Kris Koeber’s start in lobster fishing was similar to the way many fishermen start out – his father had built him and his brother a skiff and they hauled traps as young boys out of Potts Harbor, in the midcoast region. His career path to becoming a full-time commercial fisherman was not so typical. After receiving a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from St. Laurence University, in upstate New York, far from Maine’s rocky shore, Kris returned to Maine set for a career in the social services sector. As it turned out, the work did not suit him. His wife Cait was working in Rockland at the time, and when Kris decided to get back on the water, he went as a stern man for a guy fishing out of Matinicus Island. Kris did not have a commercial license for Zone D, where the couple lived; his commercial fishing license was for Zone E, which meant he couldn’t fish on his own boat where they lived.
Most young families juggle work, child care, career choices, but overlay the complexities of lobster fishing and the decision tree gets complicated quickly. I knew Cait fairly well, she and I had logged a lot of hours measuring scallops for a scallop aquaculture program we were both involved with. I knew they were considering their options and when I saw Cait in early December, she told me that Kris had just bought a boat in Stonington, it was being transported down, they were moving to Zone F where he would start fishing. On a cold January day (there are no other kinds in Maine), I went to take a look at the boat and chat with Kris about their decision.
Our meeting was slightly delayed (“we’re running late, we had a load of traps and got behind”). When I arrived, their young daughter Iva (age 20 months) was reading with Kris’ mother while Kris shifted traps outside. The boat sat in the driveway of Kris’ parents’ house, along with traps and buoys (Kris’ brother Kyle also fishes commercially). “There were and are a lot of moving pieces,” Kris acknowledged of their decision to move and purchase the boat, named, I had noticed, No Problem. “We had to think about what we both wanted to do for work and where we wanted to be as a starting place. And then buying a boat, it’s a big deal.” Kris had secured a loan to get the boat, “it was considerably more than I had intended to spend. There’s a lot to think about in making a move like this,” Kris noted thoughtfully, “there’s a laundry list of concerns”.
“It’s where he’s supposed to be, on the water,” Kris’ mother called in from the next room and then shared a photo of him as a young boy, in his skiff, one hand on the tiller, one hand holding a giant soda, adorned in boots and bright yellow oilers. A slice of boyhood heaven. I asked Kris what he was most looking forward to with the move. “The responsibility. Taking everything that’s been taught to me over the years and putting it to use. I’ve had incredible mentors. The boat, it’s a Mitchell Cove 32, it’s gonna go over in May, it’s in great shape, only 1600 hours on the engine.” The tone of concern dissipated, his enthusiasm was palpable: he was going fishing. The loan for the boat, the responsibility of being a father and a husband, all the unknowns about this move and their decision to jump in faded: here was the boy in the yellow oilers, soda in hand, headed out to haul his traps.