Twentieth Century Changes in Fisheries

Mianus Improved Diesel Oil Engines

The U.S. Fish CommissionU.S. Fish Commission

Created in 1871 as the United States Commission on Fish and Fisheries, to investigate causes for decreases in commercial fish landings, to recommend remedies, and to oversee restoration.
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was founded in 1871 to study the problem of overfishing. G. Brown GoodeGoode, G. Brown G. Brown Goode

1851-1896. Zoologist whose specialty was the natural history of fish (an ichthyologist).
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reviewed each of the fisheries, and his and other studies resulted in guidelines for protecting the fish stocks.

Fisheries and markets have changed with new technologies. The first steam trawlerTrawler steam trawler

Formerly a term used for vessels that set line trawls, it has come to be the universal term for any fishing boat or vessel that tows nets. Dragger is the common New England term. The first trawlers were steam powered, but as soon as large enough internal combustion engines became available in the years after World War I, they converted and all new trawlers had gasoline or diesel engines.
was launched in Massachusetts in 1903. Steam trawlers brought their catch to market faster, and mechanical ice-making also encouraged the market for fresh fish.

Diesel engines Diesel engine

An internal combustion engine developed by German Rudolph Diesel and patented in 1892, aimed at high efficiency.
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began to be used in fishing vessels by 1920, first as auxiliaries. Vessels powered solely by diesel were in use by the 1930s. These cheaper and smaller engines allowed fresh fish trips offshoreOffshore

In fisheries, fishing conducted further than 3 miles from land. These generally require larger vessels for overnight passages and work.
of a week or less.

Engined vessels were ideal for dragging or towing trawls. In New England these are called draggers. After World War II, inexpensive surplus diesel engines became popular and put the specialized marine engine companies out of business.

In the 1920s Clarence BirdseyeBirdseye, Clarence Clarence Birdseye

1886-1956. Developed the quick food freezing process after watching Inuit use freezing to preserve food in Labrador. He started a company in 1924 to develop quick-freezing machines for his newly-established General Seafoods Company in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
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invented flash freezingFlash freeze

Quickly freezing fish or meat to preserve the natural juices and flavors of the flesh.
, which became possible aboard larger fishing vessels called factory shipsFactory ship

In fishing, a large ship that takes in the catch from smaller ships for processing or preservation at sea.
. Fish could be processed immediately, and the ready availability of frozen fish helped increase public demand. The result was increased depletion of both well-known kinds of fish and of species that had previously been unmarketable.


Derived from Sound Navigation and Ranging Device. An apparatus used in locating submerged submarines, consisting of a transducer and receiver attached to the hull of a ship.
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was used to find fish after World War II. In 1960, huge foreign factory trawlers began to fish as close as three miles from shore. They systematically targeted species after species, catching and processing fish at the same time. Small local fishermen were being driven out. The 1976 passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act effectively banned foreign fleets, setting a new 200 mile offshore limit. Within the Act, however, were the seeds of self destruction, for it encouraged modern vessel building and made it easy to borrow money for construction. Between 1976 and 1987, the New England fleet's killing power doubled. Regulations did not keep up, and groundfish stocks started the collapse that we now see. Today, the ecological consequences of towed nets are apparent in habitat destruction and juvenile mortality, both predicted as early as 1914. Closed areas are helping stocks recover, and work is being done on revisions of the management act, now in its 16th edition. The real question is whether the fishery can ever become even a fraction of what it once was. In addition to sonar, today even more sophisticated electronics allow fishermen to locate fish, and depletion of fish stocks has increased even more. A major issue for our times is how to satisfy the demand for fish while rebuilding depleted stocks.

One solution is aquacultureAquaculture

Growing fish or shellfish in a controlled environment at sea or in tanks or lagoons on land. Fish grown in such an environment are said to be farm-raised.
. While managed cultivation of fish and shellfish has worked for salmonSalmon

A marine and freshwater food fish, inhabiting North Atlantic waters near the mouths of large rivers. Salmon are anadromous fish, entering rivers to spawn (lay eggs.) In Maine, salmon fishing was once a commercial, then a sport fishery; now wild salmon are an endangered species. Many are farm-raised.
, oystersOyster

Oysters are a bivalve mollusk of great commercial value. Disease and overfishing have decimated once thriving beds in the Chesapeake Bay, New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. Maine's waters have never had a commercial oyster fishery due to slow growth compared to areas south of Cape Cod. There are some oyster farms that are now seeking to provide oyster brood stock.
, musselsMussel

A bivalve mollusk with numbers of species found in both fresh and salt water. Of commercial interest in Maine is the blue mussel, found in natural mussel beds and raised in aquaculture.
, and some other species, it has not been successful in replenishing some traditional fisheries such as groundfishGround fish Groundfish

Bottom-dwelling fish, especially commercially-valuable ones such as cod or flounder.
and lobstersLobster Homarus americanus

An edible crustacean, Homarus americanus refers to the species found in the North Atlantic.
. Aquaculture can cause pollution through high concentrations of fish and fish food, and may present hazards to navigation and unsightly views. There is also the risk of interbreeding between wild and domestic strains.

Another solution lies in fisheries regulation. The National Marine Fisheries ServiceNational Marine Fisheries Service NMFS

The Federal agency charged with fishery conservation and regulation. "NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is the federal agency, a division of the Department of Commerce, responsible for the stewardship of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat."
, working with Maine’s Department of Marine ResourcesDepartment of Marine Resources Maine Department of Marine Resources

Maine's department which is in charge of marine resources and is charged with enforcing coastal fishing regulations.
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scientists and with fishermen themselves, has set limits on allowable days at sea, how many pounds of fish may be caught, and kinds of gearGear

The ropes, blocks, and tackles of a particular sail or spar. In more general terms, gear refers to any arrangement of machinery. Gears are also wheels, disks, or shafts with teeth cut to mesh with teeth of another gear, to allow machinery to run in either direction and to transmit force and motion, such as inside of a capstan or part of a windlass.
that may be used. Some of these regulations have been put into effect as amendments to the 1976 Magnuson Fisheries ActMagnuson Fisheries Act

Passed in 1976, with modifications up to 1996, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act gave the United States exclusive fishery management power in waters out to 200 miles from its shore. It gives authority to the Federal government to set conservation policies which it does through the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In Maine, herringHerring

Perhaps the world's most important food fish; there are sixteen species, with the Atlantic herring the dominent North Atlantic species. Fished heavily for centuries, today herring is caught in Maine waters primarily for lobster bait with some going to sardines. With new fishing technology there are serious concerns about overfishing.
is the leading catch in weight per year. Most are used for bait; some are canned as sardines in Maine’s single remaining cannery. In response to emerging world-wide markets, Maine has developed new fisheries: sea urchinsSea urchin

Echinoderm with a spine covered shell; feeds on algae. Roe is prized as a delicacy in the Far East. In 1987, a market for Maine sea urchins was developed in Japan triggering a sea urchin rush that severely depleted the resource. It is now tightly controlled but it is difficult to reestablish.
, sea cucumbersBeche-de-mer sea cucumber, trepang

Beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) are sea-dwelling echinoderms similar to starfish and sea urchins. In Asia, where they are considered a delicacy, they are dried and pulverized and used in foods. Sea cucumbers contain chondroitin, thought to help joint pain and stiffness from arthritis. They are in demand for health supplements, although there is no documented proof of effectiveness. The sea cucumber grows slowly, raising concerns about management of their harvest. Commercially, it is also known as trepang.
, elversElvers

Young eels returning to fresh water where they will live as adults before going to sea again to spawn.
, and a range of farmed fish and shellfishShellfish shellfish

Common name for marine invertebrates: crustaceans such as lobsters, mollusks such as clams, echinoderms such as sea urchins.
. Lobster, however, is Maine’s most valuable fishery.


2011 Fish Landings by Pounds 2011 Fish Landings by Value