Penobscot Marine Museum’s new photography collection finally digitized

Collection of 24,000 vintage Maine ‘National Fisherman’ photographs available to the public

Iconic magazine began with Belfast, Maine, roots
Fri, 06/14/2019 - 11:30am

    SEARSPORT — It’s taken the staff of Penobscot Marine Museum nearly five years to painstakingly comb through thousands of photographs from the magazine National Fisherman, but now that project has come to an end and The National Fisherman Collection— an online database of some 24,000 images — is available to view on their website.

    “It was a huge collection,” said Photo Archivist Matthew Wheeler. “When we took possession of it, it filled four tall filing cabinets–mostly print photographs but many accompanied by 35mm negatives. We knew this would take dedicated funding to go through, so we managed to secure two federal grants for the project. ”

    Photo Finding Pro-Tips

    National Fisherman Collection

    To find specific photos in the PMM National Fisherman database, type in a person’s name or subject you are interested in in the “Description” field (where “lobster” is below) and town in the “Place” field (where “Belfast is below). Don’t try to find the photo by the “State” field below: that is more for internal reference.


    Most of the photographs were submitted by freelance photographers over the life of the magazine between the time they first published in 1946 to when they switched all of their photography submissions to digital in the mid-1990s.

    According to the magazine’s history: “The roots of what has become the only U.S. national commercial fishing publication can be traced back to a fish report in a local Maine newspaper, the Belfast Republican Journal, which started in 1921.”

    A small number of the photos come from the archives of the magazines Atlantic Fishermen and Maine Coast Fisherman, both of which predated National Fisherman and which the latter magazine eventually absorbed.

    PMM has created a “microsite,” a page on their main website, which highlights the National Fisherman Collection and serves as a portal for browsing the images topically. The purpose of the site is to help visitors get a clearer perspective on a photo collection whose huge volume could make navigating it a challenge. While this tool makes it easier to explore the photos, it also helps give some sense of the scope they encompass. As the museum states on the National Fisherman page, "[The collection] illustrates the panorama of American commercial fishing, from the processing floor to the computerized bridge to the fabrication shop to the engine room to the greasy deck.”

    Given the magazine’s earliest focus on Maine fisheries, it’s no surprise that many of the photos depict Maine people and professions. True to its name, however, the magazine has excelled at keeping an eye on the national scene, as evidenced by the collection's thorough coverage of the east coast fisheries, Chesapeake Bay and Louisiana, Texas, the many fisheries on the west coast from San Diego to Seattle, and on up to Alaska.

    “Many of our fishing photos in other collections were taken before the 1970s,” added Wheeler, "so it's pretty interesting to see depictions of later practices, modern vessels, fishermen who are still alive today." 

    The 12 topics of each sub-collection are varied. Among the Maine images, lobstering, groundfishing, boatbuilding, the sardine industry, and other professions are widely covered.

    There are so many to look through that we’ve broken out several photos from just the “People” collection alone, which tells a story of the way people made their living in Maine. See more detail of each photos in the captions:

    Note: All of the photos in this story have been given “fair use” permission to use.

    Man in cap and plaid shirt, posing in front of crates with an issue of National Fisherman. "Oliver Mahonen, a Rockland, ME, lobster fisherman, looks over the first issue of the National Fisherman combined w/ MCF. Mahonen has been reading MCF almost from the 1st issue and especially likes the classy ads. He says he's pleased w/the expanded coverage offered by the combined pubs. His 28' boat was built in Friendship, ME." No attribution; if you have information about the photographer, please contact Penobscot Marine Museum. (207) 548-2529.)

    Man in cap, sweater & jacket. "Ed Gamage, Damariscotta/ Gamage-Stevens Corporation" (Photo courtesy Everett "Red" Boutilier)

    Don Hale of Sargeantville, Maine, uses mallet and grommet set to place grommet through sail. (Photo courtesy Everett "Red" Boutilier)

    Although the Penobscot Marine Museum has Fair Use rights to the images, if you wish to publish, transmit, use electronic copies, or receive a paper copy of any of these photographs, you will need to

    1. obtain written permission from the copyright holder and determine what, if any, fees apply to usage, and
    2. provide PMM with a copy of the document granting permission.

    For more information visit:

    Kay Stephens can be reached at