Greg Mayhew, the iconic Menemsha fisherman who piloted the Unicorn and Quitsa Strider draggers during the heyday of offshore commercial fishing on Georges Bank, died April 11 at his home in West Tisbury. He was 72 and had battled chronic illness for a number of years.

A native Islander, Greg descended from generations of fishermen and had worked the waters off the Vineyard all his life.

Greg Mayhew, once known as the best swordfish striker on the East Coast. — Alison L. Mead

“I’ve probably harpooned more swordfish than anyone in North America,” he told the Gazette in a 2015 interview. At the time he had just sold the Unicorn’s groundfishing permit to The Nature Conservancy and the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Preservation Trust, marking the end of an era for groundfishing on the Vineyard.

At one time Menemsha was home to more than 25 commercial draggers and some 10 swordfishing boats. Today only a handful remain.

But when fishing was in its glory days in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Mayhew was at the forefront, hauling thousands of pounds of groundfish and sea scallops, and in summer on the hunt for swordfish with his brother Jonathan Mayhew and later their brother in law Dominic Penicaud. Greg’s skills as a swordfish striker were renowned, and he was said to be the best striker on the East Coast.

He was born on Sept. 19, 1945 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to Benjamin and Eileen Mayhew, the third of five children. He grew up in the family homestead on Nashaquitsa Pond in Chilmark, was educated in the Chilmark and Tisbury schools, and was a member of the first graduating class to complete four years at the regional high school. He attended college for two years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and then was drafted into the Army where he enrolled in officer candidate school and served a tour in Vietnam as a first lieutenant.

He returned home in 1969. Within a few months his father, who was serving as state representative for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, died. Greg completed his father’s term, was reelected and served from 1969 to 1972. At 24, he was the youngest Massachusetts legislator at the time.

But his calling was the sea, not politics, and he returned to the Vineyard to run a commercial fishing business with Jonathan and their brother Skip. They fished on the dragger Eileen and Ben. In 1976 Jonathan and Greg bought the Quitsa Strider. Soon after came the Unicorn, named for the Mayhew family crest. For the decades that followed, the twin draggers would become a symbol of the Menemsha fishing fleet. Jonathan was also a pilot and would often fly a spotter plane when they were swordfishing in the summer. The rest of the year they would go out for sea scallops, yellowtail and other groundfish, hauling them by the ton.

In the 1990s the downturn began in commercial fishing amid increasingly draconian government regulations with a complicated quota system that mostly favored the large factory ships.

Chilmark fisherman who was born to the sea. — Alison L. Mead

“It was a lot of fun fishing for swordfish,” Mr. Mayhew recalled in the Gazette interview. “There were a couple of times when I had 30 or 40 swordfish out . . . sometimes it would take all night to try to find them.”

The Unicorn and Quitsa Strider are both gone now. For many Islanders their departure meant the quiet passing of an era in fishing on the Vineyard.

Mr. Mayhew’s love of the sea was surpassed only by his love of family. He met his wife Lois in 1973, a summer girl from Pennsylvania whose parents, the Rev. Richard and Ruth Bell, owned a cottage on Trinity Park in Oak Bluffs. They married in 1975 and raised five children in Chilmark in a house they built just down the road from Greg’s family home.

In his son Jeremy’s documentary film Striker’s Passing, Greg spoke about his priorities. “You have to make a conscious decision about whether or not you want to be the top dog,” he said in part. “I’d rather be . . . at home, with the family.”

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, his five children and eight grandchildren, among others. A celebration of his life will be held in the Trinity United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 21.

A complete obituary appears on the Gazette obituary page online.