The Sociological Structure of a Fishery Based Community; A Case Study Surveying the Sociology of Gloucester

"Like prizefighters, bowed but not beaten, fishermen in this coastal community have always managed to absorb the woes inflicted on their industry(Boston Globe. January 10, 1994)."

Gloucester and the surrounding harbors, rich in history and marine resources, are socially rooted in the fishing industry. The drastic changes in species abundance, government regulations and international competition, have effected the lives of the entire community. The sociology of Gloucester, Massachusetts depends greatly on the fishing industry. Therefore, when the economic and political currents alter the historically rich Gloucester community, waves of social repercussions are inevitable. All along the social spectrum, from the broad geography of Gloucester, to the whole community, and more candidly, from individual perspectives, the importance of sustainable fisheries climaxes.

Gloucester, as one of the oldest, currently functioning fishing ports in America, adheres to the dense amount of traditionally manifested ways imbedded within it. The great deal of traditional significance which ties the social community of Gloucester together, holds true meaning to the people of Gloucester. The community that has precipitated from mostly Italian immigrants, recognizes both water and land as their home. Fishermen are directed home from days at sea by the calling of the prominent lighthouses. "Lighthouses are to America what castles are to Europe,"(Patriot Ledger. July 27, 1996) and the Gloucester Breakwater Light, flashing a bright red glow every four seconds, provides solace to the fishermen as well as those anxiously waiting at home. The legacy of the Gloucester lighthouse continues today, for every fisherman that leaves the harbor might never come back, adding to the cultural fables and social lineage of Gloucester.

The community of Gloucester, intrinsic to a social case study of this famous port, has been structured on the fishing industry. The ability to share each other's emotions, struggles and times of prosperity, stems from the fact that everyone depends on fishing. The shift within the fishing trade has caused the community to rebel. Within the past few decades, the federal regulations in conjunction with biological limitations, has cut the fishing business in half. Fishing continues to be the primary way of life in Gloucester, but this becomes more difficult daily. Rapidly depleting ecological resources cannot go ignored, and the people of Gloucester are forced to live on the premise that somehow things will work out. Today, unemployment and fear are contagious within this tight knit community. The community blames various biological problems as well as economic and political unjustness, but nobody seems to answer the fishermen's calls for help. The protest in March of 1994, consisting of striking fishermen at shore and sea, epitomizes the frustrations of the Gloucester citizenry. The restrictions placed upon the fishermen, challenges their only source of livelihood. Off the shore of Gloucester, when a boat "displays an upside-down flag, the fisherman's way of signifying ‘Mayday' for the industry,"(ibid) the whole community's trepidation illuminates. The community does not look to violence to solve the problem within the fishing industry, the solution must come from within themselves, thus stressing the unification of the Gloucester community.

Along the Gloucester shore-line stands a statue of a lone fisherman. Built in the earlier part of this century, Gloucester's monument to the fishermen of the community represents the overwhelming pride and respect given to the men who brave the waters for their livelihood. Soon, only feet away from the noble statue, a bronze sculpture of a woman, young man and child will shine. "All waiting for their husband and dad to return," the monument depicts the hardships felt by all those connected to the fishing business. "Her courageous pose is meant to represent wives both past and present. But its traditional aspect, that of a woman searching the horizon for her husband, seems to belie what she is often doing today: lobbying Washington to soften the economic blow of an industry decimated by global over fishing."(Boston Globe. December 15, 1993) The Gloucester Fishermen's Wives association raises money in hope that the statue will stand within the next few years. For a community so strongly merged with the fishing industry, the depletion of marine resources, signifies a dead-end.

On a micro-level, the individual, a social being within the Gloucester community, represents a part of the fishing industry. Fishing, not just an occupation, but an acquired craft, provides a definite sense of continuity holding up the social web of Gloucester. Closing the generation gaps so prevalent in America today, the Gloucester fishermen, as well as their families, support the functional capabilities of the traditionally structured families. When tragedy inevitably occurs at sea, such as the case in September, 1994 when four Gloucester fishermen were lost and recovered dead days later, it effects the whole community. The closeness between the citizens most likely exists as a result of their deep interconnectedness. The devotion to a certain way of life, instilled along the generations, relies upon the fishing industry. Without adequate resources, the people of Gloucester, whose ancestors, families and hearts depend on the sea, will be lost. Gloucester represents one of the few remaining American communities where traditional morals and social codes still exist. If we let this community fall due to industrial pressure, the negative repercussions are destined to occur.

An overview of theSociological Perspective on Fisheries Management

Back to the Tragedy of the Coastal Commons