Genevieve McDonald, 32, of Stonington
, was one of 11 young Maine Lobster harvesters who traveled to Prince Edward Island, Canada, last year as part of a Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance program designed to prepare younger fishermen for future leadership roles in the lobster industry. The group members were selected to represent several different regions of the coast and all returned home enthusiastic as a result of the experience.
McDonald has been lobstering for the past 11 years out of Stonington, and the past 5 as captain. She started fishing on her own with a 20-foot BHM, then moved up to a 32-foot Holland, the F/V Hello Darlin’ II, this past summer. “I found out about my boat from another fisherman on the PEI trip,” says McDonald.
Now she fishes from June to November and has already started her path toward leadership in the industry. She is the first woman to serve on the state’s Lobster Advisory Council (LAC), appointed last June. “I am the Downeast region representative. Being on the LAC provides an opportunity for me to represent the concerns of the fishermen in Downeast Maine. It’s more effective to participate in shaping the future of the fishery from the inside, rather than to fight from the outside. Maintaining diversity within the fleet is very important to me.”
McDonald is also a student in Maine Studies at University of Maine. She returned to school to further develop those skills necessary to facilitate collaboration between the commercial fishing and scientific communities.
When McDonald is not studying, lobstering or doing all the other things required to make a living on the water, she is collaborating with the prominent fishing gear company Grundéns in their development of a line of oilskins appropriate for fishing women. “I’m very pleased to be working with Grundéns to design foul weather gear that will allow women working on the water to do their jobs safely and efficiently,“ McDonald says. “It’s been awesome to connect with so many women in the industry as a result of the project. It’s definitely a product that has a demand.”
McDonald found that spending time with lobstermen on Prince Edward Island helped her put Maine’s lobstering industry in context. When the leadership participants reached the island, they stayed at the homes of participating lobstermen and then went out with them on their lobster boats to observe the differences between their 2 fisheries.
”It provided an excellent opportunity to see how things are done in PEI. I’m still in touch with the 2 captains I went fishing with, Lonnie Robertson and Jamie Gauthier,” says McDonald, “and we regularly share information about what is happening in each of our fisheries.”
She thinks the Leadership Institute was a great way to get out of the small world that many lobstermen live in. “The takeaway for me? It was the opportunity to connect with other fishermen outside of my harbor — not only in Canada but also getting to know the other Maine participants on the trip,” McDonald says.
The lower trap limits and shorter 2-month season means the PEI fishery operates very differently than in Maine. “The 2 fishermen I went with have other jobs. One works on land and the other does tuna fishing charters.”
Canadian fishermen have fixed seasons for all species. On PEI, lobstermen fish within designated LFAs (Lobster Fishing Areas) with trap limits between 272 and 303 per license. “We gained valuable insight into their fishery and ours, the relationship between the U.S. and Canada,” says McDonald. “We’re one big industry and this trip solidified that.”
The future is wide open for McDonald. “I am honored to be the first woman to serve on the LAC. I’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of women on the water, and we should have a voice at the table,” she says.
With an abundance of energy, a resilient brand of optimism and a penchant for hard work, McDonald brings to Maine’s traditional lobster fishery the new blood needed to keep the industry alive. “I plan to fish forever,” she says. “I love being on the water. I love the freedom and independence of lobstering. We have an abundant resource, and I want to help keep it that way.”
Originally authored by Nancy Griffin
First published in Landings, the newspaper of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. Reprinted with permission.
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