Written by Michelle Gayton
National Fisherman’s history is long and rich. The roots of what has become the only U.S. national commercial fishing publication can be traced back to a fish report in a local Maine newspaper, the Belfast Republican Journal, which started in 1921.
Here we arrive at the direct ancestry of National Fisherman. The inaugural issue of Maine Coast Fisherman hit the streets in July 1946. It was founded and edited by C. Owen Smith. Maine Coast Fisherman was a 30-page tabloid that covered life and work along the Maine coast. In much the same way that the current day National Fisherman celebrates The Life and Business of Professional Fishing, Maine Coast Fisherman provided news and technical information without removing the human element.
Also like National Fisherman today, Maine Coast Fisherman appealed to more than just the fishermen and boat builders who populated the coast of Maine. There was always something for the recreational boater or anyone who had an interest in salt water. Maine Coast Fisherman was known as “the mariner’s newspaper.”
The newspaper saw a changing of the guard, and in 1960, the new editor was approached by an organization in New Hampshire peddling a 20-page magazine called National Fisherman and rights to the name Atlantic Fisherman. The powers that be decided to buy, and the transition from small regional newspaper to a national magazine was underway. The name was a mouthful: National Fisherman combined with Maine Coast Fisherman. The number of staff increased to accommodate the addition of national coverage.
Six years later, National Fisherman purchased Pacific Fisherman from a Seattle outfit and the cumbersome name was shortened to National Fisherman. The tag line continued to be a mouthful: “combines Atlantic Fisherman, Maine Coast Fisherman and Pacific Fisherman.”
The spinoff Small Boat Journal was launched to serve the growing number of people interested in small practical boats with no ties to the commercial fishing industry. Some say it was also launched to handle the overflow of advertisers from National Fisherman. National Fisherman took on much more of a commercial fishing feel with the launch of Small Boat Journal. Within two years National Fisherman divested Small Boat Journal because of poor performance.
1980s & 1990s
National Fisherman continued to hold its course through the 1980s, basking in the glory days of commercial fishing. The 1990s proved to be more of a challenge for fishermen and for commercial fishing publishers. Indeed, 1997 was a year of planning the rebirth of National Fisherman. We were careful to consider readership and market conditions to plan National Fisherman’s position. The new tag line, The Life and Business of Professional Fishing, reflected the magazine’s mission before Small Boat Journal and even Maine Coast Fisherman.
In 2000, we developed a new National Fisherman mission statement — Informed fishermen. Profitable fisheries. Sustainable fish. We think this sums up National Fisherman’s position in the market and the messages we deliver to the markets we serve.
The fishing industry is smaller and much more complicated than it once was, but that may be National Fisherman’s greatest asset. The industry needs a voice that credibly articulates issues from the perspective of commercial fishermen. National Fisherman is that voice.
Fisheries regulation is Byzantine by any standard, and extremely regional in focus. National Fisherman recognizes this and believes its strength is in stories that offer readers the big picture, as opposed to the nitty-gritty of local management. Nonetheless, our network of bureau chiefs gives us a dockside presence on every coast, and a few years ago we supplemented that by forming an editorial advisory panel consisting of the leaders of several fisheries associations around the country
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