National Fisherman is the nation’s preeminent publication in the commercial fishing industry, originally a consolidation of earlier, regional fisheries trade papers. In 2012, Diversified Communications of Portland, ME, donated the magazine’s entire pre-digital photographic archive to the Penobscot Marine Museum. The collection is being digitized and cataloged, then published to the web in our online database in groups of 5000 items.

National Fisherman Project

After three years of digitally capturing and describing the comprehensive photo archives of National Fisherman magazine, we’ve come to the effective end of the project. We now have the privilege of offering a comprehensive visual timeline of American fisheries from the middle to the end of the 20th century, with all the grit, drama, resourcefulness, practical minutiae, and sometimes epic feats that characterize the industry. We hope that collectively, these images will inform our viewers and fire the imagination.

This final rollout consists largely of 35mm negatives. Some of these images have been seen in earlier rollouts, but here we’re given a greater immersion in the work of the Nat Fish photographers. We’ve been painstaking in selecting the “best” of these frames to avoid losing your attention through needless repetition. While no new trends stood out from this final large group, it does the same work as our previous publications: it illustrates the panorama of American commercial fishing, from the processing floor to the computerized bridge to the fabrication shop to the engine room to the greasy deck.

Our team has undergone many changes in the past three years. Most recently, Dave Ruberti, Cathy Pollari, and PMM Admin Assistant Gabriella Cantelmo compiled critical data about each photo, making it possible for researchers and casual browsers to find and better understand the images. Just as importantly, Erin Tokarz and Georges Nashan completed the digitization work, mostly by means of our pro digital camera setup, which results in superior sharpness and detail and enables shorter processing time.

Thanks to all staff who contributed to bringing the collection to light, but thanks most especially to our volunteers for being interested in the project and generous with their time. This was a huge undertaking that we trust will continue to benefit the public for generations.

The National Fisherman photos are a visual record of every nuance of American commercial fishing during four decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The collection features images of fishing and working vessels of numerous types, under construction, at launch, at sea, and in peril. We get a thorough glimpse of the many human faces of the industry: boat builders, fish catchers, processors, and regulators. Since the magazine is a trade publication, there are countless photos of fishing and marine gear as it was newly hitting the market, as well as examples of common vessel construction techniques. We see documentation of successes or failures in the various fisheries, as well as scenes of regulation activity and enforcement.

In a letter to the Penobscot Marine Museum, John Bullard, the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office administrator, observed that the magazine and its photo archives are of “…great national historical significance because it documents a critical period in the history of U.S. fishing. During these four decades, the commercial fishing industry saw significant growth and technological change…” These epic changes affected every facet of US fisheries, from vessel construction to fish finding equipment to legislation impacting the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen on both coasts.

Click here to View the collection

Penobscot Marine Museum brings Maine’s maritime history to life on a campus of beautiful historic buildings in the charming seacoast village of Searsport, Maine. Exhibits throughout the campus tell unique stories of ship captains and their families, the industries of Penobscot Bay, global maritime trade, and today’s fisheries.

The Museum also develops changing seasonal and traveling exhibits and conducts educational outreach throughout Maine. The Museum has over 200,000 historic photographs, an extensive collection of maritime artifacts and archives, and a maritime history research library. The Museum offices and research library are open year-round. Exhibits are open seven days a week, Memorial Day weekend through the third Sunday in October.

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