mearl Corporation was formed in 1933 by Harry E. Mattin
and Francis Earl of New York and Burton G. Turner of Eastport.
It began near the site of the former Hotel East on Water
Street and then moved to where the breakwater is now located.
That plant burned in 1947. Over the years, the Mearl Corporation
had facilities in Eastport at Broad Cove, which is the remaining
plant, Estes Head, Prince's Cove, at the former American
Can Co. building on Sea St. and the former Peacock factory
in North End. The company had pearl essence plants in Rockland,
Jonesport, Beaver Harbour, Dipper Harbour and St. George,
N.B., and in Virginia, and it also had operations in Shippagan,
N.B., Digby, N.S., many locations in Newfoundland, Gaspé,
Quebec and British Columbia. In addition, the Mearl Corporation
invested in boats for Maine and New Brunswick fishermen
to run the herring scales from the weirs and purse seiners
to the plant. Corporate headquarters were in Ossining, N.Y.
Along with pearl essence, Mearl's operations over the years
have included fertilizer, the manufacturing of firefighting
foam, frozen herring fillets for Germany and Japan, barrelled,
canned and vinegar-cured herring, herring milt and roe and
skins, sea urchin roe, squid, shrimp, elvers, alewives and
rockweed. A large part of its operations in Eastport were
closed in 1981.
Although the facilities have been owned by other corporations,
David Turner, the plant manager and Burton Turner's grandson,
points out that it's been a family business over the past
64 years. "It's a piece of history that's going to