National Fisherman Publisher Jerry Fraser announces retirement

Someone once told me that no one was ever hired after responding to a help wanted ad in a newspaper. But that didn’t stop me, in the spring of 1997, from applying to become senior editor at National Fisherman.

In addition to 10 years’ newspaper experience, including five at the Boston Globe (“The 13th largest paper in the country!” they liked to say on the night desk), I had, going back to childhood, 20-plus years’ experience as a commercial fisherman, including as skipper and owner. I would be a lead-pipe cinch for the job!

And indeed, I was, after their first choice turned it down. I am eternally gratefully for having been the second choice, and for the ensuing opportunities.

Senior Editor Jerry Fraser (left) joined American Dynasty Capt. Jim Susol on deck during haul-back in January 1999. “For all the excitement of big-boat fishing and 100-ton sets,” says Fraser, who traveled to alaska on the eve of the pollock “B” season, “what struck me most was the friendliness of the crew.” NF file photo.

Editing National Fisherman was a job with many benefits, the greatest of which has been meeting fishermen from around the country and in quite a few instances making trips.

Among the most memorable of these was aboard the 272-foot factory trawler American Dynasty in 1998. Capt. Jim Susol, a throwback who welcomed me aboard saying, “Smoke anywhere” (I don’t happen to), could not have been more gracious. For someone who came of age on lobster boats and side trawlers, the idea of a fishing vessel with air conditioning, flush toilets, and five main courses at mealtime was eye opening, to say the least – as was a 45-minute tow that yielded 88 tons of pollock.

Another large vessel I got out on, a few years later, was the 145-foot Retriever, skippered by Franz Morris, which was midwater trawling for herring off Rockland, Maine.

Glen Robbins, a fisherman I have known since the ’80s, showed me another way of catching herring, on his Rockland-based seiner Western Sea, as we came within a few inches of filling the 100-footer’s hold. Of all the fisheries I have seen, seining has captured my fancy as much as any, and if I someday put oilskins on again, seining may be the reason why.

Felix Cox, an NF Highliner from Aransas Pass, Texas, took me fishing for vermilion snapper, also known as B-liners, aboard the Mattie Grace, and better yet, he and his wife, Sharon, treated me to barbeque at their home. A year later or two I was fortunate enough to get back to Aransas Pass and went shrimping – for the live bait market – in Corpus Christi Bay with Jim Tucker.

Closer to home, I went Maine shrimping out of Portland with Mike Stinchfield aboard the Susan & Caitlyn and on another occasion on the Judy Marie with Ken Young Jr. out of York Harbor on a morning that, at minus 15 Fahrenheit with a westerly breeze, was the coldest day I’d ever spent at sea, on my boat or anyone else’s.

Now in his 70s and still fishing, Kenny will forever be “Young Kenny,” in the wake of his larger-than-life father, Ken Sr., who was known as Old Kenny long before he aged.

Young Kenny was a mentor, always willing to share his knowledge, including when he found fish, which often was before the rest of us.

Old Kenny conceived the term “dandelion fleet” to describe Perkins Cove fishermen who, in his view, were best suited for calm, sunny days.

Another mentor is Sonny McIntire, an NF Highliner also still fishing. I went lobstering with Sonny aboard his A. Maria for an article in 1998, but in truth I have countless “at-sea” stories with Sonny and his father, Carl, who made space for me on their boats from childhood on.

One spring I made a flounder trip with Carl Bouchard out of Hampton, N.H. When I started dragging it was axiomatic that going alone was a good way to wind up in the bull rope, but by the late 1990s regulations were such that men like Carl felt compelled to fly solo.

Carl found flounders that day, but we also had significant bycatch of severely restricted cod. Dan Gair’s cover photo, on the August 1999 issue, is my all-time favorite – and we’ve had some good ones.

Flounders were also the quarry with Tommy Williams and his youthful crew aboard the Heritage out of Point Judith, R.I. Point Jude was once known for “trash” fish, but there was nothing trashy about Tommy’s operation, and each yellowtail was laid on ice belly up, ensuring white-tablecloth quality and appearance.

Few Perkins Cove rats would pass up a calm summer day offshore chasing bluefin tuna, and I am no different. Hometown harpooners Timmy Virgin and Sonny’s middle boy, Billy McIntire, took me on a successful bluefin trip aboard Timmy’s Bettina H. out of Ogunquit, Maine, and found their way onto the cover of NF.

For those cove rats who came of age in the 1960s, our greatest fear was being labeled “Jonah” – a bringer of bad luck. I re-assimilated this fear throughout my at-seas for NF, but looking back, I believe I got through them without imposing calamity or ill fortune – although Jim Tucker took an unscheduled swim.

National Fisherman is the property of Diversified Communications and is owned by the Hildreth family, who have deep roots in Maine, an abiding love for the state, and a resolute commitment to community service. Horace A. Hildreth, the grandfather of board chairman Daniel Hildreth, was president of the Maine Senate, served two terms as governor, and was U.S ambassador to Pakistan. His son Horace Jr., aka Hoddy, who was chairman of the board when I landed here, also served in the Maine Legislature and is a lifelong activist on behalf of the environment who early on saw need to protect Maine’s wilderness and coasts. Their reverence for the environment is shared by Daniel Hildreth, who in addition to chairing Diversified’s board is an honorary director of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

National Fisherman is but a fragment of Diversified’s portfolio, and not an especially profitable one. Yet there is no question that it occupies a special place in the hearts of the Hildreths, for which I will always be grateful. There is no other publication serving the entire U.S. fishing industry, and without the Hildreths, I daresay, there would not be this one.

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Jerry Fraser is a retired commercial fisherman, journalist, the former editor and publisher of National Fisherman, as well as a 2020 NF Highliner award winner.

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