"I was proud of my work. And the buildings went up. When they were finished the damnedest thing happened. It was like the buildings were too good for us. Nobody told us that,...it just felt uncomfortable, that's all."
Paul Dooley in Breaking Away, 1979
These are hard times for commercial fishermen. Depleted fishing stocks, regulations, expensive waterfront real estate, high fuel costs, and foreign competition have all made this a difficult way to earn a living. It is a way of life that is glorified in movies and cable television shows, but like the farms on Long Island's east end, and much of Main Street-America, it is dying a slow death.
In his book In The Village (1971), Anthony Bailey described Stonington as a place where "the old know the young, the rich know the poor, the year-rounders know the summer people---and the man you hoot at in town meeting might be your boss."
Stonington still has a Main Street, but the borough has been gentrified, and fishermen no longer live in the homes that line the narrow lanes. Sometimes, this is just a case of simple economics. But in other cases, there seems to be additional factors at work.
It is the fishing that gave Stonington its unique appeal, and distinguished it from the other cute New England towns. It is that appeal that has drawn people here. The flip side is that fishing also brings large trucks rolling through town, foul odors, and early morning noise. People who were originally attracted to the charm, view these aspects as a nuisance. The fishing industry becomes secondary to the real estate and boutique industry.
To its credit, Stonington has worked hard to preserve the last remaining commercial fleet in Connecticut. The docks are publicly accessible, and a Blessing Of the Fleet is held every summer.
If you visit, it is important to be careful. This is a working waterfront and one needs to be aware of their surroundings. Be respectful, and stay out of their way. These men have a job to do, and they are not there as a tourist attraction.
Blessing Of The Fleet
Stonington Historical Society: Portuguese Fishermen
CT Coastal Access: Town Docks and Memorial
Mystic Seaport: Stonington Oral History Project
NY Times: And The Fleet Will Fish (1994)
credit: Breaking Away; Twentieth Century Fox, 1979
credit: In The Village; Anthony Bailey; Knopf, New York 1971