New Recruit: It all started with a dare

First published in the MLA Newsletter, June, 2012

Genevieve Kurilec got a “daring” start in lobstering. Her first experience came while working at a boatyard in Blue Hill where she met a lobsterman who needed an extra hand on his boat for the summer. After sterning for him for the summer, she was tending bar when she received a challenge. “I was dared that I couldn’t fish out of Stonington,” Genevieve said. She took the dare. “I started out working with someone for three years. Now I’m on my seventh season.”

Genevieve and Hello Darlin'. Photo by Cory McDonald.

Genevieve, 29, completed the Apprentice Program in 2010 and looks forward to fishing this summer in her 21 foot center console BHM, Hello Darlin’. “I only got out a few times last year due to breakdowns. This will be my first year in my boat,” she said. She fishes out of Sunshine and sells her catch to Greenhead Lobster’s smaller branch in the same town. When she did get out lobstering last year, Genevieve took a sternman, but plans to go alone this year. “I’m a little more confident and the boat runs a whole lot better,” she said.

Genevieve grew up on Mount Desert Island, but her family moved to Blue Hill when she was in high school. Now she lives and works in Stonington and is very involved in the fishing industry. “I go to meetings and classes and listen and learn from people,” she said. “I did the TAA program and learned about marketing, too.” Even when she isn’t on the water or attending meetings, Genevieve stays involved through the Island Fishermen’s Wives Association, for which she is secretary, and through her winter job at Island Fishing Gear.

“I’m the only person on the Association who fishes and isn’t a wife,” she said. The group meets once a month and puts on the Fishermen’s Day each summer. Genevieve said it’s a big time commitment, but that it’s worth it because the Association does so many good things for the community. “We give out college scholarships, fund safety classes, do a lot of community outreach and work closely with Penobscot East Research Center (PERC),” she explained.

“There are a lot of strong fishermen’s voices in the lobster industry,” Genevieve noted. She wishes that scientists and fishermen had a better relationship. “I think many fishermen are inherently afraid of scientists because they tell the state what regulations to make,” she said. But she has seen many people try to bridge this gap and improve relationships. “PERC is doing a good job of that. They employ scientists, but try to get a voice for everybody. The relationship is getting better.” Genevieve herself has volunteered to work with scientists who need to go out on boats. “I used to want to be a marine biologist. When I’ve worked on dragger boats I’m always the one looking at stuff wanting to know what it is,” she said. “And anytime scientists need to get on a boat, my name is on the list.”

Genevieve has 500 trap tags, but only fishes between 200 and 250 right now. “I’m still working my way up,” she said. She recognizes that Stonington is a huge port for landing lobsters and that the entire town depends on good landings. Her one worry for the lobstering industry is a collapse. “We’re in such an economic boom right now, but we’ve already seen the fishery dwindle in southern New England and even southern Maine. And all other fisheries are going away. If the bottom drops out, we’re screwed,” she said.

Hello Darlin', a 21 foot center console BHM. Photo by Cory McDonald.

An outdoor enthusiast, Genevieve and her fiancé Cory McDonald of Stonington spend their free time camping, hiking, and exploring the island. “There’s a lot to do here if you aren’t looking for shopping or a bar,” she said. The couple has a wedding planned for early September. “I got some good advice to start planning early,” said Genevieve. She did most of the planning this past winter. “Now I just have to write the check this summer and show up,” she said with a laugh.

Lobstering has challenges no matter where you fish or who you are, but Genevieve said people have been good to her. “I apprenticed for five years so they’ve seen me put in my time and work hard. I think people respect that no matter who you are,” she commented.

Genevieve hasn’t received any special treatment as a woman who lobsters, but her gender hasn’t hurt her either. “There weren’t many women in the industry when I started. There are a lot more now,” she said. When the economy took a tumble in 2008, Genevieve noticed lobstermen bringing their wives and daughters out with them in order to keep the money close. Now, she sees women taking an active role in the industry. “I used to be the only woman when I pulled up to unload at the dock. Now if there are five boats there, probably three of them have women on board.”