Only when we meet with communities and hear their stories can we truly understand the issues facing the fishing communities we work with. That was our heartfelt belief when we set off for a summer full of road-trips in various regions around the country, and it rang true in each of the communities we’ve visited thus far.
As soon as we touched down in Portsmouth, New Hampshire - our first stop - we met with Andrea Tomlinson, Executive Director of New Hampshire Community Seafood. Andrea shared with us the trials and tribulations of getting local seafood served at local restaurants. We also talked about an emerging network of young fishermen organizing so that current and next generations can have a future in the fishing industry. We’re really excited to see what comes out of that network!
From New Hampshire, we headed north to visit with folks in Maine. We were greeted in Pleasant Point by Vera Francis, an activist who has been defending indigenous fishing rights for many years. Vera took us on a tour of the area, pointing out places that are culturally important to the Passamaquoddy tribe, on our way to the grand opening of Old Sow Grill, a new seafood restaurant in Eastport owned by a Passamaquoddy family. There we met a dynamic young man named Elijah, a 17-year-old lobsterman in Eastport who is wise beyond his years. He grasps the challenges climate change presents to the lobster industry, and is developing his own kelp and mussel farming business to diversify his livelihood so he can continue working on the water.
In the neighboring town of Pembroke, we stopped by a local seafood business called Gulf of Maine, Inc. The charismatic owner, Tim Sheehan, showed us around the new facility and nearby shores. He is channeling his energy into innovative future projects that involve harvesting fresh seafood, supplying marine specimens to educational institutions, and training the next generation.
As we made our way back down the coast, we stopped in Stonington, the largest lobstering community in Maine. We shared a meal with Robin Alden and Ted Ames, longtime fisheries advocates and co-founders of the Penobscot East Resource Center which was renamed the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in recent years.
We headed next to a rally organized by the Maine Lobstermen’s Union where folks from communities around the state showed up to protest the new proposed right whale regulations. While we don’t typically work with lobstermen on issues they’re facing, it was heartening to see the power of collective action, and the presence of Congressional members, the Governor and some state legislators that represent these communities.
We spent that evening at a picnic in Belfast, Maine, with a group of environmental activists called Local Citizens for Smart Growth. For the past year and a half, they have been fighting passionately against a proposed land-based industrial salmon aquaculture facility that would deplete the area’s water supply and release massive amounts of wastewater into the bay. They’re challenging the project in a variety of ways - from weekly protests to lawsuits - and are not giving up!
After two hours of sleep, we ventured down the coast to Hyannis, Massachusetts, to meet with fisherman Tim Barrett at the dock at 4:00am, and go out fishing on his dragger. We spent the day talking, hauling, and sorting fish with Tim, who has been fishing his entire adult life and has seen many changes come to the industry. We gained a lot of insights from him about these changes and the challenges that come with them. Above all, Tim had great stories to share, and we appreciated sharing in the laughs and dropped jaws that came with those stories.
The next couple of days took an unexpected turn. While we were working indoors, a tornado hit Cape Cod! Tornados are an extremely uncommon occurrence on Cape Cod. Tim, who had gone out fishing again that day, described the weather conditions out there as the worst he has ever seen. Luckily, there were no personal injuries, but the widespread power outages and downed trees caused some chaos in the area and complicated our trip! The reality of climate change, and the need to have emergency supplies at hand, hit home for us.
The next day, in calmer seas, we were able to visit Corey Hendricks at First Light Shellfish Farm, an oyster farm operated by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Twelve years ago, the federal government finally recognized the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and their aboriginal rights to hunt and fish in their tribal lands (including private property). The Wampanoag people used to have dozens of tribes, but only three are left: Mashpee, Aquinnah and Herring Pond (which is not yet federally recognized).
The farm started operating in an old horse stable in 2009, and under Corey’s leadership, the business has grown and made it over a lot of hurdles that come with the territory.
The overarching lesson that our road trip in the Northeast reinforced is that we can get through anything life throws at us - even the most tumultuous times - as long as we face it with courage.