SOUTHPORT FISHING INDUSTRY  

  

Cape Newagen Island was known as a choice fishing spot as early as the late 1500ís. At first the fishing fleets came for the summer, making several trips back and forth to England, Europe, and the Azores where markets were good. Gradually the villages became permanent. By 1623, when Captain Christopher Levett visited Newagen, there was an established settlement with nine ships fishing. As each vessel carried about ten men, Newagen must have been crowded.

The crews consisted of men and boys sometimes as young as nine years old.  They were divided into separate crews according to their duties.  The fisherman fished with hand lines, sometimes from shallops (the fore-runners of the sailing dory), sometimes with nets. The shore crews, of which there were two, divided their duties. One was to split and clean the fish, salt it, and prepare it for the flakes (drying racks). The other was to tend the flakes, making sure the fish didnít get wet if it rained, which would have ruined it. In case of rain, the fish were gathered up and rushed to a shed in bent-handled wheelbarrows. The men fished in shares: 1/3 to the vessel for maintenance; 1/3 to the men; 1/3 to supplies such as victuals, salt, nets, hooks, lines etc.

In 1860, the heyday of the fishing industry in Southport, there were fifty-nine bankers (a schooner that fished on the Grand Banks) calling Southport their home port. They gave employment to every able-bodied man and boy on the island and sometimes to outsiders as well. It was said that at the height of the fishing era, no town in Maine made its own business and earned more money per capita than Southport.

Fish were abundant. A man tending a hundred-hook trawl line at the mouth of Harbor would finish baiting the last hook in time to row back, remove the fish, and rebait the first hook.  Cod was the most sought after and the most abundant fish at that time.

Inshore fishing was rewarding, but most men preferred bank fishing.  They made trips to the Grand Banks in the Bay of Saint Lawrence and to Georgeís Banks off Cape Cod .  In the season, they fished local waters for mackerel. When fishing was slack, they used the vessels for coastal trading, making frequent trips to Nova Scotia. Every man and boy, at some time in his life went fishing.

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