Beals-Jonesport Coop a stable business

First published in the MLA newsletter, May, 2010.

Steve Peabody reached his 30-year mark as manager of the Beals-Jonesport Cooperative last month. When asked what he likes best about his job, he replied with no hesitation, “I like all of it!”

Founded in 1970, the co-op has over 100 members and 87 active boats. Serving all of those boats require some efficient systems. “We can handle them pretty fast,” said Peabody. “I have two sets of scales so we can take care of two boats at once. And there are two guys in the bait shed taking care of the bait.”

Peabody does face his share of challenges, though. “The hardest part is there are so many variables. You’ve got to stay competitive, got to make money. You also have to sell your lobsters, and whoever’s buying has to make money too,” he said.

The hardest part of his job? “Keeping everybody happy!” Peabody said. Falling lobster prices have made that difficult. “The fishermen are struggling,” he said. “They have big payments, big responsibilities. But operating expense stays the same.” “There’s only X-amount of market,” he continued. To combat that, Peabody says, “We just try to do things more efficiently than anybody else.”

Peabody stays busy trying to make sure the co-op pays a good bonus and attracts new members. “We want to keep that base; we want to keep the pounds [of lobster] coming in,” he said. The co-op handles about 1.5 million pounds a year, he said.

That’s a big change from when Peabody started in 1980. For the first half of his career, the co-op handled just an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of lobster a year. In the 1990s, that started creeping up to today’s level.

The co-op sells its product to processors, the live market and lobster pounds. Many lobster pounds are on nearby Beals Island. “Most pounds are a family tradition,” he said. “There are just a lot of natural coves. The geography makes it fairly feasible.”

Peabody doesn’t foresee many bait shortages for the co-op, which has “a really good bait dealer who’s always taken care of us,” he said. “I don’t foresee any major problems. We have a good inventory and work to keep it up,” he continued.

Lobstering is an integral part of life in the communities of Jonesport and Beals Island. “Everything is directly related,” explained Peabody. “The banks, the stores… Everyone either works on a boat or on a wharf or in a store where [fishermen] buy their groceries. Everybody is directly involved,” he said.

The co-op is also a big part of the community. “We handle our share of lobsters,” said Peabody. “Fishermen formed this co-op and joined it for their own benefit. We try to be a stable fixture,” he said. Peabody himself is a fixture at the co-op and in the lobster industry as a whole. He worked at an independent lobster wharf all through grammar school and high school. After graduating, he worked as a sternman for five years before taking a job as a dockworker at the BJ co-op. He trained with his predecessor for six years before stepping up to the role of manager.

Peabody grew up in the community, and he can see his parents’ house from the co-op dock. Peabody’s brother is a fisherman who sells to the co-op, as is his father – one of the co-op’s original members.

When asked if he’ll work at the BJ co-op for another 30 years, Peabody laughed and said he wants to move someplace warm.