MACKEREL FISHERIES have been almost as important to New England's economic and social development as cod fisheries. The first public free school, opened in 1671, received aid directly from the profits of the Cape Cod mackerel fishery. Later, mackerel supplemented cod-fish as an important commodity in the profitable trade with the West Indies. Mackerel fishing lagged far behind that of cod, however, until after the United States concluded the Convention of 1818 with England. But even this instrument initially failed to provide facilities for the mackerel fisheries, which led Americans to send large mackerel fleets to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
In 1840, Gloucester surpassed Boston as the leading mackerel port. Gloucester fishers introduced such improvements as the clipper fishing schooner and the purse seine, a large fishing net that enabled mackerel vessels to fish profitably off the Atlantic coast. The fisheries reached their height in the decade from 1880 to 1890, after which they suffered an abrupt decline. With the settlement of the Pacific coast and Alaska, the Pacific mackerel became a commercially important product, and the annual catch gradually surpassed that of the Atlantic mackerel. Later in the twentieth century, Japanese and Norwegian fishing vessels overtook the United States in mackerel fishing and exportation.
Garland, Joseph E. Down to the Sea: The Fishing Schooners of Gloucester. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000.
Vickers, Daniel H. Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630–1850. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
F. HardeeAllen/s. b.