New Recruit: Many options open for the future

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2012.

Long Island lobsterman Justin Papkee is keeping his options open for the future.

Long Island lobsterman Justin Papkee has a lot of options before him. The twenty-two-year-old, who attends Fordham University in New York, has just one semester left until he receives his bachelor’s degree in physics. Justin lobsters off Long Island, is a member of the Long Island volunteer fire department, and works as an EMT while at college. “I don’t know what I’m going to do after I graduate. Maybe come back here and lobster, if I can make enough money,” said Justin. He could also teach physics, math, or find another position that uses his degree. “I’ve got lots of options,” he said.

Originally from Massachusetts, Justin grew up on Long Island and began lobstering with friends who come from fishing families. Justin is the only person in his family who fishes. “My dad will come out with me sometimes to help when my sternman can’t make it,” Justin explained. “It’s nice to have him on the boat with me.”

Justin fishes on his boat, Scottish Heritage, a 30’ Repco, but is in the process of buying a new boat. “I didn’t really need a new boat,” he admitted, “but the new one is a good deal and I couldn’t pass it up.” His new boat is a 37’ Repco. “It will be really nice to have a bigger boat. Especially since I’ll have one hundred more traps next year, putting me at 800 traps total,” Justin said. A bigger boat also will be better for the annual boat races in Portland. “I participated this past summer. I didn’t win the race, but I did win the drawing for a gift card for fuel, so that was good,” he said with a smile. In fact, Justin found himself far from winning any race. “I think the only boat I was ahead of had engine problems. Someone even told me they couldn’t figure out what I was doing out there, and then they realized I was racing,” he said. “But it was a fun experience.”

Justin usually fishes in the summer and spends the rest of the year at college. Since he didn’t need any of the classes being offered during the fall term, he decided to take the semester off and spend it on the water. “It’s my first full year of fishing. And actually, it’s been my best year,” he said. But he was quick to point out that he could have done much better if the price weren’t so low. “It’s been my best year because I have one hundred more traps than I did last year and because I’m spending more time fishing,” Justin said. “I’d consider fishing full-time after college as long as the price isn’t as low as it was this year. That was just bad.”

Justin sells his lobsters to Down the Bay Lobsters on Little Chebeague Island. It’s convenient to have a place to sell his catch near Long Island. “Living on an island is different than living on mainland,” Justin said. “You have to plan your day around the ferry’s schedule. But it’s also less hectic here. I like it.” He also enjoys his time in New York City and the Bronx while he is at school, but could never imagine living there full time.

Long Island lobsterman Steve Train used to take Justin as his sternman and eventually began bringing him to various meetings related to lobstering. “I’ve been to all kinds of meetings. I find them really interesting and like to hear all the different opinions from different places. And it’s really interesting when there are different opinions from people fishing in the same area. I like being able to sit back and listen without being too involved,” he explained. “But maybe I’ll become more involved if I stay in the state and continue to fish.”

Lobstering is just one of the fisheries Justin is interested in. “I went to a seaweed meeting the other day,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for lobstermen to diversify and have a way to make money during the winter. But right now, it’s still unknown how much money you can make from seaweed aquaculture and who will buy it.” As he sees it, getting into seaweed aquaculture wouldn’t cost much since he could use his lobster boat and wouldn’t have to do much to maintain the growing algae. “I’m also interested in shrimping. I think I’ll try that this winter. It’s good to diversify,” he said.