|MIT Sea Grant: New England's Fishing Communities Table of Contents|
5.7. New Hampshire Seacoast
5.7.1. Rockingham County
Along with the Connecticut Seacoast and Boston/South Shore, the New Hampshire Sub-Region is grouped among the lowest fishing dependent regions. New Hampshire Seacoast ranks ninth out of eleven for the three dependency ratios (below). The low overall economic dependency on fishing of the region is due to its intense coastal development and diversified economic activity. New Hampshire presents another case of significant fishing enclaves that have been surrounded by developing areas of gentrification. In terms of gentrification, Portsmouth ranks with the most highly gentrified communities of Kennebunkport and Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Over the last twenty years, the dramatically scenic character of the coast and beaches has attracted considerable tourist and recreational development. Portsmouth is also rich in historical infrastructure, celebrated in dockside monuments, historical buildings, and waterfront hotels and restaurants. To the south, summer homes mix with scenic beaches, shoreside restaurants and hotels, with a major concentration behind the Hampton beach and sea wall. Contributing to the move towards gentrification is New Hampshire seacoasts reputation as an income tax shelter. 1 Very high-end condominiums and homes along the coast are the legal residences of wealthy individuals who do not necessarily work in New Hampshire. Portsmouth, with its wide and deep harbor, is the primary coastal outlet for the state, where cargo vessels are offloaded in exchange for woodland products from the inland forests of New Hampshire and Vermont. Another major component of the ports total capital is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Because of the rich diversity in tourism, both historical and contemporary, and port economic activities and industry, fishing is just one component in the mix. The persistence of the fishing culture, and the support afforded the fishing industry through a state fishing pier in Portsmouth and the resources contributed by the Seabrook Nuclear facility to the fishing pier and cooperative in Hampton/Seabrook, allows the total capital of the industry to persist despite development of significant alternative total capital components.
The persistence of the industry is also a tribute to the self-selection of those dedicated to the fishing lifestyle. At the dock in Hampton, a key respondent confirmed the replication of the human capital of fishing, stating that most locals were "born here and born into fishing". He also expounded on all of the characteristics of the fishing value-set, a value set that is predicated on the self-selection process and indicators of dedication to the fishing lifestyle, mixed with a sense of conservation because of the declines and restrictions on fish stocks and allowable catch effort:
"I am part of a younger generation with attitudes towards conservation. We younger generation are not opposed to conservation. Were not like the older generation - they just wanted to catch everything. What we earn today with our hands is a good honest living, but we dont want to over fish it all its hard to find anyone who is not for restrictions on catch . For me, fishing allows me to be independent and set my own hours... youre going to make as much money as the work you put into it however, these days we are working harder but earning less money. This makes it tough on familiesI know of only one guy here out of about 70 guys on the docks whose wife can afford to stay home and take care of the kids. There didnt used to be any childcare centers in Hampton, but now there are three and a new one is about to open . To be successful at it (fishing), you cant mind spending a lot of time away from home For me, limits on landings (of groundfish) means I must spend five months a year down in North Carolina dogfish fishing on someone elses boat to make it through the year this doesnt make sense, because we are
catching more cod now than has been seen around here in over ten yearsyou just cant get away from them they are everywhere."
According to our dependency indicators, the New Hampshire coast is among the least dependent (rank of nine out of eleven) regions. Yet, upon examination of the ports of Portsmouth and Hampton/Seabrook, we find there is a vibrant commercial fishing presence, bolstered by capital flow connections of the smaller regional ports (e.g. Rye, Hampton/Seabrook) with Portsmouth. Portsmouth, in turn, is linked to the larger regional network of fish brokers and fish auctions from New York City to Portland, Maine. Both Portsmouth and Hampton/ Seabrook have experienced a development surge in the "beach culture" along with the rest of the New Hampshire coast. As a consequence, the percentage of their contribution to the overall total capital flows in the region has diminished. This has not, however, drastically affected their productivity as fishing enclaves. Their linkages with regional networks have compensated for the diminished economic status in their own particular spaces and places. Moreover, they continue to fill the critical role of providing fresh seafood to meet the increasing demand of local restaurants and regional markets for quality products.
Shafmaster2 Fleet Services maintains facilities at Little Bay in Newington. Little Bay Fish and Lobster Company advertises 20 years experience in air shipping high quality live lobsters.3 Seven vessels of 75 feet each make week long trips (departing Sunday, returning Saturday) to fish for lobster for the company. Besides the tanks for lobsters and crabs, their facility has freezer space and manufactures its own electricity. 4In March 1999, at the urging of New Hampshires legislative delegation (John Sununu and Judd Gregg), a bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress that would waive maritime licensing regulations in order to allow Shafmaster to buy and operate three Canadian-built stern trawlers for use in the herring and mackerel fisheries. It was anticipated that repairs to the vessels would generate $1.5 million for U.S. shipyards, that 20 to 25 new jobs would be created with a payroll of $1 million and that processing the harvest would result in another $500,000 to the local economy.5
In the 1850s a quarter of Ryes population was dependent upon fishing, but in the latter part of the 19th century, its economy gradually became increasingly reliant on the tourist industry.6 By the 1960s there was little finfishing effort, most fishermen were engaged in lobstering. There was a surge of interest in fishing after the passage of the Magnuson Act (1976) when some of the lobster fishermen turned to gillnetting, but restrictions have diminished their numbers. Today, Rye has 24 or more boats, 8-10 groundfish and over 12 lobster boats that use the commercial pier. Their catches (including shrimp) are usually unloaded and trucked to the co-op in Portsmouth. Ryes significance as a fishing port is heightened due to its proximity to fertile fishing grounds. It has the "shortest run to significant fishing grounds" compared to other ports in the region. New Hampshire Commercial Fishermens Association is also based in Rye.
All the New Hampshire ports benefit from access to rich grounds. The Massachusetts Bay-Casco Bay area is a unique and very productive ecosystem. Late winter and spring spawning activities aggregate fish sequentially along the coast. The New Hampshire vessels tend to be moderate in size, accustomed to day trips and the use of long soaking gillnets. It was the New Hampshire fishermen who encouraged experimental work on "pingers" to scare away harbor porpoise so that they could continue to fish using gillnets.
New Hampshire Seacoast sub-region
18.104.22.168. Hampton and Seabrook Return to Top
"Hampton mirrors Rockingham County (New Hampshires second most populated and second fastest growing county) in terms of its growth and development. The majority of residential development in town is located just north of the Hampton marshes, approximately 1.5 miles inland from the coast. At the southern town boundary is the Hampton Harbor, an inlet formed by the confluence of the Hampton and Blackwater Rivers."
Hampton Beach and Seabrook are located just north of the Massachusetts border on route 1A, near Salisbury, Massachusetts. Although Hampton and Seabrook are separated by a bridge, and about a mile apart, they are functionally one community, and will be treated as a unit for this case description. The boundary area between the towns is small, consisting of a single bridge over an inlet connecting Hampton Harbor with the Gulf of Maine. Hampton Harbor lies inside a three-mile long lagoon. It provides anchorage for both recreational and commercial fishing boats. The harbor is bordered by a thin spit of beach, and has a shallow entrance much like Chatham Harbor, with shifting sandbars and silting. As in Chatham, the narrow and shallow harbor entrance has kept size of vessels down.
New Hampshires coast is one the most picturesque in all of New England, and coastal tourism has historically been a major economic component of these seaside communities. Today, as a "summer vacation community, Hampton attracts regional, national and international guests. The year-round population of over 13,100 expands to an estimated 150,00 individuals during the summer months on a sunny weekend."7 Hampton presents a solid seaside front of restaurants, upscale gift shops, hotels, clubs and bars, and seaside condominiums. It also exhibits "world-class" traffic jams. This "beach culture" (Acheson 1978) extends uninterrupted south into Massachusetts, and is replaced north of Hampton by upscale seaside homes bordering rocky inlets and gravel beaches. Although some shops and restaurants can be found in the adjoining blocks off the seaside, the main attraction is the seaside strip. Hampton is also a permanent residence to many that work in Boston and elsewhere.
Acheson et. al (1978) note the incursion of gentrification and development as an engulfing process around the long-standing fishing operations in the area. However, tourist development in nearby Hampton has increased tremendously over the last twenty years. During the summer peak, fishermen and their families are lost in a swarm of thousands of daily visitors taking advantage of the nearby diversions including beach facilities, restaurants, hotels, bars, and nightclubs. Thus, the overall percent contribution of the fishing sector to local total capital flows has declined dramatically over twenty years, but the scale of fishing has remained essentially constant, although it is seriously threatened by recent restrictions on catch effort. Moreover, even though the contribution of fishing to the local economy has declined, and no one could describe tourist-driven Hampton as a "fishing dependent community", the infrastructure and social yield of fishing has been sustained.
Hampton has a Board of Selectmen (5 individuals) and a town manager.
Of the population of 7989 in Hampton, children 11 and under with 1118 individuals and seniors (65 and older) with 1132 individuals are about equal in size. There were about 621 teenagers 12-17 years old, and 5118 individuals who were 18-64 years old.
Of individuals 25 years and older, 573 had less than a high school diploma. High school diplomas were attained by 1491. Fifteen hundred, ninety had some college (including Associates Degree). Bachelors degrees were attained by 1299 and a Graduate degree by 536.
Most of the fishermen have at least a high school degree and a handful are college graduates.10
There were 8,602 housing units in the school district; 3587 in Hampton. Of the 3587, 3132 were occupied, 455 vacant. Median housing value in 1989 was $161,233 in the school district; 159,300 in Hampton. The median year the structures were built was 1966.
Racial and Ethnic Composition
In the school district, 97.61 percent of the population was white in 1989, 2.04 percent was black, and 3.7 percent Hispanic.
Median household income was $40,929 in the Hampton School District, $44,620 in Hampton. Per capita income was $18,371 in the school district, $18,881 in Hampton.
The largest employers in Hampton include Foss Manufacturing, Unitil, and Wheelabrator Technologies. At the time of the 1990 Census, 2929 individuals worked in New Hampshire, while 1268 (43 percent) worked outside the state.
The University of New Hampshire has a campus in nearby Durham.
The Census counted 37 individuals in the industry category of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and 26 in farming, forestry, and fishing occupations. On the other hand, the Equal Employment Opportunity Data for Rockingham County (that includes Portsmouth) counted 24 fishing captains and 130 fishermen (including 13 females) in 1989.11
Transportation and Access
Hampton is 10 miles south of Portsmouth on Interstate 95. Hampton Beach is a couple of miles east of Hampton on state route 101.
Despite its reputation as a tourist destination, Hampton Beach fulfills the definition of a fishing community on the basis of central place theory. Fish are legally sold ex-vessel to a dealer, processor or the public; fishing support services are provided; there are public facilities providing dockage; fishing people satisfy their daily and weekly social and/or economic needs here, and some fishermen and their representatives participate in fisheries resource management.
Commercial fishing and fisheries-related employment
In 1978, there were 35 lobster boats working out of Hampton Harbor, from 16 to 21 feet in length, and a dozen vessels devoted to a mix of gillnetting, bottom trawling, and two modified for herring fishing with mid-water purse seines or with dredges to drag for sea urchins. Twenty years later, the number of vessels has remained essentially unchanged, although 6 out of 10 draggers are inactive because of closures and other restrictions on catch. Overall, fifty commercial fishing vessels, both the operative and idle, still grace the port facility near Seabrook. These include 36 lobster boats, 4 gillnetters, and the ten draggers. Other changes include declines in regular (full time, experienced) crew and crew size per vessel, with many fishermen going it alone, forced to migrate seasonally to other areas to fish species such as monkfish and dogfish.
Vital regional facilities can become vulnerable when inadequate product is available from the production sector. For example, Yankee Fishermens Cooperative is the landing site and central wholesaling facility for the small local fleet. Since the cooperatives income is based on fees tied to pounds landed, when cod landings were restricted to 30 pounds per day per vessel (about three or four fish) the facility suffered. However, the rise in daily allowable catch from 30 to 100 pounds and then to 400 pounds has made a critical difference in the ability of the co-op to maintain sufficient product flow and for fishermen to make a modest profit.
As with the small fleet it serves, the coops ability to diversify has kept it in business. For example, in 1999, a decent shrimp season was helpful, though not entirely satisfactory since the fuel prices jumped from 83 cents to $1.83. The booming lobster business was the saving grace of the year. In other years, tuna provides the key to the years profitability. During tuna season, the Coop holds a daily auction that is attended by 6 to 10 buyers, including several supplying the Japanese market.
An interesting article on the global tuna market mentions Seabrook and comments on the effect of "cultural capital" on the price of tuna. "Japanese cultural control of sushi remains unquestioned. Japanese buyers and tuna techs sent from Tsukiji to work seasonally on the docks of New England laboriously instruct foreign fishermen on the proper techniques for catching, handling, and packing tuna for export. A bluefin tuna must approximate the appropriate kata, or "ideal form," of color, texture, fat content, body shape, and so forth, all prescribed by Japanese specifications." 13
Three years ago (1997), the Newburyport Co-op merged with Yankee. Yankee Fishermens Coop now has 59 members, but only two full-time managers. They must rely on help from members when the vessels are active to get the boats unloaded, the catch sorted into totes, weighed, and fish packed with ice or lobsters placed in tanks. Herring, supplied by a distributor out of Kittery, is sold as bait for lobstering.
As for the future, "like everyone else, the Co-op is looking at the potential for handling live fin fish and the potential for aquaculture."
Besides the local fishing co-op, Hampton Harbor Boat Yard and Boat Works allow fishermen to handle minor repairs locally. Other local facilities include ice supply, diesel and oil from the co-op, eight slips at the main dock for commercial use with other vessels moored in the small harbor. Six lobster retailers cater to weekend tourists and local restaurants. There are two local bait houses, and two retailers of finfish. A local netmaker repairs groundfish gillnets, but for fishing gear and supplies, fishermen travel to nearby Portsmouth.
Employment (year-around and seasonal) 14
An estimate of the number of local commercial fishermen is 70. When there were severe restrictions on groundfish, fishermen are forced to work elsewhere to survive, and mostly did so from late November to early May. Of the fifty to sixty households identified as directly dependent on the fishery, more than 20 (about 40%) sought seasonal work outside of the community. As some of the restrictions eased slightly and alternative species became available, many of the fishermen returned home to work full-time. The difference, however, from the past is that many men now work alone whereas, prior to the restrictions, almost everyone had at least one crewmember.
Indirect reliance on the fishing industry is difficult to estimate, but the suppliers of gear (chandlery), fuel, and food do feel the impacts when fishing is constrained.
Most of the product of the Coop is sold regionally to buyers in Boston, Gloucester and Saugus.
The groundfish and lobster commercial season stretches from May through early November. The winter fishery is shrimp and some lobstering. One phenomenon encountered elsewhere in the fishery is a constant switching of effort. Before recent restrictions, draggers targeting groundfish might switch to dogfish, and gillnetters would also do lobstering. As one respondent described it, "people have had to diversify to make ends meet, and will target the peaks of each fisherydo a little bit of everything to optimize cash flow."
Landed species include:
Groundfish: cod, blackback flounder, fluke, weakfish, pollock, haddock, grey sole
Small mesh: whiting, shrimp, squid
Crustaceans: crab, lobster
Highly migratory species: tuna
Others: striped bass, dogfish, monkfish, bluefish, scallops, slime eels.
Form of ownership (e.g., owner/operator; corporation)
Most of the vessels are owner-operated.
Recreational fishing and tourist-related employment
Although recreational fishing is not a dominant activity, there is one marinaa boat clubupriver from the commercial docks, and there are three bait and tackle dealers for recreational fishing enthusiasts. Six bars and seven seaside hotels and resorts cater to weekend tourists of all interests, including beachcombers, those partaking of local whale watching or eating at the numerous seafood restaurants. Tourists can also go out on one of eleven charter boats, for either tuna fish or codfish on nearby Jeffreys Ledge.
Both Rye and Hamptons party boats serve a valuable function for the commercial harvesting sector. Perhaps as many as 10 to 15 percent of the commercial vessel owner-operators got their start on party boats. In addition to the 3 or 4 party boats in Rye, there are also a number of small charter boats termed "6 packs."
Cultural role of fishing
There are no museums or traditional cultural events in the area. The closest approximation is an annual seafood festival, but there are no fishermen involved in the festival.
Ethnicity in the fisheries
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity data for Rockingham County, all fishermen are white. The ancestry of individuals in Hampton is predominately English, Italian, German and French. An informant noted that there are also a few Greeks in the harvesting sector.
Everyone has a favorite coffee shop, but the usual informal meeting place is the Coop.
Fishing related organizations and their roles in the community and fishery
Commercial fishing associations
Japanese buyers often bid on the tuna that comes into the Coop.
Fishing-related programs and services
The Maine/New Hampshire Sea Grant Program has offices in Durham and in Rockingham County. University of New Hampshire has various projects from time to time that relate to the fishing industry. Right now someone from the university is collecting mussels, another is considering an aquaculture start-up.
Those who could diversify, "stuck it [fishing] out." Others stayed fishing because that is all they know how to do or they couldnt imagine doing anything else. Others who thought they might be able to switch out did seek retraining. About a half dozen of the fishermen ranging in age from mid-20 to 50 years old who could prove "hardship" took advantage of the training programs to improve skills in welding, mechanic, etc. Most, however, returned to fishing after having tried shoreside jobs.
The closest Coast Guard presence is on the Merrimack River in Newburyport. Another station is in Portsmouth.
Perceptions of the Fishing Community 16
Importance of fishing to the community
Despite the low number of commercial fishermen compared to the overall populace, key respondents ranked the importance of fishing to the community as "important" (4th out of 5), with the rationale linked to the importance of fresh seafood to local restaurants. However, after being landed in the co-op, much of the seafood is brokered out to other markets such as Boston, Gloucester and Saugus, there to be processed or shipped regionally, nationally, and internationally.
The town is somewhat supportive of the fishing industry. The town owns the land the Coop is on.
Outside of Hampton/Seabrook, fishermen and their families have the most contact with Portsmouth. Their local community is the nexus of their social, cultural, and economic lives, and virtually all of their local needs and activities are just that local: "There is a real sense of community here Even though there are thousands of outsiders here in the summer, we mostly stick together and do things with the people we know and work with."
The only exceptions to contacts and activities are for vacations, which are taken in the White Mountains, and buying fishing gear, which is done in nearby Portsmouth.
As with many areas lacking regular contact with management, Hampton/Seabrook fishermen feel under-represented in the management process, and chaff at regulations they see as unfair when they do not reflect the perceived fishing conditions they encounter in trips to the grounds. When asked, on a one to five scale, "how good is communication with fishery managers?" local management received a "good," state managers a "good," but federal management a "poor."
The perception is that federal managers are poorly informed about the seasonal fluctuations of fish populations in the area, and that catch regulations such as Area l closures and quotas are based on poor and untimely counts. Nevertheless, local fishermen suggest that conservation limits are good because they preserve the fishery year-to-year, but they believe that regulations must better reflect the environmental realities encountered by fishermen. "The best scientists are the fishermen, because they are always making observations."
Local management practices
The New Hampshire Commercial Fishermens Association was active in the effort to design rolling closures.
The general perception on the economic condition of the fishery over time is seen as driven by (1) the perceived health of commercial fishery stocks and (2) the severity of fishery regulations. Ten years ago, the perception was that the economic conditions were "good," with plenty of fish to catch and few restrictions on landings. Five years ago, the rating dropped to "fair," with seasonal work targeting monkfish and dogfish to the south. Today, fishing is rated as "good," with plenty of fish around, and a consensus that theyre increasing dramatically, but with the caveat that regulations are too restrictive and need to catch up with the actual availability of mature fish.
For example, there are codfish now in areas where they never before were, and many thousands of pounds of fish are reportedly dumped overboard when catches regularly exceed daily quotas. This wasteful practice is hailed with the sentiment: "let us keep what we catch," meaning if a catch quota is exceeded on any one haul, then fishing for the day should stop and the catch landed "as is" without any discard. Moreover, fishermen see an improvement to "excellent" in five years as the perceived abundance of fish cohorts translates into an even larger harvestable biomass.
Changes in fishing effort
There is much less groundfishing currently, increase in shrimping to the extent allowed and a boom in lobstering.
Effects of recent management
"You get a couple of steps ahead and then get cut back!"
Characteristics of local fishermen
Common sense and a drive to work when others cant or wont are characteristics of a good fisherman. Some fishermen simply have a "nose for fish." It is also considered essential that fishermen take care of their equipment. If they dont, no matter how hard they fish, they wont do well.
Fishing is more dangerous right now than in the past because of the economic necessity of limiting or eliminating crews.
"Wed all like to be Donald Trump!" But, most of the fishermen are "good guys earning their living." Like any business, there are always a few bad apples. Most people fishing, however, are "doing what they want to do," its hard work, but satisfying.
Costs have skyrocketed; so more spouses are working than in the past. This is due partially to the change in the economics of fishing, but also partially due to "the times."
Many of the fishermen out of Hampton/Seabrook have or had brothers, uncles, fathers or other relatives in some aspect of the business. No one today, however, encourages his or her children to go into the business because of the economic uncertainty.
New Hampshire sub-region
22.214.171.124. Portsmouth Return to Top
Portsmouth, NH, a city of 23,000, sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, a short, wide river that divides New Hampshire and Maine. The city also is at the hub of a metropolitan region that includes several small cities and many towns.
The Portsmouth Harbor, about three nautical miles from the deep water of the Atlantic Ocean, is accessible year round via the Piscataqua River channel. The river channel is a minimum of 35 feet deep at mean low water and 400 feet wide. A Coast Guard station is located at New Castle near the harbor entrance.17
"Captain Walter Neal and a small following of Englishmen, sailing up the Piscataqua River in 1630, were impressed by the thick growth of wild berries along the west bank, some two miles from the river's mouth. They chose this site for settlement and named it Strawberry Banke. Here, just above a small cove, they erected a large communal structure, called a Great House, to serve as a combination storehouse, trading post and living quarters. The site was destined to become, in another century, an important colonial commercial center. In the twentieth century the part of the site nearest to the cove would become an outdoor history museum, also called Strawberry Banke. But for Captain Neal and the others this riverbank was simply a suitable place for planting and trade.
Two later settlers were John and Richard Cutt, brothers who emigrated from Bristol, England, to New England in the 1640s. They went first to the Isles of Shoals, just off Portsmouth Harbor, where they invested in the fishing trade. Later they moved to Portsmouth, received large land grants, and set up a sawmill. They began exporting lumber, which was to become the single most important commodity of Piscataqua trade for the next century and a half.
New Hampshire was taken away from Massachusetts in 1679 and made a royal colony. John Cutt, appropriately, was named the first president, and for the first time, New Hampshire was to have its own legislature. Because of Portsmouth's growth and economic prosperity, it became the capitol of the new colonial government. Thus, by the end of the seventeenth century this northern colonial seaport on the Piscataqua River had established itself as the economic and political center of an independent royal province.
By the close of the century Portsmouth's economy was tied to several distinct patterns of trade: a coastal trade in basic commodities that reached from Newfoundland to Virginia, but was particularly tied to Boston; a timber trade with the West Indian Islands and more distant Atlantic destinations such as Spain and Portugal, and the mast trade with England. These were the developments that most benefited Portsmouth's second generation such as Captain John Sherburne.
Portsmouth's trade matured in the early 1700s. Local merchants developed a wide range of lumber products from masts, boards, house frames, and furniture, to oars, wagon spokes, barrel parts, and small boats and found new markets for them. Trade reached to all points of the Atlantic world.
Society ranged from common to polite, but there was no social segregation, no suburbs to lure the wealthy and prominent to another part of town. Every Portsmouth neighborhood, including the one that grew up around the cove near the Great House, included the homes of laborers and artisans, fishermen and sea captains, traders and merchants. Men of all classes lived and worked alongside one another. This social integration is reflected in the juxtaposition of the eighteenth century houses that have survived from the simple home of blacksmith Joshua Jones to the elegant home of merchant Stephen Chase."18
In the 1820s, there were approximately 500 men on 150 to 200 fishing vessels out of Portsmouth."19 Commercial shipbuilding also created jobs for Portsmouth artisans. In the late 1840s and 1850s, when the China trade and discovery of gold in California created a demand for faster sea transportation, Piscataqua shipyards became famous for their long and slender clippers.20
"In the second half of the 19th century Portsmouth turned increasingly to industry to help replace the prosperity that was lost with the shipping trade. Of products made here during that time, beer became one of the most important. By the late 1800s Portsmouth boasted three breweries, including one of the largest on the East Coast. Frank Jones began making malt beverages in the 1860s. Within twenty years his huge plant encompassed the largest ale and porter cellars in the world. By 1896, Jones, "king of the eastern brewers" was producing 250,000 barrels of ale a year.21
The character of Portsmouth changed dramatically over the 19th century. In 1800 it was a thriving seaport, barely removed from its days of colonial grandeur. By 1900, except for a few fishermen and sporadic work at the Navy Yard, there was little maritime activity left. Nevertheless, fishing retained a place in the economy for the next century and beyond. In addition, aquaculture has a tenuous hold (Great Bay Aquafarms, Portsmouth) and processing of imported fish product (National Sea Products) provides some diversity in the fish-related economy.
As the major port in New Hampshire, Portsmouth is the nodal exchange between the commerce of the state coming in by road, rail, and the Piscataqua River and the commercial fish produce and world commerce coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Fishing Dependency in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the site of the primary fishing fleet of New Hampshire, which is supported by a state pier and adjoining fish co-op. The pier lies adjacent to historic buildings, restaurants, and museums touting the past and celebrating the present total capital flows of this industrious port city. The support of the fishing industry by the city reflects the view that the commercial fishing industry is an important component in both the diversification of the local economy and provision of cultural color that makes the waterfront attractive. While visiting Portsmouth, we witnessed tourists and schoolchildren strolling down the commercial dock and enjoying the sites of the various fishing vessels and their working accoutrements. A state plaque commemorated the construction of the pier, and the co-op bustled with activity of boats arriving, unloading, and departing for the fishing grounds.
Portsmouth is equally one of the most gentrified and the most fishing infrastructure complete of the New England ports. Ranking 6 on fishing infrastructure (factor score of 1.000), it possesses virtually all the necessary items for the maintenance of a modest fleet and for the marketing of its catch, though not on the scale of the larger ports such as Portland and New Bedford. Because of the concentrated nature of the infrastructure, with most everything tied into the state pier and co-op, it is structurally most similar to Stonington, Connecticut, which follows it at rank 7 (factor score of.789) in fishing infrastructure differentiation.
Infrastructure components that give Portsmouth its rank include four lobster bait houses, two boat builders, two boat yards, five fish retailers, two fish processors, a harbormaster station, fishing monument, and seafood wholesaling, and fuel, oil, and ice supplied out of the co-op. Other features include two marine contractors; two haul-out facilities, a netmaker, and three marine supply outlets, and two marine surveyors.
Portsmouth ties with Kennebunkport, ME and Plymouth, MA according to the gentrification infrastructure. Dockside components contributing to gentrification include three marinas, five bars/clubs dockside, eight charter boat operations, three whale watch tours, and two dockside hotels/inns. Other monuments, living museums, and stately old buildings give the waterfront complex a sophisticated charm of authenticity and history. Informants noted that the areas fishing industry has survived gentrification because the fishermen are so tenacious and because the area has the benefit of having one of the richest fishing grounds in the Gulf of Maine "in sight of their homes."
The co-op, built in 1978, is the nerve center of most fishing activity, with the exception of the local lobster fleet. No lobsters are landed at the state pier, but are landed at a smaller pier to the south, and in several other areas, by more than 50 full time lobster fishermen. The co-op has members as far away as York, Maine. In fact, one respondent suggested that York County is more closely related to Portsmouth than it is to Portland (Maine).
Most of the product landed at the co-op is finfish, as well as some scallops, sea urchins and conch. Shrimp from boats in Rye is trucked to the Portsmouth Co-op. Lots of fish brought into the co-op ends up on the auction in New Bedford, Portland or Gloucester. Some also is sold directly to brokers such as North Shore Seafood in Boston. There are also three trucking brokers working out of Fultons market in New York, and the co-op sells to them "practically every night".
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is located about 50 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts, at the southernmost tip of Maine. The shipyard is on an island in Kittery, Maine, across from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, near the mouth of the Piscataqua River. The construction of naval vessels along the banks of New England's Piscataqua River dates from the year 1690 when the HMS Falkland was built for the British Royal Navy. Naval shipbuilding and repair activities increased in following years, and warships built or fitted out by private shipyards located on the Piscataqua, such as John Paul Jones' USS Ranger, figured prominently in American naval history. However, it was not until 1800 that a permanent shipyard devoted exclusively to the construction and repair of vessels for the United States Navy was established at the mouth of the Piscataqua.22
Portsmouth has functioned as a City Council/City Manager form of government since l947. The City Council is the governing body of the City of Portsmouth and as such is the policy-making entity of the City, except where otherwise expressed in the City Charter. The City Council consists of nine (9) councilors elected at large for terms of two (2) years.
The candidate for City Council who receives the largest number of votes at any election becomes Mayor. The City Councilor who receives the next largest number of votes becomes Assistant Mayor. A candidate for City Council must be a duly qualified voter and resident of Portsmouth for at least two years immediately prior to election.
The City Manager is appointed by a two-thirds majority of the City Council to function as the Chief Executive and Administrative Officer of the City, responsible for the proper administration of all the departments of City government. The City Manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council.23
Portsmouth had a population of 25,925 in 1989, 12,757 male and 13,168 female.
The population of children under eleven years was 4366 in 1989. Teenagers (12 to 20) were 2390 in number; adults (21-64) were 16,016 and seniors (65 and over) were 3153.
Persons 25 and over with no high school degree numbered 1905 in 1989. There were 5278 high school graduates and 5308 with some college or an Associates degree. Thirty-one hundred, sixty-two had a Bachelors degree and 1354 had graduate or professional degrees.
Of the 11,369 housing units in 1989, 10,329 were occupied, (4,326 by owners) and 1040 were vacant. The median value of owner-occupied housing was $137,800 and the median year (of all housing units) the structure was built was 1950.
Racial and Ethnic Composition
The majority of Portsmouth is white of English, French or French Canadian, German, Hispanic or Italian ancestry.
Median household income in 1989 was 30,591 and per capita income was 15,557.
Of the workers 16 and over, 12, 005 worked in New Hampshire and 2205 worked outside the state. The local economy is currently very strong. Unemployment is very low, housing costs are high, and the vacancy rate is very low. Many computer-related businesses have sprung up locally, and the redevelopment of Pease Air Force Base is generating new job opportunities. 24
The civilian work force population at Portsmouth Naval Ship Yard is approximately 4,100 (permanent employees). Retail trade boasted the highest numbers of employees, manufacturing of durable goods and the category of finance, insurance and real estate followed. In the industry category of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the Census counted 78 individuals and in the occupation category of farming, forestry and fishing there were 114.
Transportation and Access
Portsmouth is accessible via Interstate 95. It lies midway between Portland, ME and Boston, MA (50 miles from each).
Hospitals, schools, libraries
Fish are legally sold ex-vessel to a dealer, processor or the public; fishing support services are provided; there are public facilities providing dockage; fishing people satisfy their daily and weekly social and/or economic needs here, and some fishermen and their representatives participate in fisheries resource management.
Commercial fishing and fisheries-related employment
About 26 finfish vessels and 50 lobster boats fish out of Portsmouth. The fishing fleet varies in size from 22 to 60 feet, with most vessels being in the 45 range. Of these, 32 are made of fiberglass, 6 of wood and only 2 of steel.
National Sea Products, a Canadian company, has a plant in Portsmouth. Frozen blocks of fish are imported and processed into breaded product for the wholesale and retail markets for portions.
There are 26 members of the coop, with their vessel names listed on a monitoring board in the office telling the status and general whereabouts of each vessel. When a vessel is coming in to land, they are on the phone to the broker, who will be given information on the catch size and composition, which is then passed on for bids to buyers in Boston, Portland, Gloucester, and New Bedford. When a vessel offloads, they already have a buyer and price for their product. As with all fisheries, certain vessels which are more successful than others, bring back a higher quality product, and do so for better prices.
Lots of fish brought into the coop end up on auction in New Bedford, Portland or Gloucester, or as direct sale to brokers such as North Coast Seafoods in Boston or Sea Trade. There are also three trucking brokers working out of Fultons market in New York, and the co-op sells to them "practically every night".
Three hundred households indirectly depend on commercial fisheries. These are the truckers, marine and fishing gear suppliers, seafood brokers, seafood restaurants, welders, and various other secondary stakeholders in the total capital flow system.
Employment (year-around and seasonal)
Two hundred households are thought to be directly dependent on commercial fishing.
GreatBay Aquafarms, Inc. and Public Service Company of New Hampshire/Northeast Utilities (PSNH) have collaborated on an aquaculture project that focuses on raising fluke (summer flounder). Since early fall of 1995, GreatBay Aquafarms, Inc. has hatched summer flounder and sold them to grow-out operations that raise them to maturity and then sell the high-end fish at market. Since its launching, the hatchery has expanded to a second building and is now piloting its own grow-out program. GreatBay employs about a half dozen full-time and half dozen part-time workers, one of whom is a commercial fisherman."25
Species brought into the co-op include the following:
Groundfish: cod, dabs, winter flounder, yellowtail flounder, haddock, weakfish, pollock, red hake, halibut, gray sole
Small Mesh: whiting, shrimp, squid
Pelagics: herring, mackerel
Crustaceans: crab, lobster
Highly Migratory Species: bluefin tuna
Others: striped bass; dogfish; skate; sea urchin; monkfish; tilefish; bluefish; conch, scallops, scup, slime eels
Form of ownership (e.g., owner/operator;
Cultural role of fishing
History and museums
Ethnicity in the fisheries
Kinship & family
Where fishermen go for coffee
Where fishermen go for beer
Fishing related organizations and their roles in the community and fishery
Commercial fishing associations
New Hampshire Commercial Fishermens Association
Portsmouth Fishermens Cooperative
Coastal Cooperative Association
Fishing-related programs and services
New Hampshire Sea Grant has a marine extension agent who was a commercial fisherman and who continues to work closely with the industry developing more selective gear and resolving conflicts. The Sea Grant program also helped the fishermen form their cooperative.
There is a Coast Guard station in Portsmouth. (When George Bush was president, it was a very active station.)
Perceptions of the Fishing Community26
Importance of fishing to the community
Given the complexity and diversity of the local economy, key respondents rate the commercial fishing industry on a one to five scale as "somewhat important." However, both the town and state strongly support the industry.
Outside of Portsmouth, the community people have the most contact with is Boston. As with Hampton, most needs and activities are carried out or met in Portsmouth. Fishing gear can be bought in Gloucester and Portland, and some go to Nova Scotia for the building and repair of boats.
"A lot of fishermen have good ideas, but they (fishery managers) dont listen to them. Some of their ideas are eventually taken up, but then they dont get credit for them Local fishermen here are the ones that came up with the idea to deter porpoises from getting caught in nets by using pingers."
For Portsmouth, key respondents indicated that fishermen and scientists "strongly disagreed" on the assessment of stock conditions. As with other sites, they contend that the groundfish fishery is in much better condition than is claimed by managers, and the drastic closures that put small family fishermen at risk or out of business are too harsh. Further, there is the perception that fishermen have a lot to say and a lot of knowledge to share, but are being ignored by management.
The economic condition of the fishery is perceived to have worsened over time, and this is attributed just as much to stock declines as to poor management through over regulation. Ten years ago the fishery rated an excellent." Stocks were abundant and regulations made a large harvest possible. Five years ago, it was considered "average" since there was a partial decline in the local stocks, and regulations came into place that were working to improve the stocks (Amendment 5). However, it is felt that these regulations were not given time to work before more severe ones were put into place, creating an economic crisis in the fishery. Today the economic condition of the fishery is rated as poor, with the perception that there are more fish to be caught, since they are having to waste many hundreds of pounds of cod by throwing them back in (since this survey, the daily catch limit has been raised from 100 lbs. to 400 lbs.).
For "five years from now", the prognosis is "excellent", with the condition that management will allow people to fish by opening up closed areas and increasing allowable Days at Sea. A mitigating factor is the increased price on landed fish, in part due to the increasing use of the fish auction system that emphasizes quality of product over quantity. Fish species caught are highly varied, and the fish broker makes it a policy to buy everything that comes in, even if he has no immediate market for it. That insures that the fishermen are able to at least break even, even though it may dampen the eventual profit collected by the co-op broker.
Changes in fishing effort
Besides the catch limits imposed on the cod fishery, a recent issue plaguing this fleet is the closure of inshore areas in the Gulf of Maine and other waters to inshore fishing. This has meant that smaller vessels of the 22 - 45 range, have been at times forced to take long trips to offshore areas in deeper and more dangerous waters. These vessels are usually what are termed day boats meaning their expected fishing range will take them in and out in a day. This puts them in more immediate proximity to assistance should something happen, and if bad weather does develop, allows them to get back quickly before being caught in a storm. A recent USA Today article chronicles the increase risk begin taken by these smaller vessels as their inshore areas are closed to them by regulations. In one case, a single-manned 25-foot trawler was caught in a deadly storm. He was forced to stuff a mattress into the wheelhouse to prevent himself from being battered to death because of the severity of the storm surge.
Effects of recent management
"Groundfish regulations and marine mammal protection has had a harsh effect on local fishermen."
Characteristics of local fishermen
Nobody likes the regulations.
Among the fishermen, there are a few female
crewmembers. Wives serve the "shore captain" role, but there
is not a strong sentiment that fishing should be continued as part of
a family tradition.
New Hampshire Seacoast
The nine islands and rocky ledges making up the Isles of Shoals were divided between the provinces, now states of New Hampshire (NH) and Maine (ME) during the mid 1600s by their British owners Frederick Gorges and John Mason. "The first documented English landing goes to Christopher Levett, whose crew of about 300 fishermen in six ships found the Shoals a barren camp site in 1623. Eventually a number of famous Seacoast families, including founder David Thompson, used the Shoals as a stepping stone to successful businesses on the mainland. The Cutts brothers (1645) and William Pepperrell (1676) founded successful New England shipping and fishing dynasties by starting nine miles at sea on the Isles. After building Fort Star as early protection against Native Americans, the Isles industry thrived, rivaling other early ports like Boston for sheer volume of exported goods.
Poet Celia Thaxter was just a child when her father Thomas Laighton left a busy life in Portsmouth and accepted the two-year government post of lighthouse keeper at White Island in 1839. Her memories in books like Among the Isles of Shoals (1873) made her one of a handful of female writers known throughout the country.
Celias father and his friend Levi Thaxter had the ingenious notion of building a grand hotel on Appledore. By the time her first poem was published, the two men had turned their unlikely $2,000 investment into a successful. Laighton was so taken by life away from the mainland, that he never returned there. Celias literary fame and Boston connections provided the ideal public relations tool, drawing the cream of big city society to the isolated hotel. Among the best known visitors were writers Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Henry Dana, Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Greenleaf Whittier, painter Childe Hassam and NH-born President Franklin Pierce.
Their success brought competition. In 1873 the Oceanic, a rival hotel, was built nearby on Star Island, burned and was rebuilt. With the two major islands adapted to tourism, the town of Gosport held its last town meeting and one of Americas longest surviving fishing communities faded from history. That same year, Smuttynose, the thin island between Star and Appledore attracted media attention when two young women were brutally murdered there with an ax. The pastoral blend of Celias island garden and poetry with tales of murder, ghosts, shipwrecks and Blackbeards lost pirate treasure have assured that the Isles of Shoals will remain a tourist haven.
The Isles Today
Except for a few summerhouses and homes of lobstering families, the Isles remains populated mostly by a host of sea birds and marine life. Overnight visitors must be enrolled in a conference or educational class and tourists who arrive daily on the "Thomas Laighton" must return the same day. Although the mainland is easily visible on clear days and nights, arriving visitors instantly feel a sense of separateness. Now divided between the towns of Kittery, Maine and Rye, New Hampshire, the Isles of Shoals still stands, as it always has, like a place separate and wholly its own.28
27Shoals refers to "schools of fish" not shallow areas in this case