First published in Landings, April, 2015.
Genevieve McDonald, 32, of Stonington, was one of 11 young Maine lobster harvesters who traveled to Prince Edward Island, Canada, last year as part of a Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance program designed to prepare younger fishermen for future leadership roles in the lobster industry. The group members were selected in part to represent several different regions of the coast and all returned home enthusiastic as a result of the experience.
McDonald has been lobstering for the past 11 years out of Stonington, the past five as captain. She started fishing on her own with a 20-foot BHM (Blue Hill Marine) then moved up to a 32’ Holland, Hello Darlin’ II, this past summer. “I found out about my boat from another fisherman on the PEI trip,” said McDonald.
Now she fishes from June to November and has already started her path toward leadership in the industry. She is the first woman to serve on the state Lobster Advisory Council (LAC), appointed last June. “I am the Downeast region representative. Being on the LAC provides an opportunity for me to represent the concerns of the fishermen in Downeast Maine. I think it’s more effective to participate in shaping the future of the fishery from the inside, rather than to fight from the outside. Maintaining diversity within the fleet is very important to me.”
McDonald is also a student in Maine Studies at the University of Maine. She returned to school in order to further develop those skills necessary to facilitate collaboration between the commercial fishing and scientific communities.
When McDonald is not studying, lobstering or doing all the other things required to make a living on the water, she is tackling the prominent fishing gear company Grunden’s, to encourage them to make a line of oilskins appropriate for fishing women. “Despite my best efforts, I have yet to see Grunden’s release any products specifically designed for women,” McDonald said. “But it’s been awesome to connect with so many women in the industry as a result of the project. It’s definitely a product that has a demand.”
McDonald found that spending time with lobstermen on Prince Edward Island helped her put Maine’s lobstering industry in context. When the Leadership participants reached the island, they stayed at the homes of participating lobstermen, and then went out with them on their lobster boats to observe the similarities and differences between their two fisheries.
“It provided an excellent opportunity to see how things are done in PEI. I’m still in touch with the two captains I went fishing with, Lonnie Robertson and Jamie Gauthier,” said McDonald, “and we regularly share information about what is happening in each of our fisheries.” She thinks the Leadership Institute was a great way to get out of the small world that many lobstermen live in. “The takeaway for me? It was the opportunity to connect with other fishermen outside of my harbor. Not only in Canada, but also getting to know the other Maine participants on the trip,” McDonald said.
The lower trap limits and shorter, two-month season means the PEI fishery operates very differently than in Maine. “The two fishermen I went with have other jobs. One works on land and the other does tuna-fishing charters.” Canadian fishermen have fixed seasons for all species. On PEI, lobstermen fish within designated LFAs (Lobster Fishing Areas) with traps limits between 272 and 303 per license. “We gained valuable insight into their fishery and ours, the relationship between the U.S. and Canada,” said McDonald. “We’re one big industry and this trip solidified that.”
The future is wide open for McDonald. “I am honored to be the first woman to serve on the LAC. I’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of women on the water and we should have a voice at the table,” she said.
With an abundance of energy, a resilient brand of optimism, and a penchant for hard work, McDonald brings to Maine’s traditional lobster fishery some of the new blood needed to keep the industry alive. “I plan to fish forever,” she said. “I love being on the water. I love the freedom and independence of lobstering. We have an abundant resource, and I want to help keep it that way.”