Breaking the Banks

Representations and Realities in New England Fisheries, 1866-1966

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With skillful storytelling, Matthew McKenzie weaves together the industrial, cultural, political, and ecological history of New England’s fisheries through the story of how the Boston haddock fleet—one of the region’s largest and most heavily industrialized—rose, flourished, and then fished itself into near oblivion before the arrival of foreign competition in 1961. This fleet also embodied the industry’s change during this period, as it shucked its sail-and-oar, hook-and-line origins to embrace mechanized power and propulsion, more sophisticated business practices, and political engagement.

Books, films, and the media have long portrayed the Yankee fisherman’s hard-scrabble existence, as he faced brutal weather on the open seas and unnecessary governmental restrictions. As McKenzie contends, this simplistic view has long betrayed commercial fisheries’ sophisticated legislative campaigns in Washington, DC, as they sought federal subsidies and relief and, eventually, fewer constricting regulations. This clash between fisheries’ representation and their reality still grips fishing communities today as they struggle to navigate age-old trends of fleet consolidation, stock decline, and intense competition.

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