Maine Coast to National: Opening and closing a chapter on a monthly print magazine

“Sometimes you can find what you might call a Professional worm digger.” Those were the words of a profile by C.L. Dinsmore on the timeworn Maine vocation of worm digging in the flats of tidal rivers along the state’s rocky coast, in the first issue of Maine Coast Fisherman, July 1946, 75 years ago.

The monthly paper would take the title of National Fisherman in 1960 with the acquisition of Atlantic Fisherman (which started in Boston and moved to New Hampshire); but the national scope truly took hold in 1966 with the procurement of the publication Pacific Fisherman.

So in a sense, we could celebrate at least three anniversaries. This year, we’re 75, 61 and 55, depending on which version of NF feels most true to you. (To be fair, Maine Coast Fisherman started as a newspaper column circa 1921, so in a way, we’re 100 this year, too!). We have always liked to think of ourselves as having something for everyone.

Worm-digging, clamming, scalloping, lobstering and dragging were the hot topics that filled the 30 pages of that premiere issue of the monthly that would become the paper of record for the U.S. commercial fishing industry for more than 50 years.

The top story: “Russia Buys Iceland’s Fish” was the result of a phone call to the iconic then-Rep. Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine), who confirmed the sale of 30 million pounds — more than a third of Iceland’s 80 million-pound annual production of fish — to Russia for delivery by Dec. 1.

The cover of the first issue of Maine Coast Fisherman, the precursor to National Fisherman, in 1946.

A headshot of then-Maine Gov. Horace Hildreth graced the cover, along with a letter the state’s top executive wrote to the paper: “It is my belief,” wrote the governor, “that the Maine Coast Fisherman can perform a great service for those who obtain a living garnering the products of the sea and shore.

“Since the beginning, our commercial fishing industry has been an important cog in the state’s economy,” the governor went on. “The Maine Coast Fisherman can play an important role in this future development by keeping our citizens along the coast fully advised of the latest trends in the industry.”

Hildreth founded the company that would become Diversified Communications, which owns the magazine today.

A headshot of then-Maine Gov. Horace Hildreth graced the cover of Maine Coast Fisherman's first issue in 1946, along with a letter the state’s top executive wrote to the paper: “It is my belief,” wrote the governor, “that the Maine Coast Fisherman can per

“There is nothing independent or impartial about this paper,” declared the first editorial under a masthead that announced C. Owen Smith as the editor. It was titled “Our Axe.”

“The fishing industry in all its ramifications, the production of byproducts and boatbuilding are industries which are natural to the coast and belong here. We want to see these natural industries prosper and will do all we can to publicize and promote them.

“In spite of the fact that today there is an unprecedented demand for the products of the sea, the fishing industry as a whole is faced with difficult long-range problems which can only be met by concerted action. Through these pages, those who are interested can keep abreast of current trade news along the coast.”

I’m proud to say these are the same principles that have guided me in my tenure at the helm of this publication, decades later.

Though I sincerely doubt the men who started this magazine could have imagined its next phase would be through an application that lives in the palm of your hand and keeps the world at your fingertips with daily news updates from remote reaches of the industry. (In the meantime, those who remain dedicated to print will still get our quarterly print publication — available as always for keeping you company in the wheelhouse or the head.)

Those pioneers likely couldn’t envision a woman leading this publication, nor many women at the helms of their own boats, in engine rooms, and hauling gear on deck. The world around us changes. And if we can keep finding ourselves in it, we’ll have persevered to see another day. I strive not just to keep my own footing but to help our coastal communities thrive and our fisheries flourish. But most essential are the people at the heart of it all.

“The conscientious editor,” Hildreth wrote, “can win no greater reward than that of helping his readers gain added prosperity and happiness.”

Here’s to you, for making us what we are, will be, and ever have been.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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