There is a hardcover copy of "The Uses of Adversity" on the end table in the living room of Bob and Peggy Barry's home just below Chevy Chase Circle. It sits beside the framed photograph of their son, Peter, tall and blond, with a long face and confidently jutting jaw.

In August of 1985, Peter Barry, who was then 20 years old, drowned in the Gulf of Alaska, just days before he was supposed to begin the trip east for his junior year at Yale. The salmon boat on which he was working, the 70-year-old Western Sea, went to the bottom carrying nothing more, by way of survival equipment, than the life jackets children wear for paddle boat rides.

The accident, which claimed six lives, was tragic but not uncommon. Commercial fishing is the most dangerous of American industries. According to Coast Guard statistics, roughly 275 boats are lost each year. About 80 people are killed. Mining, the nation's second most dangerous industry, claims half as many lives. Yet when Peter Barry was killed, commercial fishing was almost entirely unregulated. And, had he lived, it might be unregulated still.

Richard Hiscock of Marine Safety Consultants on Cape Cod, Mass., a longtime campaigner for federal fishing safety regulations, says he always knew it would take a death to force such regulations through Congress. "I said to myself, 'Someday the wrong person is going to die in one of these,' " he recalls. " 'And their family is going to get the bit in their teeth and do something about it.' "

The Barrys had not planned on being that family. "I was approached when I went to Alaska" to claim Peter's body, Bob Barry says. "People asked me to say something about this and I absolutely wouldn't. It was too personal and private a thing to share with anybody else. The decision to sacrifice our privacy about a thing like that was not easy."

They made it anyway and began a campaign, now in its fifth year, to reform the regulation of the commercial fishing industry. Along the way, they have learned how to interest apathetic media, prepare congressional testimony and help craft legislative compromises. They have been through crash courses in vessel safety and stability, been hailed as the fisherman's savior and excoriated as vengeful and ignorant meddlers.

They also played perhaps the most frequently fantasized role in American politics, that of outraged underdogs whose appeal to compassion softens cynical hearts and overwhelms the interests arrayed against them. They became to fishing safety what John Walsh was to missing children and what Candy Lightner was to the movement against drunk driving.

What made their struggle more difficult was the presence of an organized opposition that spent a good deal of money on lobbyists who advocated voluntary regulation.

"I think you can really say that, but for the Barrys, there is a good chance that {fishing safety legislation} might still be tied up in committee," says Rep. John Miller (R-Wash.), who helped push the new safety provisions into law in September 1988.

The first fruits of the Barrys' struggle were published by the Coast Guard in late April as "46 CFR Parts 25 and 28 Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons for Uninspected Fishing, Fish Processing, Fish Tending and Commercial Vessels and Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Regulations; Rule and Proposed Rules."

It may not sound much like a eulogy, but Bob and Peggy Barry consider the words within this 40-page government pamphlet a fitting commemoration of their youngest son.

Under the new regulations, commercial fishing vessels must carry life rafts, survival suits and radio beacons. Most boats already carry this equipment, and this was the minimum that the Barrys wanted. Their proposals for training and licensing of masters and crew members, as well as registration and inspection of fishing boats, were excised from the legislation and are now being studied by the Marine Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Those are the things "that haven't been thoroughly addressed," Hiscock says. "They'll have a life. Whether it will be in this decade or the next decade or some other decade, I don't know."

The Barrys live in a four-story home fronted by colorful, carefully tended bushes and shaded by tall trees. The living room is neat in a way that lets you know their children are grown. The furnishings are sparse but comfortable. Tables and window sills are laden with the multicultural mementos that speak of a career in the foreign service.

Bob Barry, former ambassador to Bulgaria, is special adviser for Eastern European assistance to Lawrence Eagleburger, the deputy secretary of state. He has been mentioned as a potential U.S. ambassador to Moscow. Barry is a thin man, just above average height with a casual, brushed-to-one-side haircut and dark-rimmed glasses. On the subjects of his son's death and the legislative campaign it launched, his silence is deep and his grief palpable. His speech is cogent, nearly eloquent. When he has made his point, his gaze drops to a spot near his shoes and a sad smile takes hold.

"Bob is in my mind an archetypical senior international diplomat," says Hank Pennington, marine advisory agent at the University of Alaska on Kodiak Island, who worked on the legislation with the Barrys. "Very observant of people. Alert. Very witty without being overbearing. A kind of guy who can be part of any group without dominating it, and as need be step in and step back."

Peggy Barry is a more urgent presence. Nearly as tall as her husband, she has a sharp nose, thick gray-blond hair and a bright ache in her eyes. In the months after her son's death, she became the most visible proponent of regulating the fishing industry because her husband, who made the original contacts with marine safety experts, was in Stockholm, heading the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament.

"Each time she testified {before Congress}, she didn't just get up and say 'I'm for the bill,' " Rep. Miller recalls. "I mean she worked on her testimony. But it didn't just have facts and figures. It was moving."

The Barrys have a gift for breaking in on each other -- finishing sentences, inserting clauses -- without seeming to interrupt. As in:

Peggy: "I think it took us some months to realize just how really deeply committed the opposition was to keeping the government out of the fishing industry."

Bob: "And also to realize that what the opposition was were not individual fishermen or Mom-and-Pop fishing vessel owners, but big industries with highly paid lobbyists."

Peggy: "Yeah, such as the tuna industry."

Bob: "Which maintains representatives in the District with big budgets, and organizations which are basically in favor of reducing insurance premiums and not really very interested in requiring safety. A lot of these organizations have very good vessels with lots of safety equipment but they oppose mandatory safety regulations ..."

Peggy: "... because they don't want the government involved on any level."

In the five years of sometimes acrimonious struggle, they have become accustomed to -- if no more comfortable with -- having their motive questioned. Commercial fishing is a highly individualistic enterprise. "The last cowboys" is a phrase used -- with pride or sarcasm -- by both sides in the regulatory debate. The Barrys saw themselves as the advocate of the crewman, but many people simply saw them as interlopers.

"There was a lot of resentment hereabouts to a high official in D.C. trying to change something up here in Alaska," says Hal Burch of the Alaska Draggers Association. It was Burch's boat that came upon the body of Peter Barry off Kodiak Island.

"I feel that they were well-meaning people trying to do something with absolutely no conception of the industry they were trying to do something to," he says. "As it went along they started listening to people and became easier to work with. It probably started out as a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, but I think they got serious about wanting to do something."

Other evaluations were not so kind.

The most stinging remarks were made in a 1986 broadcast of "20/20." "They had some fisherman up there in Alaska saying, 'Well, our friends have been dying for years and nobody has given a damn. Just because there is this preppy kid from Washington that dies, everybody gets all excited,' " Peggy Barry remembers. "Well, that was a little hard to listen to."

As were the comments of an aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) whom Peggy Barry remembers saying, "You know your son didn't know what he was doing up there."

In fact, the Barrys do know that. Peter went to Alaska to work in the clamming industry, but that job did not work out. He took a job in a packing factory, but when the union workers went out on strike, he refused to cross their picket line. He hadn't even made enough money to pay for the trip back home when he met the skipper of the Western Sea.

Peter Barry was an anthropology major with a strong interest in drama. Nothing in his background prepared him for work on a salmon boat. He had no way of knowing that the crew member he replaced had left because of his concerns that the boat was not seaworthy.

It didn't take Barry long to develop similar concerns. "He had wanted very much to leave this boat, recognizing ... some of the problems, and was basically told that everybody else depended on him, that he had to stay on or he wouldn't get paid," his father says.

When Peter Barry died, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries was exploring ways to control surging insurance premiums for fishing boats. In 1986 the Barrys and their allies decided to attempt to refocus those hearings. The burden of executing this maneuver fell primarily to Peggy Barry.

"I had gotten stirred up and then left and left Peggy here to deal with the first time appearing before a committee and sharing this thing in a very public way," Bob Barry says. For most of the evening, he has directed both words and gaze to his interviewer, but now he turns and speaks to his wife.

"And in a way that you weren't at all prepared to do," he continues. "I was the person who felt there was something that I needed to do to change this, and I in essence imposed it on you because that was not a choice you would have made at that time. And I got out of town and you were left to deal with it."

"And it became a kind of obsession with me," she says.

In April of 1986 the committee heard testimony from Peggy Barry and two other women who had lost sons at sea, Rosemary Hofer of New Jersey and Mary Hoyt, former press secretary to Rosalynn Carter.

Barry closed her quietly emotional statement by reminding members of the committee that the autopsy of the skipper of the Western Sea showed he had cocaine in his blood. "Ask yourself whether you think his right to engage in commercial fishing without any effective regulation is sustainable," she said. "And if you think it is, then ask how you would feel if your son or daughter decided to take up commercial fishing."

That was pretty much that.

"One thing you can be certain of, I think, is that mandatory federal safety standards will be enacted," House subcommittee Chairman Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) told them when the hearing was over. "And that ... it will happen to a large extent because of you and your efforts."

It didn't happen easily, though. The first fishing safety bill also contained, by way of insurance relief, a cap on the damages that could be collected by victims of fishing accidents. An alliance of trial lawyers and consumer groups swarmed over the Hill, Bob Barry recalls. "And what the committees thought was going to go through without any significant opposition was beaten down by a vast majority."

In 1988 Studds's subcommittee tried again, uncoupling the safety provisions from the insurance relief provisions. This time the bill passed, creating a committee to draft the new regulations. Peggy Barry was named its vice chairman. Committee member Jerry Dzugan called her "the social conscience of the whole committee."

The work was extremely technical, but Peggy Barry says she found it "a way of thinking about Peter without thinking about Peter."

"I'm sure that a psychologist would say that this was our way of coming to terms with our son's death and our unwillingness to accept it in that it needn't have been," she says. "And that certainly it is a help to think that we've done something to make the profession safer."

The Barrys plan to continue their efforts for stricter regulations, but some semblance of the everyday is returning to their lives. In the last two years Peggy Barry has found a new challenge, teaching emotionally troubled children at City Lights, a school on G Street NW near the Martin Luther King Library.

"I wanted to do something else," she says. "These are kids we are losing too."