By Sheila Dassatt
Just the other day, I received a call from an interested person, who asked me what is the average age of a Maine fisherman? Well, I have been pondering this question ever since. With all of the problems that we have been facing over the recent years, it made me wonder just who is the “endangered species?”
To answer the question, a young person can obtain their lobster license when they are eight years old. They need to have a sponsor that has a Class I Lobster license to teach them the apprenticeship and watch over them. They can build up their amount of traps as time goes on. We know some fishermen that are proud that they started when they were such a young age and have been able to maintain their occupation through their entire life.
My Dad used to tell us that he started when he was still wearing diapers and rubber boots! Said they all started at a young age, which probably wasn’t too far fetched. He and a lot of his friends and relatives claimed they started at a very young age.
When I first got my lobster license, it was before the zones were organized and there was no wait list. This was back in 1993, just before all of the rules changed. There was a lot more lobstering at that time and a lot more licenses. For the sake of conservation, the wait list and apprentice program came into being. This was considered necessary at that time, which perhaps it was. I believe there were approximately 7,000 licenses then.
Times have been changing, but I can honestly say that the average age now is around 54 years old. It may be more than that now, but that was the last that I knew. I am proud to say that the fishermen and women that are 70 years and older are still out there fishing and holding onto their lobster licenses. As you have probably seen the latest articles about Virginia Oliver, who is over 100 years young, and still lobstering with her son. People have asked her son if he is thinking of retiring and his answer is, “how can I retire if my mother is still going?” He says this with a gleam in his eye, as I know he is very proud of her. A lot of guys that are my age are saying the same thing about their dads. Their father’s are still out there lobstering at ages well into their eighties.
Lobstering is a way of life, and I know that as long as they are out there lobstering, it keeps them going. My Dad went until he was 87, which was such a pleasure to be on the boat with him. He passed away when he was 88 and it was never the same on the boat without him. We would always finish the coffee in the thermos on our way in. What great memories, as I’m sure you have too. The way the laws are changing, it will definitely put a damper on the older generation. I cannot see any of these guys setting triples, or trawls at these tender ages. They are also the ones that taught us their knowledge of good fishing practices and maintained the conservation that has made Maine as successful as it is. They also taught us safety and boat maintenance and handling. This is how it has always been done, for generations.
I have already written about the “Lost Generation” that were the first to be caught up in the waiting lists and needing sponsors for the apprentice program. Some of them were able to see it through, but there were some that just didn’t meet the criteria required to obtain their Class I Lobster License. This has decreased the amount of lobstermen out there. Now we have another generation coming up, and the attention on them is “do they feel they can depend on fishing entirely to make their living?” This is a very good question for these young folks. There are some very good young fishermen coming up in the ranks and I hope that they can make it. They certainly have their challenges to cope with. A lot of young people that graduate these days go off to college or vocational schools to learn another trade, which may also be needed these days. We don’t want them to lose “heart” in what they are doing. The demands on the rules and the dangers of fishing longer trawls is also a concern. A lot of the boats that are going offshore are not really rigged to be big enough for the demands. Does this mean that they need to buy larger boats just to meet the demands of the new rules? It is a vicious cycle for sure!
So, in answer to the question of age, we do not want to see us phase out in time just because the demands are too much to meet. Once again, we do need to work together and stick together to get us through this Armageddon that we are in right now.
I will end this with a wish that everyone has a safe and healthy Thanksgiving. Even though we have our challenges, we have a lot to be Thankful for. Enjoy your families and just kick back and make some good memories!