On fishermen’s trucks in coastal New England, a popular bumper sticker tells a grim story: “National Marine Fisheries Service: Destroying Commercial Fishermen and their Families Since 1976.”
It’s a great sound bite. And for men from New Bedford, Chatham, or Boothbay who have had to tie up their boats because of federal regulations, or withdraw from the fishery altogether to make ends meet, it rings painfully true. 1976 marked the moment when the National Marine Fisheries Service actively took over the regulation of fishing, and today’s fishermen have spent most or all of their careers chafing under catch limits, fishing ground closures, and rules about days at sea. As environmentalists and fishermen argue year after year about which population is suffering more—working fishermen or the fish they rely on—it is easy to assume that conflict is inevitable, and that fishermen and regulators have always been at each other’s throats.