Recognizing the important role women play in all aspects of the commercial fishing industry.

Monday, April 27, 2015

We Put Fishing First

By Monique Coombs 

The views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and not necessarily everyone that writes on behalf of this blog.

HuffPost Women recently published an article, "Why My Husband Will Always Come Before My Kids." As a strong, confident woman in a healthy relationship- I really liked the article and thought the author was spot on. An excerpt: "I strongly believe that modeling a healthy relationship for our children sets the foundation for how they form bonds when they get older. In my opinion, my husband and I are the first example of what being in a happy marriage is like. Our kids learn how they should treat their future significant others (and what they should expect in return) by watching us."

I don't want to get into that too much other than to say- I wonder what some of the people who were commenting on this article would think about fishing families- who tend to put fishing first? I thought about the article from HuffPost quite a bit and I think my husband and I do put each other first- and then the kids. We're the adults, we know best, and we don't want to raise little assholes. But, we also put fishing first quite a bit...

If the kids have an event my husband will do his best to be there but sometimes the weather is really good that day and not so good the next few days- so he goes fishing. It's tough for me to find a regular job that allows for me to to be there for my kids when my husband is out fishing, and I would never expect my husband to quit fishing so I could get a job. (Settle down. Herm is not my sugar daddy. I have a strong work ethic, too- but, honestly, it's hard to have a 9-5- job when there's opportunities go fishing in the summer. I have my priorities straight.) When I make plans to do things in Portland with friends and they ask if Herm will be joining- I just say- I don't know but I'll be there. (I have some married friends that don't ever seem to make plans without their spouse.)

When Herm and I were first married I would get upset when I tried to make plans and he would say "we'll see" or "depends on the weather." Now, I never wait for him. I just go about making plans and if he can join, I'm thrilled- and if he can't then that's OK, too. I guess, in a way, being married to a fisherman has helped me to be more confident and independent- which, of course, helps me to be a better role model for the kids.

I happen to really enjoy fishing, too- so Herm and I try to get out fishing together during the summer, and we often take the kids for day trips around the islands. I think it's so great that we get to share a passion as a family.

Much like how the author of the HuffPost article points out that she is modeling a good relationship for her kids, I believe that fishing families tend to model a strong work ethic for kids- as well as a strong passion for a certain way of life.  I often see "I hate Mondays-esque" posts on Facebook or random "Why your job is killing you" articles- but I don't ever think that pertains to fishing. I hope my kids grow up and find something they love to do as much as my husband loves to fish. I hope that they find something in their life that challenges them and helps them prioritize and make good choices- and I hope they find a partner that helps them balance their life.

FYI: The Chix Who Fish blog is for all women in all aspects of the fishing industry: wives, scientists, policy experts, fishermen, bait dealers, seafood dealers, etc. Actually, if you're a dude who would like to write something, please let us know! We want a wide range of opinions and pieces to illustrate just how diverse the fishing industry is.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What is it like to be a woman fisherman?

I am the captain of the F/V Hello Darlin’ II, a commercial lobster boat out of Stonington, Maine. I love to talk about fishing and the industry, and I’ll talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere. When I tell someone what I do for a living inevitably the conversation always turns to, “What is it like to be a female commercial fisherman?” I don’t blame people for asking; commercial fishing is after all a male-dominated industry that romanticizes the image of the grizzled old sea salt. 

Being a woman who works on the water is a lot of things: it’s satisfying and exhilarating and nerve wracking and rewarding and frustrating and deeply gratifying. I can’t say for certain, but I imagine these are the same feelings expressed by all fishermen, regardless of their gender or fishery. I tell people that if you take care of your boat and your gear and put in your days you will do just fine. But that doesn’t typically suffice or answer their question… They don’t want to hear about what makes me the same as other fisherman, they want to know how being a woman makes things different.

The difference does not come from those with whom I share the ocean. My fellow fishermen have always treated me nearly the same as they would any other crewman or captain. I say nearly because they usually are considerate and look the other way while I pee out the scupper instead of over the rail. Throughout my fishing career I have been privy to the same pranks, encouragement, lessons, teasing and advice as other young fishermen. The pressure to do as well as the boys came from me, not from them, and I’m proud of myself and of the other women I know who have the ability to keep up with the demands of the job. What we may lack in strength, we make up in speed, and a good crew is comprised of many working parts that compliment each other. I have yet to meet a woman who was somehow less able to steer a boat, tie a knot, chart a course or set a trap based solely on her gender. Contrary to popular belief there is much, much more to a successful fishing operation than the ability to pick up heavy objects. 

Sure, there are exceptions. Fortunately the commercial fishing industry is an occupation based on respect and some of those notions may change over time. One of my favorite experiences of this nature began when I started the two year apprentice program for my Maine lobster license. An older fisherman asked me good naturedly if I was going to cook or fish? I told him I was going to do both. A few years later when I bought my first boat he gave me a huge truck load of used rope to get started with. A couple of years after that, his daughter-in-law was the photographer at my wedding. I believe I have done well to show him that women can successfully manage a fishing business and a home. I love to fish, and I also love to cook, especially when I harvested dinner myself. 

Now before you start thinking it's all sunshine and roses let me tell you where it becomes glaringly obvious that I am a female commercial fisherman: anywhere off the water or the dock. In my experience sexism is most prevalent in the institutions that surround fishing. This includes but is not limited to: the loan officer that refused a fellow captain her first boat loan although her financials were in order, and to the loan officer that shot me down as well. To every salesman who has rolled his eyes when a woman asked if his company had considered making better fitting foul weather gear for women. To the trade association that sent my husband and I our membership cards with his labeled “harvester” and mine labeled “family.” To the warden who answered my question as though I were a tourist who had never set foot on a boat. To every reporter who only wanted to talk about my gender and not about my business, and for every time someone assumed I was the crew, and not the captain, of my vessel. Some of these occurrences are honest oversight, some are cultural conditioning, others are conscientious sexism, often it’s difficult to tell them apart. Whatever the reason, in 2015 there is no place for this type of behavior in our industry. If the men and women who make up the commercial fishing industry can treat each other with mutual respect and appreciation, those who service the industry damn well ought to be able to as well. 

Genevieve McDonald
F/V Hello Darlin' II
Stonington, Maine

Thursday, April 2, 2015


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