Massachusetts's fish catch in 1998 was the 5th largest in the US, but the fishing industry is not as important to the state economy as it once was.

The early settlers earned much of their income from the sea. The first shipyard in Massachusetts opened at Salem Neck in 1637, and during the years before independence the towns of Salem, Newburyport, Plymouth, and Boston were among the colonies' leading ports. By 1807, Massachusetts's fishing fleet made up 88% of the US total; for much of the 19th century, Nantucket and, later, New Bedford were the leading US whaling centers. But with the decline of the whaling industry came a sharp drop in the importance of fishing to the livelihood of the state. By 1978, the fishing industry ranked 13th in importance of the 15 industries monitored by the state. However, the fishing ports of New Bedford and Gloucester were still among the busiest in the US in 1998, with the 2nd and 20th most valuable catches, respectively. In 1997, there were 376 fish processing and wholesale plants with an annual average of 5,120 employees in the state.

The value of the commercial catch in 1998—$204,408,000—was the highest among the New England states and the 4th highest in the US at 252,518,000 lb. In 1998, the lobster catch totaled 13.3 million lb, valued at $48.6 million, and quahog landings amounted to 19.2 million lb, valued at $8 million. About 5.8 million lb of sea scallops were landed in 1998.

The state's long shoreline and many rivers make sport fishing a popular pastime for both deepsea and freshwater fishermen. The fishing season runs from mid-April through late October, with the season extended through February for bass, pickerel, panfish, and trout. In 1998, there were 192,604 fishing license holders.