People of the Coast: Kathy Clark, Swan’s Island

It’s a good feeling to know that you are doing what you really like to do for your work. That describes Kathy Clark’s perspective of her role as Swan’s Island Fishermen’s Co-op general manager. “Sometimes the thing you least expect to do is the one you like the most,” she said.

Clark, 73, did not come to the world of lobster by birth. She began life on a farm outside Rutland, Vermont, where her parents had moved from New York state. After some years her father moved the family to Massachusetts where he worked in construction. After Clark married her husband, Roy, the couple decided to move back to Vermont, settling near the Canadian border in the sparsely populated Northeast Kingdom, near Lake Memphremagog.

But the couple had an itch for the sea. They saw an article about the island of Frenchboro and, intrigued, went to visit. “We liked the area but with a child in high school we thought it was too remote,” Clark recalled. Instead they decided to move to the town of Hancock on the mainland. Over the years they explored the Downeast coast, visiting Swan’s Island several times. “We moved out here in 1995,” Clark said. “Some people thought we were crazy.” But, having lived in a small town in rural Vermont, Clark found life on Swan’s Island similar. “There we didn’t go out much at night, which was fine. Here you really can’t go out at night,” she laughed.

Clark found a job at Downeast Horizons in Bar Harbor, a non-profit organization working with developmentally challenged people, while her husband worked first at the island store, then as a carpenter and sternman. When the Swan’s Island Fishermen’s Co-op bookkeeper left, Clark was asked if she would be willing to work a few hours doing the weekly checks. The answer was “yes.” Soon she was working three days on the mainland and three days for the co-op. Eventually the trips to the mainland stopped.

The Swan’s Island Co-op has 35 members, plus other island fishermen who sell to the co-op on a regular basis. Those lobstermen fish in the island’s Lobster Conservation Zone, in which they can set 600 traps. Because of the ideal bottom around the island and its constantly cold waters, the co-op remains busy. “We have very good lobsters. They are in demand,” Clark says simply.

Clark keeps track of what comes over the wharf, the different dealers whose trucks shuttle to and from the island via ferry, the bait costs – all the financial details that can make or break the co-op’s profitability. But through it all she keeps a balanced view of the business and the different characters she must deal with. “The names and faces are different [from those she knew in Vermont] but the issues are pretty much the same,” she said. “There are good people, bad people, people who get worried about one thing or another.”

That non-judgmental point of view is just one of Clark’s many valuable traits, according to Kenny Lemoine, a longtime co-op member. “Kathy is very honest, easy-going and considerate. She jumps in when something needs to be done and doesn’t brag herself up. They don’t come any better,” Lemoine said.

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