New leaders in Maine’s lobster fishery: John Tripp, Spruce Head

First published in Landings, October, 2015.

John Tripp’s new house sits on a wide expanse of cleared land in Spruce Head. On this quiet afternoon his five-week-old daughter Everly and his wife Mallary are resting upstairs. “We finished the house about a month before she was born,” Tripp, 27, said. In the year since he participated in the Lobster Leadership Institute, Tripp has experienced numerous changes, yet he radiates a sense of calm.

The Sea Wife. Photo by Walt Barrows, wlb3.smugmug.com.
The Sea Wife. Photo by Walt Barrows, wlb3.smugmug.com.

“Everything about Prince Edward Island was totally different,” Tripp recalled, thinking back on his visit to the island last year. He went lobstering with local fishermen Robby Jenkins and John Lock. “Even the lobsters looked different. They keep the small ones [called canners] which is the opposite of what we do. And the bottom had very little variation.” Tripp was encouraged to take part in the Institute by his father-in-law, MLA board member Tad Miller. He admits that before getting involved he had a very different idea about the MLA. “You think of the MLA, you think of trap limits,” he said. “But I’ve changed my mind since then.”

In addition to finishing his house and becoming a father, Tripp also bought a new boat this year. “I bought it from my father. It’s a 42-foot Peter Kass John’s Bay boat. I put in a new engine and new power plant, that sort of delayed the season,” he said.

Tripp started lobstering when he was 11 in a 21-foot outboard his father bought for his three sisters and himself to use. When he was 17 he purchased a 36-foot Jonesporter, built in 1967, then moved on to a 1973 wooden boat built by Herbert Baum of Kennebunk. “That got me even further out,” Tripp said with a grin, referring to his lobstering territory. Then he bought a 42-foot fiberglass Lowell which he fished until purchasing the Sea Wife this year. “Now I’m way out,” he said happily. He fishes 15-trap trawls offshore throughout the winter months.

John Tripp and his wife Mallory on the porch of their new home with daughter Everly. Photo by M. Waterman.
John Tripp and his wife Mallory on the porch of their new home with daughter Everly. Photo by M. Waterman.

This year his season has been fairly slow, Tripp said, in part because of work on his new boat but also because his catch is down compared to previous years. “I think the lobsters are dropping off. It has to happen sometime,” he said. Concern about the future of the fishery led Tripp to buy a used boat and to put money into building his house now. “I want to get that paid down,” he explained. He recognizes that the lobster stocks found today might not be there in future decades. “The Leadership Institute taught me to plan for the future. I have 50 years ahead of me to fish and I know things are going to change. It’s good to think ahead,” Tripp said.

In recent years more and more lobstermen driving big boats with big engines have set their traps offshore, leading on occasion to something of a Wild West situation. Tripp acknowledges that offshore lobstering has its good and bad points. “Lobstering is about the most competitive thing there is. You have to pay your dues. There’s a lot more effort going on out there, there has been and there will be,” he said. He’d like to be able to try fisheries other than lobster but those avenues are closed for right now. “I can’t get a scallop license and if I got a shrimp license, there’s no guarantee I’d ever be able to use it,” he said.

Since taking part in the Leadership Institute, Tripp has attended many of the MLA Board of Directors’ monthly meetings in Belfast. “I want to find out what’s going on. Lobstermen are often their own worst enemies, griping about things which have been in the works for a while. Anyone can go to the meetings if they want to. They’ll listen to you,” he said.

The afternoon is drawing on. Mallary and newborn Everly come down to the living room. Tripp’s yellow Labrador nudges at the door. The new house is cool and clean, showing the pride Tripp takes in his home and his life. He holds Everly in his arms. “This is about the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says quietly.

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