Talking to Brian Tripp about lobster fishing is a little like talking to a kid about going to the candy shop: you get the palpable feeling he can’t get enough.
Brian got his commercial lobster license in 2011 at age 35; his route to becoming a lobsterman was somewhat circuitous. He doesn’t hail from a long line of Sedgwick fishermen — though his first introduction to lobster fishing was at 5 years old with his uncle and grandfather who both lobstered from their own boats in York, Maine.
“The traps were wooden and my grandfather pegged claws. By the time I was old enough to be helpful — about age 10 — and not just underfoot, both had passed away, and their wooden boats and traps sat deteriorating by the shore,” Brian recalls. Brian didn’t come up through the ranks like many commercial fishermen in Maine. But those days fishing when he was a kid gave him a taste — and planted the proverbial seed.
Brian attended Unity College where he got a degree in conservation law enforcement; his father was a game warden. “I worked as a game warden for the state of Maine for 16 years, but 7 years in I realized I was on the wrong path. The job just didn’t fit my personality. I knew fishing afforded me the freedom and rewards to keep my short attention span. I just wasn’t sure how to get there.”
If grit and determination are an essential part of becoming a commercial fisherman, Brian had plenty of both and started down the path by getting a federal groundfish permit. “I got a federal groundfish permit in 2003 — right when everyone else was getting out of groundfishing. My wife and I bought a welded aluminum Alaskan style boat and started tub trawling, jigging and tuna fishing, selling our catch locally. We were going out of the Royal River at the time. I knew immediately fishing fit my personality, but it was clear that groundfishing was not a viable way to make a living.”
Around that time, Brian got himself invited on an offshore lobster trip. “I knew immediately lobstering was a perfect fit, it just felt natural. I was like the Labrador retriever of sternmen — always eager to go and slow to give up, a little sad to see the day’s end knowing it might be a while before I got back out hauling.”
Brian spent the next 5 years lobster fishing as often as he could, going sternman out of Portland and Phippsburg, fishing offshore and still working full time as a game warden. In 2007, Brian relocated with his wife to Sedgwick. “I was still fishing as often as I could. My apprenticeship took me 5 years, about 3 extra years because I was working full time for the state while I was completing the apprenticeship program.”
In 2011, Brian got his commercial license and started with the 300 traps permitted for first-year commercial license holders. He built up by 100 each year as allowed by the Department of Marine Resources. “When I got to 600 traps, I knew I could safely make the career change I had set out to make; I went fishing full time and haven’t regretted it one day.”
“I haven’t been handed any special opportunities. I’ve dug and clawed my way to where I am through sweat and determination. The more I was told ‘you can’t’ the more determined I became. Keith Wallace, a fisherman out of Phippsburg, treated me like family, and learning to fish with him was like taking driver’s ed with Mario Andretti. I didn’t love my first career choice, and I took a mulligan because fishing makes me feel more alive than anything else on earth.”
Brian has two young children: Alden, his son, age 5, and Addi, his daughter, age 8. Along with his wife Jillian, they play a critical role in his fishing life. Brian’s wife goes sternman for him in the summer, and his daughter Addi hauls 10 of her own traps and her younger brother goes sternman for her (“she cuts him in”). On the days his wife doesn’t go sternman, he takes his friend and one of the kids first thing, and then halfway through the day, Jillian brings the other kid out and they switch. “They’re still a bit young to do a full day, but they both love to go with me.”
“Not coming from a fishing family, I’ve had to work for everything. And especially coming from the law enforcement side of things, I had to earn the trust of the other fishermen in the community, but they’ve all been great. I feel very lucky to be where I am.”
What he loves most about fishing? “The independence, working for myself, every day on the water I know I’m in the right place, where I should be. When I’m hauling, I feel like I’m on an all-day-long Easter egg hunt — I can’t wait to get to the next trap to see what’s in it. Fishing is just something that’s in me, and I’m happiest when I’m out there doing it.”
Scariest time on the water? “My dad had a heart attack on my boat; as if that wasn’t bad enough, my engine broke down when I was bringing him in. My neighbor, another fisherman, came right along to help — he told me what to try to get the engine back running and offered to bring my dad ashore. His trick worked and I got the engine restarted and my dad to the wharf where the ambulance met us. Both my dad and the engine were okay.”
Name of his boat? Enginuity. It’s a 36’ Crowley Beal. “We’ve gotten into lobster boat racing, and we built the boat to go fast. During the build, Donald Crowley (owner of the molds and a seasoned lobster boat racer) asked me where I wanted to put the engine. I said, ‘Put it where it will go the best.’ He repeated the question several times over the next week, afraid I would change my mind I guess. Finally I told him I would only need the extra space for a 4th tier of traps a few days a year but I would use that extra couple knots every day. Donny put the engine about 18″ back from normal; he had always wanted to try that, and we named the boat accordingly.”
What’s he do in his spare time? Lobster boat racing! In the winter, he goes skiing and snowmobiling with his family. “I really miss fishing in the winter though; I need to get a federal permit so I can go all year.”
Favorite way to eat lobster? “I love lobster corn chowder. Our neighbor is Brooke Dojny — she’s written a handful of cookbooks, and she has a great recipe for lobster corn chowder.”
Meet The Lobstermen
A diverse group of people passionate about Maine and the lobster industry.