Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stonington Fishing Fleet





"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)
Map

credit: Breaking Away; Twentieth Century Fox, 1979
credit: In The Village; Anthony Bailey; Knopf, New York 1971

10 comments:

Whitemist said...

I would love to say everything will be alright (fishing wise), but I do not think we have a good handle on what the problem is. The people with power blame nutrients (a food source) and not the kind of food that is being produced. Some one has to wake them up!

matthew houskeeper said...

Whitemist,
I think the cod were just plain overfished, but concerning the rest of it, I really have no idea.
That's why I chose to focus this post on how gentrification has hurt the fishing industry as well.

Even if everything was perfect regarding the fish populations, these guys would still be under pressure because they would be competing with million dollar homes along the waterfront.

Diane KQ said...

hmmm..."million dollar homes along the waterfront"...it seems like an oxymoron to me...but I am in a melancholy mood today...what has happened to us?

matthew houskeeper said...

Actually I should have said multi-million dollar homes.

Whitemist said...

I am in complete agreement with your presentation, we are losing history to the multi-million dollar homes and developments and losing the valued coastline, not only for its history, but also for its environmental impact (read protection). Continued uneducated development will only cost us in the future. As you bear witness to what is left in this blog, you also show what has been lost.
One final thought - something I tend to harp on cause I think it has been forgotten...
If a balance is maintained, there should never be anything like over fishing. That applies to many, many things.

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks Whitemist!!!

Steve B said...

You can say everything above and apply it to Gloucester. Working fishing ports are becoming hard to find.

Jeannette St.G. said...

Sad that it's made so hard on them.

Anonymous said...

a beautiful post, thank you.

matthew houskeeper said...

Steve B,
Yeah, I definitely had New Bedford and Gloucester on my mind when I wrote this.