David R. Baumer
FISHING VESSELS OF THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO RED SNAPPER INDUSTRY.
(Under the co-direction of Donald Parkerson and William N. Still, Jr.), Department of Maritime History and Underwater Research, July 1991.
This study demonstrates that the evolution of working watercraft is best viewed in an historical analysis of the cultural, economic, environmental, and technological aspects that effect an industry and the work of its watercraft. The method used to demonstrate this statement is an historical discussion of the red snapper industry including its origins, development, economics, fishing grounds, fishing methods, and watercraft.
This study found that the evolution of working watercraft in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper and grouper fishery paralleled the type of vessels used in the offshore New England market fisheries. Connecticut fishermen pioneered the red snapper and grouper fisheries and introduced well smacks into southern offshore fisheries. Well smacks, a highly evolved class of offshore fishing vessel, served snapper fishermen well until the fishery rapidly expanded wholesale operations. Well smacks limited fishing areas to shallow waters which fishermen overutilized as the wholesale market grew. The fishery was forced to abandon live wells in the 1880s and adopted tight bottomed vessels. This change resulted in a transition from the use of Connecticut built well smacks to northern New England tight bottomed vessels built in Maine and Massachusetts.
After the transition from well smacks to fishing schooners imported from the northern New England offshore market fisheries the red snapper industry continued in a period of growth. Further overutilization of snapper resources resulted in the exploitation of increasingly distant fishing grounds until the late 1890s when Campeche Banks became the industry's primary fishing area. The fishery shifted to the acquisition of larger northern New England offshore fishing schooners as result of the utilization of fishing grounds at greater distances from the wholesale markets. Additionally, in the twentieth century, the fleet split into two groups: large vessels that fished Campeche Banks, and a smaller class of vessels, known as chings, that fished banks along the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In twentieth century fishermen introduced engine power in red snapper fishing vessels to extend their fishing range and to increased their ability to focus fishing effort into specific reef environments. Vessel owners installed small gasoline engines into their existing fleets. Reliance on engine power caused fishermen to change both the rig and shape of snapper fishing fleets. As fishermen introduced larger engines, reductions sail plans followed until sails became auxiliary to power and functioned only to steady the watercraft.
In summary, culture, economics, environment, work, technology are aspects that must be analyzed in order to evaluate the evolution of working watercraft types. The underlying causes for the changes in snapper fishing vessels were the New England influence in the fishery, the technological advances in refrigeration and transportation that allowed the expansion of wholesale fishery operations. Subsequently overfishing forced the fishermen to exploit deeper and more distant fishing areas which required larger faster vessels with greater fishing ranges.