BOSTON – Top Massachusetts elected officials joined with local fishermen to sharply criticize the federal government’s oversight of the New England fishing industry at a public hearing Monday.

U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown hosted the field hearing at the Massachusetts Statehouse, which featured testimony from Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lubchenco said she understands that the New England fishing industry is struggling and said her agency’s goal is to help give fishermen more control over their industry. She said that fish stocks are being replenished and catch limits are being raised.

But Lubchenco also acknowledged what she said has been a “dysfunctional relationship” between federal regulators and local fishermen in the past — a relationship that she says is on the mend.

“I think we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “There are now glimmers of hope. We are finally on track to end overfishing. Stocks are being rebuilt and catch limits are up.”

Lubchenco’s comments met with deep skepticism at the hearing.

Some of that ire came from years of what fishermen said was abusive treatment and excessive fines by the officers and attorneys charged with enforcing the nation’s fishery laws.

Earlier this year federal officials ordered tens of thousands of dollars in fines returned to fishermen after a special investigator determined the penalties were excessive or unjust.

Fishermen are equally concerned about a new “catch share” fishing management system, installed in May 2010, in which fishermen are given their own individual shares of the total allotted catch.

The goal was to replace an old fishing system that tried to stop overfishing with an ever-dwindling allotment of fishing days at sea. It also set daily catch limits on some species, forcing fishermen into the wasteful practice of tossing away any fish — often dead — caught over that limit.

Fishermen say the new system is stacked in favor of larger fishing companies They also bristle at the cost of at-sea monitors, required under the new system to track the catch and ensure fishermen are staying within the set limits. Lubchenco has said it’s important to help fishermen cover the potentially crushing costs of the equipment.

Stephen Welch, a fisherman and board member of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said he’s on the verge of hanging up his gear for good.

“In my view, catch shares is doing exactly what it’s intended to do, which is to put us out of business,” Welch testified. “If we have to pay for monitoring next year out of our own pockets, then I am quitting fishing and I will stay home and become a welfare, armchair captain.”

The elected officials at the hearing echoed that frustration.

Brown said there’s “a complete lack of trust” between fishermen and federal regulators.

“It’s quite frankly, I think, beyond repair,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, whose district includes the fishing community of New Bedford, said there’s little scientific data to back up some of the restrictions imposed on fishermen.

He said every decision seems to be made with the assumption that fishermen are in an adversarial relationship with regulators, even though the local fishing industry understands the importance of maintaining fishing stocks.

“I don’t know a single fisherman who wants to be the last one to fish,” Frank said. “They want fish to reproduce too.”

The hearing comes days after Attorney General Martha Coakley called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to release documents related to what investigators have called the “overzealous” prosecution of Massachusetts fishermen.

Lubchenco defended the new fishing regulations saying they are forcing fishermen to be more entrepreneurial and in the long run the changes will help protect the industry.

“Fishermen are fishing more selectively, benefiting their bottom lines and the vulnerable spots,” she said. “We’re turning the corner, but we have a long, long way to go.”