Recent articles published in this journal by Pollnac and Poggie (1991) and Durrenberger (1992) have presented contrasting views on commercial fishermen's independence and inclination to act collectively. The respective claims of the two articles are evaluated in the context of recent social scientific theory and research on unionism and the labor movement. Further, historical evidence of collective organizing, including documentary records and contemporary oral testimony by participants, is analyzed for the case of Mississippi Gulf Coast fishermen for the period from 1903 to the present. In contrast to Durrenberger's argument, we show that the successful union activity of the 1930s by the Gulf Coast Shrimpers and Oystermen Association occurred when shrimp fishermen were still economically dependent on processors. Additionally, we contend that the demise of the strong union in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s cannot be explained merely by reference to Federal court decisions of that period, but, in addition, was caused by the changing characteristics of the industry, including the rise of competitive, independent owner-operators. Finally, we conclude that collective action among independent fishermen can occur, but only under unusual structural conditions, as in the case of the Icelandic industry, or under extreme circumstances, such as that experienced recently with the implementation of U. S. regulations requiring the use of Turtle Excluder Devices by shrimp trawlers.

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