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Gloucester And The Fishing Industry

A glacier bay situated about 40 miles north of what would become the city of Boston was first documented by European explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1606. He called it "Beauport" — "The Good Harbor" — in part, perhaps, because its sheltered coves provided him sanctuary from an October storm.

In 1623, the Bay became home to 14 fishermen from Dorchester in western England who named it after a town near where their voyage had begun, Gloucester. Soon they were joined by a group of exiles from the Puritan-dominated Plymouth Colony. Gloucester would subsequently always be known as a haven for those who fell out of step with society's mainstream. This group of fishermen and outcasts turned their newly founded town into the first outpost of the Crown's Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The oldest fishing port in the United States, Gloucester has continually been supported by the fishing industry. Through the Revolution, the Civil War and both World Wars, while other fishing centers up and down the Atlantic coast have turned from harvesting the sea to enterprises ranging from shipping and manufacturing to tourism and real estate development, Gloucester has remained primarily a fishing town. It is home to Gorton's, one of the best known packagers of frozen seafood. It has the greatest infrastructure for seafood refrigeration and processing on the East Coast. And the Gloucester fish auction, every morning at 6:00, establishes the standard by which the daily market price of fish is set around the world.

Gloucester has also been home to artists, including painters Fitz Hugh Lane and Winslow Homer; it was the place where Rudyard Kipling got his inspiration for the novel Captains Courageous; it was the founding capitol of the American Universalist religion; it was the site where the nation's second most successful inventor (next to Thomas Edison), John Hays Hammond, built his own version of Hearst Castle, overlooking the reef that was the setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic poem, "The Wreck of the Hesperus."

But above all else, Gloucestermen have always been fishermen. Today, that defining characteristic of this historic community is being seriously threatened.

The waters of Georges Banks, approximately 150 miles east of Gloucester, once contained a wealth of halibut, cod and swordfish. This marine goldmine was virtually untapped by commercial fishing for over two hundred years. Then, in 1827, Gloucester fishermen discovered it. Less than 150 years later, the Banks had been nearly fished out, depleted by the use of large drift nets, then ravished by (primarily Russian) factory trawlers. The Magnuson Act of 1976, which extended the Exclusive Economic Zone of U.S. fishermen from a paltry three miles to 200 miles offshore, was too late to save it. The fish population in Georges dropped another 65% between 1977 and 1987.

There was a reason Georges Banks had lain relatively untouched by commercial fishing interests for centuries: it is an extraordinarily dangerous place for boats. Unusual currents mixed with violent weather patterns generated sudden storms and fomented tales of supernatural forces among fishermen.

Midway into the 20th Century, most New England fishermen had begun to move their boats further north to the Grand Banks, which runs between Sable Island (south of Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland. Like Georges Banks, the Grand Banks is also situated along one of the world's "worst storm tracks," but at least it had the advantage of n


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