|A family affair. Father teaching son to lobster fish. Photo from Laurie Cates.|
The theme for this years Maine Lobster Festival has been announced as “Lobster Livin’ – The Families Behind the Industry.” I am so glad the organizers of the festival have decided to focus on the hard-working families who not only make the Lobster Festival possible but also prop up so much of Maine’s economy.
I dedicated the book I wrote several years ago to all the lobster fishing families of Downeast Maine. They were such an inspiration to me during the writing process and, as I said in the introduction, I wanted the book to acknowledge “their hard work and dedication to preserving a beautiful way of life for future generations.”
|Like father, like son. Photo from Laurie Cates|
It is important to recognize that, for every lobster fisherman out on the water, there is usually a wife back home who packed his lunch, painted his buoys and after whom his lobster boat is named. There is also often a son or daughter who spends his or her summers working with him as a sternman.
For my family, lobsterfishing was very much a family affair in every aspect, from the naming of our lobster boats to the way we supported each other throughout the fishing season. My father was always the captain – of the business and the vessels – but my mother, my brother and myself all paid crucial roles to make the business a success. My mother painted my father’s buoys until my brother and I were old enough to take over the task. She also woke up with him at the crack of dawn to pack his lunch while he ate his breakfast before another day on the water. As soon as we were old enough, my brother and I started working as stern’men’ on our father’s boat in the summer. During the spring, we would help with the setting of the traps on weekends and after school. Each fall we would meet my father at the wharf after school to help him band the abundance of lobsters.
|Learning the ropes. My brother and his son.|
|My nephew – a fifth generation lobsterman. Photo from Belinda Lemieux.|
When I was writing my book, one thing I was most fascinated with was the “heritage” of the industry. In Maine, lobster fishing is not just an occupation—it’s a way of life and a family tradition. Of the fishermen I surveyed for the book, 85 percent were part of a generation of lobster fishermen. Children grow up “playing” lobster fishing in old skiffs parked in their parents’ front yards then graduate to ‘going sternman’ with their fathers as young as the age of eight. By their early teens, many boys are fishing a small gang of traps from an outboard boat. Before they graduate high school, these boys have often graduated to full-scale lobster boats.
|Generations of lobstermen at work. Via Laurie Cates|
A lobster fisherman’s family is also often reflected in the way he names his boat. Following a long maritime tradition, most lobster boats are named after women, with that name usually being the fisherman’s wife, daughter or granddaughter. This was the case in my family. My father’s first boat, the Celia Marie, was named after my mother. Subsequent boats have been named the Christina Marie.
|One of my father’s lobster boats, carrying my name.|
I look forward to learning what the organizer’s of this years Maine Lobster Festival do to celebrate the families behind such an important, iconic industry.