Remarkable People: Kristan Porter, Cutler

First published in Landings, April, 2013.

Kristan Porter is a busy man. The 42-year-old lobsterman is walking the hallways of the Samoset Resort during the March Maine Fishermen’s Forum with a cheerful smile and watchful eyes. That is as it should be because Porter is president of the Forum’s board of directors, the first fisherman to serve in that post, and this three-day event is full of responsibilities for him and the other volunteer board members.

Kristan Porter, Nick Lemieux, Trevor Jessiman, and John Williams take a look at gear removed from an entangled whale at the 2012 Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Annie Tselikis photo.

Kristan Porter, Nick Lemieux, Trevor Jessiman, and John Williams take a look at gear removed from an entangled whale at the 2012 Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Annie Tselikis photo.

Porter seems at ease with this role, as he is with his many others:  former chair of the Sea Urchin Zone Council, member of the Department of Marine Resources Advisory Council, Maine Lobstermen’s Association board member, former Cutler selectman, and founder of the Maine Draggermen’s Association. Asked if he had any notion as a young man growing up in Cutler that he would end up serving on all these different boards, Porter grinned. “You come to the front by necessity or anger. If you don’t step up to do it, who will?” he answered.

Porter entered the world of fishing when he was teenager. He lobstered a bit during high school, then worked on a quahog dragger during the summer months. After high school he attended the University of Southern Maine for three years, training to become a teacher. “I went out in the field [as a teacher in training] and I just hated it,” he recalled. “So I went home.”

He worked on draggers for several years in the early 1990s, fishing for mahogany clams, quahogs, urchins, and scallops, work that kept him away from Cutler. “It was day boat fishing for quahogs,” Porter explained. “Sometimes you would bring the boat into another harbor somewhere on the coast and sleep over.” Recognizing that the concerns of draggermen were not being heard by state legislators, Porter and several other fishermen decided to start their own organization in order to have more weight in Augusta. In 1994 they founded the Maine Draggermen’s Association. “It was to give a voice to the Downeast guys,” Porter said. “We did help influence state scallop and urchin regulations so it served its purpose at the time.”

As a 24-year-old from Cutler wandering the halls of the capital, Porter found himself in a different world. In that world, loud voices and bluster weren’t the proper tools of the trade. “I remember one time I was spouting off [to a committee]. One of the members took me aside afterward for a tongue lashing. I went out of bounds. I had to learn you go and voice your opinion respectfully,” he said. He credits many of the legislators in Augusta at the time with giving him a good education in how government works. “Overall they went pretty easy on me!”

By the late 1990s, the Draggermen’s Association had folded. With a wife and young children at home, Porter turned from dragging to lobstering in the mid-1990s. He then became involved in the Maine Fishing Industry Development Center, a federally-funded nonprofit organization that promoted fishing industry diversification in response to new regulations on groundfishing. Through the Center, Porter worked with Gail Johnson, John Norton, Maggie Raymond and other fishing industry stalwarts to provide grants for various fishing ventures in the state.

Kristan Porter, left, and fellow Forum board member Maggie Raymond at the 2013 Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Photo by Mike Young.

Kristan Porter, left, and fellow Forum board member Maggie Raymond at the 2013 Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Photo by Mike Young.

Raymond has since served ten years with Porter on the Maine Fishermen’s Forum board. “He’s very dedicated and respectful of everyone,” she said. “It’s really pleasant working with him.” As a member of the New England Fisheries Management Council, Raymond has spent many a long day at contentious and often less-than-fruitful meetings and understands how hard it is to actually get things done. “Kristan does what needs to be done. He’s not looking for someone to pat him on the back,” she said.

It was through the Development Center that Porter was introduced to the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. “I had never heard of it before,” he acknowledged. One seat on the Forum’s board of directors was reserved for a representative of the Maine Scallopers Association. Porter was asked to take that seat sixteen years ago (the seat is now an at-large seat) and became its president four years ago. “He’s an excellent leader,” Raymond added. “I was thrilled to see him take the position as president. Of course, he’s a lot more casual than me!” she said with a laugh.

Porter also became aware of the MLA through interactions with MLA president David Cousens over the years. Eventually Porter was asked to serve on its board, which he has done for the last ten years. “Don’t be fooled by Kristan’s quiet manner,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the MLA. “He’s an effective leader for downeast communities. He’s one of those special people who has put in the time to understand the system and is driven by his passion to make things better for his local fishermen and for Maine. Porter remains pleasantly matter-of-fact about all that he has contributed to Maine’s fishing industry. “You know, you do one thing and then you get asked to do another. That’s just the way it is,” he said.