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A hard day’s work

This 19th century engraving, made for the U.S. government by artist H.W. Elliott, seems at first just an idyllic fishing scene, with a few birds and a nostalgic old dory. But there’s drama in the details; the wave tops are blown into spindrift, the doryman’s hat is blown from his head, the birds wheel along with a stiff breeze, and the dory — full of fish — is filling with water.

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Scribbled on the picture are the words “a struggle for life — caught to leeward in a squall.” Anyone who’s fought his or her way across a windswept harbor in a dinghy full of groceries has an inkling of the feeling.
The big fishing schooner, the mother ship, can do little to help; it has put out a line astern with a trawl buoy attached. It’s that lifeline the dorymen are desperately pulling for. Once attached, their fellow fishermen will haul them in little by little to safety, a warm cup of coffee and maybe a shot of brandy. Until then, who knows?
Elliott was advised in this work and many others depicting the nation’s fisheries by Capt. J.W. Collins, who certainly knew his business. A career commercial fisherman out of the Gloucester-Cape Ann, Mass., area, he spent a lifetime culling the coastal waters from Massachusetts Bay to Bar Harbor, Maine, and beyond. He also contributed valuable fishing observations and information to the U.S. Fish Commission — precursor to today’s NOAA fisheries — and served as head of the Division of Fisheries.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.