Fisherman Frank Gotwals hails from Stonington, Maine’s lobster capital. Stonington lands more lobster than any other port in Maine — in 2015, the port boasted $63.8MM in lobster landings. Downtown Stonington has changed over the years; it is now home to art galleries and boutique coffee shops, but lobster and fishing remain at the heart of the town.
Frank was not born in Stonington, though his roots extend back on his mother’s side. “My great grandfather on my mother’s side was born in the house I now live in,” he notes.
“I spent all my summers here in Stonington, always out on the water. I did a year of college, then took a leave of absence for a year. I had a job for the summer, then was offered a job for the winter and just ended up staying. Pretty soon I was doing carpentry work on my own and digging clams. When I was eligible, I got a lobster license and two years later bought my first boat, an old, leaky 32-footer. I met my wife that same year. I was 22.”
Back then, the only requirement for a lobstering license was a 3-year Maine residency. With lobster license in hand, and 25 “junky old traps, all wooden back then,” he set out lobstering in the outboard he had used to go clamming. That winter, he built another 100 traps. “I guess that was the start of it; that fall, I decided I’d go for it — I went sternman for a few months with a friend who had come up fishing, and that was it,” Frank notes with a wistful grin.
Like many lobster fishermen of his generation, Frank spent time dragging scallops, but it was lobstering he loved.
Frank’s other passion is music: he’s an accomplished guitar player. I heard about his musical gifts from another fisherman who told me Frank had a wooden guitar carved and mounted down below in his boat. When I asked him, he told me his friend and boatbuilder Peter Buxton had carved it and mounted it as a gift when they were building his boat. He plays in an acoustic band and a jazz band as well as performing solo.
Scariest time on the water: “Carbon monoxide poisoning. I was fishing alone in the winter. At the time, the boat still had a gas engine and the exhaust split. I was an hour and a half from home and I started feeling really sick. When I finally realized what had happened, I tried unsuccessfully to patch the split and started for home right away. It was bitterly cold,” Frank recollects. “I stuck my head around the edge of the shelter to try and get fresh air and steamed in that way. By the time I got in, I was really sick — but home.”
Buoy color: “white, blue, and red.”
Boat name: “Sea Song, a 38’ wooden boat built by Peter Buxton and Frank.”
Favorite way to eat New Shell lobster: the old fashioned way, steamed in saltwater with butter
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