Even by Maine standards, Bruce Fernald’s connection to fishing runs deep — he’s a 6th generation fisherman who hails from Little Cranberry Island as his forebears did.
Nestled at the top of Penobscot Bay, Little Cranberry Island (and its surrounding islands, which include Great Cranberry Island) and Sutton Island lie just to the southwest of Mount Desert Island. No bridges means you come and go by boat; a limited ferry service (mail boat, etc.) runs the 30-minute ride between the mainland and the Cranberries. The small year-round community is made up of mostly fishermen, boat builders and craftsmen. At the center of the fishing community is Little Cranberry Lobster, the fisherman’s co-op, which supports the fishermen of the Cranberry Isles. There you will find Bruce Fernald, who has been a member of the co-op since its inception.
“I fished as a kid; in 8th grade I had 20 traps, but I didn’t like it all that much, so I stopped,” Bruce recalls. “I did all manner of other jobs, made my money other ways through high school, and then after high school I enlisted in the Navy and shipped out.”
Bruce was in the Navy for 3 years and 8 months, explaining, “The boat I was on was getting sold, and the Navy said there was too much paperwork to transfer me to another boat, so they let me out a bit early.”
Bruce returned to Little Cranberry after he got out. “I wasn’t planning on doing anything for a while, but after dinner that first night, my dad said, ‘See you in the morning,’ and sure enough, he woke me up and I was back to fishing.”
Bruce went with his father that fall and then figured he’d make a go of it himself. “My first boat was one my father had built. It was a 32-footer called Pa’s Pride. My father had built and fished it; then my brother Danny fished it for a few years and I bought it off him.” Pa’s Pride was followed by Double Trouble (he says, “I had twin boys, but they weren’t any trouble”). And lastly, his current boat, Barbara Ann, is named after his wife of more than 4 decades. “She fished with me for 3 years before we were married; once we married, she didn’t fish with me anymore, but that’s alright.”
“Fishing doesn’t owe me anything. I love being my own boss, being on the water, it’s a good way to make a living. I’m slowing down a bit, I don’t fish as hard as I used to and I usually feel a little bit guilty on days I don’t go. You see a lot of interesting things on the water — the birds and steaming out looking back at MDI (Mount Desert Island), that’s pretty good.”
Favorite way to eat lobster? Steamed with butter.
What’s he do in his spare time? He visits his sons (one in Baltimore and one in Portland) and his new grandson of 11 months. “I also do a fair bit of walking and like cooking as well.”
Scariest time on the water? “I can’t think of any particular time that stands out, but there have been quite a few white-knuckle moments along the way. I remember I used to say to my wife when she fished with me and the weather came on, ‘We ain’t poor enough to be in this,’ and we’d head in.”
Favorite lobster recipe? Lobster fettuccini.
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