Merritt grew up spending summers in Tenants Harbor, a small fishing village on the western edge of Penobscot Bay. “My father was a college professor; we would land in Tenants Harbor in May and leave in September. I was an only child and I spent a lot of time down at the shore hunting for crabs or tooling around in a skiff by myself,” Merritt recalls.
Merritt’s first job was delivering freshly cooked lobster to cruising boats in the harbor. “My father had given me a 13-foot Boston Whaler when I was about 9, but he made sure I was going to earn some money with it. So I began working for Mrs. Miller who ran Cod End, a fish market, which also served cooked lobsters. Each evening I would go out and take orders from boats in the harbor, and come back in and give my orders to Mrs. Miller; she would cook them up and I would deliver them. We did lobsters, steamers, mussels, all in waxed brown paper bags; they would still be steaming hot when I delivered them. I had a lot of happy customers and I made a lot of money. It was probably the best job I ever had!”
It was working for Mrs. Miller that Merritt met the rest of the Miller family, Red, Mrs. Miller’s husband, and their 9 children, the boys all fishermen.
Merritt attended Brown University, and then, facing a dismal job market, and with itchy feet, jumped aboard a sailboat headed to Antigua. Merritt wound up sailing on the second all-female team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now the Ocean Race) and was then selected to be a member of the first all-female America’s Cup team. “I was the youngest member of both teams, the bowman and rigger; I spent a lot of time getting beat up – either up the mast or at the pointy end of the boat.”
Following her sailing adventures, Merritt settled in New Zealand where she enrolled in law school. After a few years in New Zealand, Merritt returned home and finished her law degree at University of Maine School of Law. “After all my travels and time away, I wanted to come home, back to Maine. I like to tell people: I’ve been all around the world and I can say Maine is the best place on earth.”
Merritt practiced law for a few years and then went out on her own as a consultant; over time her consulting practice increasingly involved fisheries and rural economic development. A few years ago, while hauling with Peter Miller, one of Mrs. Miller’s sons, for a piece she was writing for the MLMC, Merritt learned there was a possibility of the Miller family wharf (where she had worked as a girl) being sold.
“I knew enough about rural economic development to know a locally owned wharf would be better for the community and knew the Millers well enough to have a conversation.” One thing led to another, and, with other local fishermen in the area, and Luke Holden from Luke’s Lobster, we formed the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op: a vertically integrated co-op that works collaboratively with its downstream partners, Cape Seafood and Luke’s Lobster. “My work with the co-op is in many ways the same thing I did all those years ago with Mrs. Miller, delivering lobster directly from the fishermen to consumers — it’s just scaled up a bit.”
Merritt lives in Yarmouth, Maine, with her husband and 3 children (Liam, Madeleine and Grace). “We’re lucky enough to spend our summers in Tenants Harbor like I did when I was a girl,” Merritt reflects. She ran the shack in Tenants Harbor (the same one she ran her delivery service from all those years ago) until it closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and recently started consulting for American Unagi.
Meet The People Behind the Fishery
A diverse group of people passionate about Maine and the lobster industry.