Maine’s own National Fisherman magazine has always been a hardcore trade publication, which means that its readership falls inside a particular sphere of interest and activity. At the same time, its cultural importance shouldn’t be underestimated. Its photographic archive, entrusted to PMM in 2012 for long-term preservation, tells a critical story—the rise of industrial fishing and its consequences for fish and fishermen. This was never the intent of the publishers; after all, NF is a periodical, always intended to keep fish harvesters, and the interested public, up to date about emerging practices and technologies, changes in regulation, and to relate the experiences of men and women who make their living at sea and in the fisheries. That being the case, the magazine was on the ground—more accurately, at sea—during these crucial decades when technology changed fishing, as it did so many other arenas of human activity, beyond recognition.
National Fisherman is also a story of entrepreneurial vision—it’s a consolidation a handful of earlier, regional fishing papers, notably Atlantic Fisherman, whose photographs also reside here at Penobscot Marine Museum.
Most viewers wouldn’t fail to be intrigued by witnessing the many scenes of rugged characters maneuvering heavy trawl nets to haul in a catch or men balancing on scows heaped with oysters, to see snapshots of crews being rescued from foundering vessels, or to stumble across those instances of split-second chance and artistic confidence that make a good portrait. There are countless vignettes of people at work—repairing hulls, building traps of wire or wood (depending on the era), cleaning congealed oil off of beaches after tanker wrecks, pilots navigating narrow channels. So while there’s much within this body of work that is, admittedly, of very specific interest, there’s much else that captures the imagination and opens windows onto worlds seldom glimpsed by most.
On December 21st, after many more months of carefully digitizing and cataloging these legacy photographs, we’ll be rolling out the second group of 5000 on our online database. Our website features a browsing tool designed to help visitors explore the collection. To peruse these new images, check us out at https://penobscotmarinemuseum.org/national-fisherman/.
This project has been financed (in part) with Federal funds from the National Maritime Heritage program (administered by the National Park Service) and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.