MIT Sea Grant: New England's Fishing Communities Table of Contents

6.0 Summary

6.1. Defining Community
6.1.2. Sub-region summaries

6.1 Defining community Return to Top

The traditional definition of a "fishing community" as a parochial place is rarely reality now. Even the most isolated settlements in Downeast Maine have some capital networks that lead in and out of the community for regional, national and international exchange. Indeed, the stereotype of an independent, self-sufficient fishing community may never truly have been accurate. Some portion of the harvest has always moved outside the community in exchange for products and services otherwise unavailable. It is true that at one time fishing-dependent communities more uniformly recognized the importance of the industry to their community and valued each sector. Furthermore, when fishing was viewed as a prosperous industry, more children in fishing families naturally gravitated to some aspect of the industry. Today, parents are encouraging children to finish high school and attend college so that varied career options are open to them. In rural areas such as Downeast Maine the consequence has been that children out-migrate.

Economies of communities have purposely been diversified so that no single industry dominates. Facing the loss of young educated people, Maine is actively engaged in economic development of alternative industries. Nevertheless, the fishing industry continues to contribute to the viability of coastal communities. Contributions are not always easily traced to the fishing industry since they may be indirect. For example, it is obvious that gear suppliers, vessel services (e.g., repair), fuel suppliers, grocers and ice producers generate income from the harvesting and processing sectors. But what value does a community place on the existence of competing oil companies? In some places, a community has more reasonable-priced heating oil because the existence of the fishing vessels’ fuel needs is sufficient to support more than one oil supplier, so the competition keeps prices from sky-rocketing.

One of the ways that reductions in fishing days has affected communities is that there has been a net loss of jobs in the industry. The reductions also resulted in a lower demand for services and supplies. Consequently, the numbers of suppliers at the community level have been reduced and there is less competition acting as a price check. In some cases, the loss of locally available supplies has driven fishing industry participants to broaden their networks to seek supplies regionally, nationally and even internationally.

Some of the fishing industry services have concentrated in urban settings, enabling the suppliers improved access to labor supply and to a more diversified network of total capital flows. For example, except for minimal quantities for local restaurants, the bulk of fresh fish processing moved to Boston. These processors not only have access to a diverse labor pool, but they can obtain product from vessels all along the coast, and importantly, they can ship their product nationally and internationally out of Boston’s airport.

While the urban based fisheries services may not be sufficiently grand to make that urban area dependent on fishing, the fishing industry may be dependent upon the urban area and the fisheries services available there.

6.1.1. Themes Return to Top

Different levels of fisheries dependency for each of the eleven sub-regions we considered in this research were suggested by indices of occupational dependency, infrastructure differentiation, levels of gentrification, and descriptive profiles. What was particularly intriguing, however, was that not every sub-region with similar statistics evaluated their fisheries in the same way. In some cases, the historical association with fishing is appreciated and enlarged upon, incorporated even while change is embraced. In others, it is abandoned for newer, cleaner pursuits. There were common themes, however, that arose throughout the region.


Communication issues and assessments

Fishermen were virtually unanimous in their agreement that communication with federal managers was less than ideal. Stock assessments were also almost universally considered wrong (i.e., fishermen and scientists "strongly disagree" about stock assessments). Fishermen signaled very clearly that they do not understand the way scientists assess stocks. The lack of interaction among scientists, managers and fishermen has contributed to misunderstandings as well as suspicion about managers’ and scientists’ motives. The research team commends recent efforts to promote collaborative research and suggests that all avenues for increasing interaction and communication among scientists, managers and fishermen be explored.

Despite the disagreements with scientists about the assessments, fishermen almost universally agreed that some regulation is necessary and that some of the management measures have been effective in helping the stocks recover. Conservation is now considered rational and many of the fishermen’s complaints about management revolved around the inability of the existing system to react quickly (real time) to observed changes or situations. Many are hopeful that collaborative research will lead to improvements in management.


Fishermen frequently point out that traditionally fishing was pursued cyclically. Particularly among the inshore and smaller vessels, flexibility was key to making a year’s pay. The gear used or species targeted by a given vessel often changed seasonally or annually. Prices, availability of target species and skills of the individual fishermen would influence the choices made. Furthermore, some fishermen did not fish year round, but had other trades they pursued at different times of the year.

Today, the reliance on single species management with license limitations is criticized as severely hampering the resilience of the fleet and fishermen’s communities. Those communities with small but active fleets indicate that fishing contributes to the overall productivity and total capital flow of the community, even if it is not necessarily a dominant feature in the community. Most fishermen do agree that regulation is necessary and that there must be some controls on access.

Environmental factors

Some fishermen are concerned that there are anthropogenic sources of environmental impacts that are ignored because they are complicated or difficult to assess. Instead, fishermen and overfishing are blamed for every problem. Chlorine and the plethora of other cleaning products, nutrient run-off, sewage outfall pipes, antibiotics, etc. are all possible contributors to the downturns in stocks. Like overfishing, these are believed to be part of the problem and therefore, should be considered when solutions are sought.


Fairness is a constant theme in fishermen’s discussions of fisheries management. A perception of inequity in regulations has been cited as contributing to a breakdown in a sense of community among fishermen even within ports. Fishermen within a port may use different gear and target a variety of species, but with a few exceptions, most tolerate other’s choices and criticize management for unfairly benefiting one type of fishing over another, or one sub-region over another.


Working Waterfront

As our nation’s working capital growth increasingly is bound to the service sector and white-collar pursuits, a working waterfront devoted to fishing is appealing as an exotic, little understood enterprise. Like any primary producer of food, though, the fishing industry is also messy and smelly. A community with a small population that is highly dependent on small-scale fishing may successfully combine housing and working waterfronts, especially in those places where fishing is valued as a "way of life" that has been passed on family to family. In larger communities, especially where the associated vessels are also large, the working waterfront is fascinating, but like any industrial zone, is not meant to be residential.

When the harvesting sector was bringing in larger quantities of fish, the shoreside services expanded. Waterfront property owners generated income from the harvesters that used their services based on the quantity landed. They also made a profit from the supplies they offered. As fishing days were restricted, the income of the waterfront property owners fell. At the same time, the tourist industry expanded. Economic growth that generated an increase in disposable income has led to the inflation of coastal property values.

Except where the waterfront property is protected by zoning laws or special legislation (Massachusetts’ Chapter 91 and Designated Port Areas), the demand for housing, restaurants and other non-water-dependent use has increased. Because much of the demand is for seasonal property, where the community has allowed unfettered sales of waterfront property, they have sometimes effectively lost their off-season community "center." Seasonal property is often shuttered in winter and businesses once used as gathering places for year round residents are transformed to appeal to tourists. In addition, areas available to the harvesting and processing sectors have become less convenient, crowded and more expensive.

As demand increases from "wash ashores," people "from away," people with sufficient funds to buy second homes, or those who can afford seasonal business ownership competing for limited waterfront property, the prices escalate. Some of the waterfront property owners find their taxes have leaped or the costs of repairing old wharves has become prohibitive. Where the waterfront property is not confined by zoning or other restrictions to water-dependent use, the fishing industry tends to be squeezed into narrow confines with higher costs.

Nevertheless, there are some communities that have decided that support of their fishing industry is beneficial, both because it provides year round productivity and because it can be used to attract additional commerce in season.

Ethnicity and/or religion

Where ethnic or religious associations are identified with the fishing industry, there seems to be a greater inclination to replicate the social and human capital invested in the industry.


Most of the key respondents who were harvesters indicated a high level of satisfaction with their job. Nevertheless, most questioned the wisdom of selecting fishing as an occupation for the future. Few recommend the industry to their children, particularly as harvesters since the both the conditions of the stocks and the management regime are unpredictable. Thus the social capital is not being replicated. Children are not going into fishing due to anxiety, attraction other pursuits, and because there are fewer opportunities (fewer crew sites).


Key respondents in at least two ports noted that fisheries educational programs had been an important source of reliable entrants into the industry. In one case, it was a high school vocational program and the other case it was a college program. When these ended, it immediately became more difficult to find and hire reliable and knowledgeable crewmembers.

Education is acknowledged as playing a more important role than was recognized in the past. Gloucester Fishing Family Assistance Center is helping fishermen to obtain their captain’s license. All the members of the first class succeeded in obtaining their 100-ton license from the Coast Guard after the course. The license is attractive both because the Coast Guard and other fisheries agents treat the holder with more respect and because it allows the holder to compete for collaborative research funds. (On the research projects, the boat is paid and thus is considered "for hire" which means the captain must be licensed.)

Ties that bind

Fishing has an attraction that sometimes lasts through college or retraining, causing individuals to return to fishing even after trying other occupations. A majority of the key respondents argued that fishing is "very important" to their community, though many added that those outside the industry might not necessarily agree.

Nevertheless, some of the camaraderie that used to exist among fishermen has disappeared. Fishermen comment that they now have little opportunity to meet and relax with fishermen from other communities or fishermen who use other gear, etc. in a social setting. Conflicts that may have been worked out in the past over a beer cannot be easily resolved. There are, in general, fewer opportunities for social interaction among the fishermen and their families both within communities and between communities.


Traditionally, spouses of fishermen acted as "shore captains," often providing such services as keeping the books, contacting marine supply houses for parts, delivering food, etc. In addition, several of the ports have well-organized groups of fishermen’s wives who attend, or send representatives, to fisheries management meetings to provide input to the managers and return with information for their community. Some women also worked as sternmen or crewmembers (especially on day boats). Spouses of Maine lobstermen developed a "value-added" industry of crab picking, but HAACP regulations have all but eliminated this cottage industry.

Changes in the economy of both fishing and the society at large, perhaps also changes in values, have affected this pattern. More women now work outside their homes in jobs unrelated to fishing. Key respondents noted, however, that the primary motivation for many is to work in order to obtain health care benefits.


Importance of the networks-subsidiary occupations

While the frozen fish sector of the fishing industry, with its imported blocks of fish (i.e., "borrowed" biophysical capital), does not directly support the harvesting sector of the New England NRR, some of the sector’s inputs do derive from local suppliers. Packaging, dry ice, equipment maintenance and labor are just some of the inputs often purchased locally. Trucking and some supplies associated with batter and breading may be purchased regionally or nationally. As with some of the communities that have been found by this research to be "essential providers," it may be that the frozen fish sector of the industry plays an unrecognized role in assuring the viability of secondary industries that in turn contribute to the success of the fresh fish sectors.

In addition, some of the larger frozen fish processing plants are unionized, thus offering higher wages and a more stable work force than similar plants. In contrast, some of the non-unionized firms rely on a handful of salaried employees and contract labor for working the line. The unionized companies thus have a greater impact on the local economies through workers’ expenditures and taxes than via raw product purchase.


Fail Safe Fisheries

Lobstering has been the fishery that groundfishermen have turned to when restrictions on days, on gear (gillnets), and catch quotas have made it difficult to continue "paying the bills."

6.1.2. Sub-region Summaries Return to Top


Connecticut’s fishing industry is smaller in number and boats are more widely dispersed among communities characterized by a devotion to the tourist industry than is true for most of the New England NRR. Neither the sub-region, nor the ports profiled appear to be fisheries dependent since other industries predominate. Nevertheless, the industry makes an important contribution to several coastal communities.

Lobsters, some groundfish and whiting are currently the primary target species for Connecticut’s fleet. One of the most intractable problems for the fishing industry in Connecticut seems to be waterfront access. Gentrification of the coast has driven up prices and made fishing industry-related businesses unwelcome in some areas. For even the current level of modest fishing effort to continue, protection of existing infrastructure should be a priority for coastal communities.

Despite a crisis in the lobster fishery associated with catastrophic event in Long Island Sound (a lobster "die-off"), there are some indications that the numbers of fishermen are actually increasing. In 2000, there were 497 fishermen listed on the license database, an increase of 100 fishermen since 1999.

Rhode Island

Its location at the southern reach of many Gulf of Maine fish species and the northern reach of mid-Atlantic species has created a fishing industry that is flexible and wide-ranging. While Rhode Island has become gentrified, relegating the fishing industry to relatively few ports, the port of Point Judith remains strikingly successful. In 1999, Pt. Judith landed 72.5 million pounds worth $51.2 million dollars, second only to New Bedford among New England ports.1 It also ranked 8th in value of landings among major U.S. ports in 1999 (9th in 1998). Rhode Island itself was ranked third among the New England states in both landings and value in 1998 and 1999.

Of the eleven sub-regions this research has identified, Point Judith ranks fifth on the fishing infrastructure differentiation scale, in keeping with the landings and their value. What is somewhat misleading, however, in considering Rhode Island as a sub-region is the occupational dependency ratio. Rhode Island ranks 7th out of the eleven sub-regions on this index. The sheer size and value of the landings in Point Judith would seem to argue for a higher ranking, but since so little of Rhode Island outside of Point Judith has significant fishing employment, the ranking is low. This is one case where the sub-regional perspective, if considered without reference to the details pertaining to individual ports, could mislead investigators.

The tourism emphasis in Rhode Island affects fishermen most seriously through the competition for land use (water access). Competition with recreational fishermen was also noted. And competition for fishing grounds among fixed gear fishermen also exists (lobster pots kept out year round to hold bottom). The smaller ports of Rhode Island, limited in numbers of boats and infrastructure, rely on Point Judith for supplies and services, Newport relies on New Bedford for whatever is not available in town.

Several niche fisheries are found in Rhode Island, including live-fish fisheries for sea ravens and sea robins. Shellfishing is also an important part of their annual fishing cycle for some and is particularly noteworthy in Tiverton.

New Bedford/South Shore

Ranked second in the nation for the value of its commercial fishery landings in 1999, New Bedford/Fairhaven continues to play a critical role in the fisheries of the subregion. The city of New Bedford has experienced periods of boom and bust in a variety of industries including whaling, textiles and fishing. Though landings fell sharply in 1994 due to severe restrictions on scallop fishing, the fishing industry showed an unusual willingness to work together and contributed funds to a research effort that ultimately made it possible to revamp management regulations for the scallop sector. The success of management and fishing industry cooperation is reflected in the $129.9 million worth of fishery landings in New Bedford in 1999.

The New Bedford/Fairhaven fleet has strong ethnic affiliations with the Portuguese dominating the dragger sector and Norwegian and Yankees most common among scallop-boat owners. The Portuguese in New Bedford have developed extensive neighborhoods with shops and services that cater to Portuguese-speaking customers. Consequently, English language acquisition was not a high priority among immigrants. This hinders some efforts to move fishermen out of the industry.

Until recently, New Bedford had a relatively depressed economy. The city’s median household income and per capita income were both well below the state average. Fishing however provides a relatively good income, especially when compared to alternative jobs requiring similar skills and levels of education. So, while the employment indices we used ranked New Bedford/South Shore fifth out of the eleven sub-regions for fishing dependency, the alternative jobs available that theoretically make the city less dependent on fishing than three Maine sub-regions and Massachusetts’ Cape and Islands may not be strictly equivalent in income and prestige.

New Bedford does tie Portland (Maine) for highest on the fishing infrastructure differentiation scale. Given the quantities of landings, vessels, etc. this is certainly to be expected. It also ranks 10th on the gentrification scale. This is consistent with it being a city with diverse tourist industry-related attractions and services.

In addition to the high level of landings and their value, New Bedford’s fishing industry has a highly developed processing sector. There is diversity in this sector of large international firms, medium and small firms, including both companies that handle only frozen imported product and firms that buy local fresh product.

Cape Cod and the Islands

The Cape and Islands is third, following Downeast Maine (1) and Upper Mid-coast Maine (2), on the fishing dependency index that is based on the employment indices used in this project. As in Maine, fishing is a natural occupation for those who live in such proximity to fertile fishing grounds. Furthermore, also similar to Maine, distances to major population centers with diverse alternative employment are significant. Consequently, only the tourist industry rivals fishing in importance. Because tourism is limited to the mild or warm seasons, fishing is often regarded as an appropriate year-round enterprise.

The fishing infrastructure differentiation scale developed for this project looks at individual ports, but several of the Cape Cod & Islands ports are listed among the top ports. For example, Chatham has a ranking of four, Vineyard Haven is ranked as nine, and Sandwich is 14 out of the 36 ranked. On the gentrification scale, Vineyard Haven is ranked 5th and Provincetown and Chatham are ranked 13th and 14th respectively. Despite gentrification, these ports are actively engaged in the fishing industry.

Provincetown-Chatham are lumped together by Fisheries of the United States, 1999. 2 In comparison to other major U.S. ports 1998-99, Provincetown-Chatham numbered among the top 50 ports with landings of 17.8 million pounds in 1998 and 20 million pounds in 1999. The value of these landings was $10.2 million in 1998 and $12.9 million in 1999. While the price per pound was approximately the same as found in Pt. Judith, a port to which Chatham is often compared, the quantities landed were much smaller.

Chatham is the most active port of the Cape Cod & Islands sub-region. Though small, the town has an important longline/hook fleet in addition to gillnetters and lobster fishermen, a thriving shellfish industry and a well-developed support industry. Innovation and flexibility are hallmarks of Chatham fishermen. The development of niche fisheries (e.g., dogfish and now, selling to the live fish market) is something that respondents reported with pride.

Chatham also has a large retired population (almost a third of the whole). As noted elsewhere, increased cost of property and lack of year round rental property is a major concern.

Provincetown with its predominantly Portuguese and Portuguese-American, day-boat dragger fleet has been severely constricted in the past decade or two. A proud history of family boats has not been sufficient to retain more than a modest presence in the town. Nevertheless, the attraction of a working waterfront to the artists and tourists who flock to Provincetown, as well as a few innovators in the industry keep the small numbers of fishermen going.

Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard also boasts historical attachment to the fishing industry, but like Provincetown has diminished in size and importance. Nevertheless, Vineyard Haven does retain adequate fishing infrastructure and has a demanding market in the tourist season.

Boston Area

The city of Boston presents an interesting dilemma for assessing fishing dependency. While once there were thriving harvesting and processing sectors, very few boats tie-up in Boston now. A handful of draggers and a small lobster boat fishery are all that is left of the harvesting sector. Furthermore, Boston is not numbered among the top fifty ports of the U.S. for landings; it is ranked low (10 out of 11) in terms of employment dependency and low for fishing infrastructure differentiation (29 out of 36). It does not, however, rank high in terms of gentrification (26 out of 36).

Boston is a complex urban environment, the metropolitan center of a cluster of neighboring cities and towns, the state capitol with a robust economy featuring a multiplicity of industries ranging from biotech to farmers’ markets. The medical industry, higher education facilities, and tourism are just a few of the businesses that engender the flow of all forms of capital in and out of the area. Therefore, fishing-related business is dwarfed by some of the others. Even so, we maintain that it is significant not only for its role as a component of Boston’s economy, but also for its importance in serving dispersed, smaller communities that are more obviously dependent upon fishing and fishing-related businesses. Boston remains an essential provider of fishing-related support services.

The importance of Boston to the New England region is very significant, since it is a nexus for the international transshipment of fishery products throughout New England. The only other major point of transshipment is from New York through Fulton’s Market. However, Boston is more central to the overall flow of produce, and boasts a large number of seafood brokers as well as larger seafood companies with fleets of trucks and major facilities.

In addition to its role in transport, Boston also has an active processing sector, brokers and wholesale marketers.

As far as the other ports in the sub-region are concerned, small but significant activity centers in Plymouth and Scituate. Plymouth has primarily lobstermen.


Gloucester and the North Shore Sub-region is ranked, according to the employment indices used herein, eighth (out of eleven) for fisheries dependency. The reason for its low ranking compared to the other sub-regions is the availability of alternative employment in the area. This ranking is countered by the other indices we have been using in the study and confirms our intuition that employment indices tell only a portion of the story. Significantly, Gloucester itself ranks third (following New Bedford and Portland) in the index of fishing infrastructure differentiation. Furthermore, it is 21st (out of 36) on the gentrification scale. The profile of Gloucester describes a community that is committed to its fishing industry, whose cultural, human and economic capital are all linked to the industry.

Pure numbers of fish landed and the value of those landings also indicate the significance of the fishing industry to Gloucester. Fisheries of the U.S., 1999 3 reports that Gloucester landed 107.1 million pounds of fish in 1998 (11th of the 50 major U.S. ports) and 49.7 million pounds in 1999. Though the lower weight slid the port down to a ranking of 22, the value of the landings per pound doubled in 1999. In 1998, the landings were worth $28.4 million whereas in 1999, the landings were worth $25.9 million.

The city of Gloucester is committed to the fishing industry, regarding it almost as a sacred heritage since its founding in 1623. Politicians and other community members also regard the fishing industry as important to their community. A Sicilian and Sicilian-American population is particularly prominent in the dragger finfish fleet.

Other ports in the Gloucester sub-region are important components of the fishing network. Rockport’s fleet moored in Pigeon Cove has an unusually good relationship with both the townspeople and recreational boaters with whom they formed a non-profit corporation to retain control and access to the waterfront. Marblehead’s very small fleet has a ready market for its product in the local restaurants and markets. The small ports surrounding Gloucester rely on the city’s fishing infrastructure to enable their fishing effort to continue. Like Boston and New Bedford, Gloucester should be classified as an essential provider to New England’s fishing industry.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire ranks low on the scale of fishing-dependency (9th out of the 11 sub-regions). Nevertheless, the sub-region has a small, but active fleet. The short length of New Hampshire’s coastline condenses the marine-dependent uses into a small area, relieved by access to river waterfront areas. Historically, New Hampshire’s harvesting sector benefited from proximity to rich fishing grounds, adapting their fishing techniques and patterns accordingly. A recent closure of nearby grounds for management therefore has made fishing less accessible to the moderate-sized boats typical of the area. Fishing more distant grounds demands larger (i.e., safer) vessels and more intense periods of fishing (longer trips) than what the New Hampshire fishermen were accustomed to undertake. Furthermore, closure of familiar grounds makes success in fishing more difficult.

Although none of New Hampshire’s ports rank in the top 50 of the major ports of the U.S., Portsmouth’s fishing infrastructure is sufficiently developed to rank it 6th out of 36 New England ports whose infrastructure was analyzed for this project. The key element of the infrastructure is a state-owned pier that protects waterfront access and provides the focal point for fishing support services. Such protection of the land-based services is critical since Portsmouth ties Kennebunkport, ME and Plymouth, MA for the most gentrified port in the New England NRR. As long as their necessary service industries are protected, it may be said that the fishing fleet of Portsmouth benefits from the town’s gentrification. The product the fleet lands is very fresh and often finds a market in the local restaurants or stores.

Gillnets and lobster pots are the gear types most often employed by New Hampshire’s fleet. In addition to groundfish and lobsters, the fleet also targets shrimp and/or tuna in the appropriate seasons. Before being hemmed in by regulations, more of the fleet counted on being flexible, switching target species and gear as opportunities presented themselves. Now, one company is starting to get more involved in the herring industry.

Southern Maine

Southern Maine ranks 6th on the occupational fisheries dependency scale developed by this project. York ranks 21st on the infrastructure differentiation and Kennebunkport ranks 15th. On the other hand, Kennebunkport is first on the gentrification scale, tying with Plymouth, MA and Portsmouth, NH. York is ranked 17th.

Some respondents noted that some of the ports of Southern Maine could more appropriately be considered as part of the New Hampshire sub-region since their fishermen belong to the Portsmouth Cooperative where they land their fish. They also fish on the same grounds, using similar gear or techniques as the New Hampshire fishermen. While acknowledging the link of the fishermen who are in the Piscataqua River watershed, we retain the separate sub-region to accommodate the structure imposed by our colleagues’ MARFIN-funded project in economics (IMPLAN).

Southern Maine is dominated by the lobster industry, but as in Portsmouth and Hampton, fishermen often switch to blue fin tuna in season.

Lower Midcoast

Its geographic location demands that Portland be analyzed as part of Lower Midcoast Maine. Portland’s characteristics however set it sharply apart from smaller fishing ports in the sub-region. Midcoast Maine is described by their Chamber of Commerce as primarily "small with annual town meetings, a sense of community, ‘Yankee independence,’ and rural lifestyles." In contrast, the inhabitants of Portland live in an urban setting, a city (and City Council) with an increasingly diverse population employed in a variety of enterprises. Portland is not the only anomaly in the sub-region. Some of the largest employers (e.g., Bath Iron Works) in the state are located in Lower Midcoast Maine, with jobs in industrial, military and service employment. The availability of alternatives to employment in fishing in the sub-region is sufficient to rank Lower Midcoast as 4th out of the eleven sub-regions for fishing employment dependency.

Portland is a primary fishing port and essential provider to the regional industry. Portland is tied for first place with New Bedford for fishing infrastructure differentiation and 8th out of 36 for gentrification. Portland ranked 21st among major U.S. ports in quantities of fishery products landed in 1999 with 55.6 million pounds but was 11th in value at $42.4 million.4 The value per pound of landings (about 76 cents) was second only to New Bedford ($1.51) among New England ports (though followed closely by Point Judith at 71 cents).

Portland is perhaps most noteworthy for its role in bringing the first display auction of fish to New England. This caused a paradigm shift in the marketing of sea products with its emphasis on honest weights, purchases of specific lots of fish, quality handling associated with premium prices and fast payment. The Portland area also has several important fish processing plants.

Portland has also signaled its support of the fishing industry by building and maintaining a city-owned pier, creating zoning protections of the working waterfront and by hiring a fisheries program manager.

Gentrification is an issue of importance in the Lower Midcoast for many of the same reasons noted elsewhere, that is, the demand that waterfront property be used for tourist attractions, attractive housing, or other non-water-dependent use drives up prices and concomitantly, taxes, diminishing available infrastructure for fishing- related activities.

The smaller ports in Lower Midcoast rely on fishing to sustain their communities year round. Though many have large summer populations, year round employment opportunities outside of fishing are often limited. While groundfishing was once an important part of an annual round of fishing activities marked by flexibility and diversification, restrictions have caused more fishermen to specialize in lobstering and shrimping (in season). Clamming, urchining and hagfish are of varying degrees of importance in the sub-region. Herring and herring processing are also significant.

Upper Midcoast

While there has been some effort to diversify the economy here, Upper Midcoast Maine is still highly reliant on marine-related enterprise. In fact, Upper Midcoast was ranked second out of the eleven sub-regions for fishery dependency based on occupational indices. The majority of coastal communities in this sub-region have significant fishing activity or a significant number of people who fish.

Stonington/Deer Isle (Hancock County) and Rockland (Knox County) were ranked 7th and 8th respectively on the fishing infrastructure differentiation scale. Furthermore, Rockland ranked 28th among major U.S. fishing ports in 1999 for quantities landed at 35.8 million pounds and 21st for quantities in 1998 with 39 million pounds. These landings did not, however, have sufficient value to permit Rockland to appear among the top 50 U.S. ports in landings’ value in either 1998 or 1999.

Gentrification in this sub-region is both high and low. Rockland, for example, was 5th (along with Newport, RI and Vineyard Haven, MA) on the gentrification scale while Stonington/Deer Isle was 28th out of 36 ports.

With the downturn in groundfish coupled with severe restrictions on gillnetting, more Stonington/Deer Isle fishermen have turned to fishing almost exclusively for lobsters and crabs. In addition there is limited scalloping, urchining, shrimping, clamming and one herring purse seiner. Fishing as a "way of life" is highly valued here and fishermen take pride in their maintenance of a conservation ethic.

Both tourism and service-based industries have increased in Rockland. Once a significant groundfish port, Rockland’s fishing industry has turned to other species. Lobsters and herring now predominate with landing, marketing and shipping taking precedence over harvesting and processing. Rockland plays a key role in the distribution chain of both herring for bait and the movement of product to larger markets (Boston and beyond). Rockland is another example of a community that is probably too diversified to be able to classify it as fisheries-dependent, yet it provides sufficient services to nearby fisheries-dependent communities to be classified as an "essential provider."


Downeast Maine has a long history of devotion to the fishing industry and with it, periods of prosperity. Not all this sub-region’s coastal communities are dependent on fishing, but a significant number rely on fishing as one contribution to a sustainable livelihood.

When sardines were popular, weirs and stop seines were used by fishermen to catch the herring and over 40 canning factories employed residents of Cobscook Bay. As the sardine industry declined, fishermen turned to urchin harvesting, clam digging, lobstering, finfish fishing and salmon aquaculture. Niche fisheries for sea cucumbers, elvers and periwinkles provide others with flexibility in their annual cycle. Blueberry harvesting and forestry products supplement incomes from marine enterprise. Boat building has also long been a tradition in this region with specific boat designs named for their original builder, e.g., an "Alvin Beal."

Downeast also faces serious constraints on economic prosperity, however. The extreme tides and currents create turbulent water in Passamoquoddy and Cobscook Bays limiting the types of fishing available in nearshore waters. The Hague Line limits access to rich fishing grounds offshore. The proximity to Canada increases competition for markets, supplies for processors, etc. At the same time, Washington County is sufficiently distant from U.S. commercial and urban centers to be at a disadvantage for economic development. In fact, Washington County is the poorest county in New England.

Nevertheless, there are economically successful fishermen, some with several boats that also package, freeze, market and truck their catch and employ a network of family members. Where lobstering is productive, young people are still going in to the fishery. Downeast is also the only subregion in New England to have a substantial aquaculture presence.

Though parents are encouraging their children to pursue education, they fear that this will lead to the children’s’ out-migration since there are few attractive jobs available in the subregion.

Downeast fishermen also have some concerns related to management that derive from their wanting to protect their more traditional "way of life" that is based on what they view as smaller-scale fishing, flexibility, lower environmental impact. For instance, while local fishermen may pick at a scallop bed all season, landing enough for their family’s needs, large vessels may sweep in and devour the bed in a matter of days. Because of the days-at-sea regulations, large vessels that in the past consistently worked offshore grounds attempt to fish closer to shore to minimize steaming time. In some cases, the regulations seem to effectively encourage this. The date that scallop fishing opens off Downeast Maine is earlier than the rest of Maine, so for two weeks or so, all the scallopers in the state can head Downeast.

1Fisheries of the United States, 1999. U.S. Dept of Commerce, NOAA, NMFS. Prepared by Fisheries Statistics Division. Available at
2Fisheries of the United States, 1999. U.S. Dept of Commerce, NOAA, NMFS. Prepared by Fisheries Statistics Division. Available at
3Fisheries of the United States, 1999. U.S. Dept of Commerce, NOAA, NMFS. Prepared by Fisheries Statistics Division. Available at


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