The Joyce family has been fishing from Swan’s Island for a long, long time. In fact, for more than 200 years, multiple generations have set off from the small island in various boats after numerous species in search of a living. Lobsterman Jason Joyce is the eighth generation to fish. But his son Andrew chose a different path, one that ultimately led him back to the island.
“I just wasn’t good at lobstering,” the 31-year-old videographer laughed. “I never had the knack.” During high school Andrew fished with his father. He set his own traps, following his father’s advice. “But frankly, at the end of the season it was always a little embarrassing,” he said.
Joyce, however, found he was good at telling stories on film. At age 12, he discovered his parents’ camcorder and started playing around with it, making silly videos for himself and his friends. It was in his junior year in high school that he learned to look at the camera differently. That year, Joyce signed up for a videography class at Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth. “I had a fantastic teacher for two years. He pressed us to not fool around, to be professional,” he said.
Inspired by his high school experience, Joyce went on to a small film school in Indiana, which turned out to be disappointing. He lobbied to attend an advanced video editing class only to find that the book the students would eventually study from was one that his high school teacher had used as well. He decided to leave. “The Tech Center gave me a solid hands-on education, and I wanted to use it,” Joyce said.
Now living in Palmer, Massachusetts, where his wife’s family is from, Joyce has found a niche in telling stories via video for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and manufacturing companies. In 2021, he turned his eye to a story close to his heart, that of the Maine lobster fishery and the threats lobstermen are now facing.
“I thought initially I’d make short video, just to get the word out but once I started it, Iwas like “Wow!” This is way larger than I imagined,” Joyce said. In 2021, he took three weeks to talk to and video people throughout the lobster industry, everyone from Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, to his lobsterman father, Jason. Andrew quickly learned that the Maine lobster fishery is under assault on multiple fronts, from the harsh 10-year whale plan imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to the galloping pace of offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine.
“It’s all happening so fast I decided I wanted to get something out now in a series form. It’s not perfect, I know. I just wanted to get it out there free and online,” he explained.
The videos, four of which have been released as of late February, begin with an overview of the fishery, lobstermen, right whales, and wind power. Called “Road to Disaster,” it was followed by “Fait Accompli,” “This is an Experiment,” and “Never Forgotten” (these and future episodes can be found on YouTube at The Maine Reset).
“There’s actually a small percentage of the Maine population that goes lobstering,” Joyce said. “The other businesses supporting it make it bigger but most of the state might not be aware of what’s going on there.” That, Joyce recognized, was a problem. If people are not aware of the value of the fishery, of the long history and traditions that inform lobstermen and their communities, they might just think of Maine lobstermen as stereotypes: cranky individuals who gripe about everything but make plenty of money so really have nothing to complain about.
“It’s a challenge when your fellow citizens don’t know what’s really happening,” he said.
His videos draw on the perspectives of lobstermen from Casco Bay, Swan’s Island and other sections of the coast to show the thoughtful consideration they give to their work and to the ocean that sustains them and their communities. Part of Joyce’s aim is to show the general public the precarious position Maine lobstermen are in at the moment, hamstrung by NMFS’s demand for a 98% reduction in the already minimal risk their gear poses to right whales on the one hand and railroaded by large international companies seeking offshore wind energy leases on the other. “Lobstermen don’t project vulnerability and that comes back to bite them sometimes,” he said.
Some may say that Joyce shows an explicit bias in favor of Maine lobstermen in his video series; Joyce is fine with that. “I don’t buy into the idea that there’s an inherent virtue in neutrality. I am not a disinterested party. I am a documentary film maker and that is why in the first episode I explained who I am and where I come from,” Joyce said.
“No one commissioned me to do this, so I have the freedom to do what I like. It’s a look at what life looks like in fishing communities and what they are dealing with,” he said.