RISE AND GRIND | MAINE LOBSTER FISHING WOMEN

July 29, 2020

RISE AND GRIND | MAINE LOBSTER FISHING WOMEN

Hey Rebekah, tell us a little about yourself! How did you get into lobster fishing?  You mentioned that you are third generation. Tell us about your family’s history lobstering in Maine. 

I am a third-generation lobster fisherman from the heart of Down East, Maine. I was born and raised in the small, coastal town of Jonesboro. My late grandfather, John Cox Sr., started fishing in 1968. Bait was seventy-five cents a bucket, gas twenty-five cents a gallon, lobsters were ninety cents a pound and everyone who fished out of Chandler River, Jonesboro, hauled by hand. 

My father, John Cox Jr, made sure my brother, Andrew and I, completed our log sheets so we could obtain our class 1 commercial lobster licenses at a young age. At the age of 10, I received my student lobster license pulling 150 traps by hand out of a 15 ft boat my father had built us. I was fishing commercially at the age of 13. It makes me feel so incredibly lucky that we have never had to employ a stern man. It has always been family on our boat. My brother and I have always worked as a team, and our father has been a key supporter in our lobster fishing careers. Without him I wouldn’t be the fisherman I am today. In 2016, my brother and I sponsored two of our cousins to get them started in the lobster industry. Our boat was a little full, but so was my heart!

Education is also very important to my family. In 2016, I completed my degree in Business Management and Entrepreneurship from the University of Maine at Machias. I met my partner, Garrett, when he was stationed in Jonesport with the United States Coast Guard. We have 2 children, Jase age 2 ½ and Kennedy age 1. Besides being a mom and lobstering - I also hold a commercial clam harvester license, I’m a Disney fanatic, coffee lover and I enjoy running long distances for fun! 

 

What port in Maine do you fish out of? Boat name, number of pots etc...anything cool! 

Jonesboro, Maine – It’s when I turn down the Evergreen Point road that I enter a whole new world. It is home to Chandler River, which is where my boat F/V Knot Mine is moored. I fish 800 traps from late spring to the early winter months. 

 

What is it like being a women in a largely male dominated profession?  Any obstacles? Also you are are a mom who lobsters full time!  What is that like? 

Growing up in the lobster industry was anything but easy. At the age of 10, my brother and I certainly were not welcomed in the area by an older gentleman who fished the same waters. I remember having Marine Patrol and the Coast Guard called on us numerous times to the point where it became harassment. We were reported just because we were kids and this man did not want us lobster fishing near him. Times have changed and that older gentleman has retired. I am very blessed to fish alongside some truly outstanding guys! Bobby and Josh Holland, Harris Norton, and John Peterson are a few men who share the Chandler River with my family and they are some of the hardest working, honest men in Down East Maine and I have the utmost respect for them. I fully accept that the industry is dominated by men and that is ok. It’s intense work. Traps are heavy, some are bigger than I am, and the ocean current is unforgiving, but with the right mindset and strength, women can do it all, too. 

I’ve been overlooked as a female fisherman numerous times in the 20 years I have been fishing. One example is when I attend various forums and trade shows. I was skipped over when a business handed out promotional hats because I was a female. I had to speak up and say, “I fish, too”! Another vendor was passing out bags with samples of trap gear and proceeded to hand me an empty bag. I had to explain that I was a fisherman. We may be outnumbered, but we carry a powerful presence. 

Being a mom and a commercial lobster license holder is challenging! The issues we face are not as common as those of our fellow male fishermen. I had a newborn in May of 2019. Maternity leave is typically 3 months, by that time it was September and fall fishing was starting. That left about 2 ½ months for me to fish last year. You throw the sleepless nights, breastfeeding and having to pump every 2 hours on the boat while you are away from your baby. It’s a lot for working moms no matter what profession you are in. 

Life gets a little crazy at times. It is physically draining being a lady lobster fisherman, but there's no time to be tired when you go back to being mom after the working day is done. I am beyond blessed to spend my life with someone who has dedicated his life to serve in the United States Coast Guard, but that means my life gets put on hold sometimes. I watch our two kids when duty calls for Garrett, work my lobstering business, handle the marketing and sales of our family business - Cox Trap Shop, and dig for clams. I love my kids and Garrett so very much, but deep in my heart and soul I'm passionate about chasing lobsters all over the ocean floor. 

 

Are there many female lobster fisherwomen now? Over the years have there been an increase? 

I reached out to the Maine Department of Marine Resources and was given data on female commercial lobster fisherman in Maine. I was not surprised that there are roughly more than 500 female commercial lobster fishermen. That is roughly 10% of the total number of lobstermen! I know of a few female lobster fishermen in neighboring towns and some I’ve come to meet over social media. I believe there has been a slight increase over the years. Many who start out with student licenses only fish up until their high school or college graduations and then pursue other careers. We’re still outnumbered by the men, but we are making our presence known!

 

Tell us a little about your typical day on the water!  

Before kids, I would rise at 4:30am, make hot coffee and toast with carrot cake jam (a secret recipe of mine), and drive the 5 minutes down to the landing. Jump in the skiff, head out to the F/V Knot Mine that would still be covered with the night shadows and early morning dew. The water around us looks like glass, the seagulls cry out, and the country music is playing above the engine roar while it warms up. Oil gear is thrown on, a few pockets of bait are stuffed, and we set sail into the sunrise to the first buoy to begin our day of hauling gear. My brother, father and I all work together to haul traps. Andrew and I take turns at the helm, steering the boat and gaffing for buoys while dad baits pockets and measures lobsters. We’ll stay out until 1pm or so, then make the trip to Jonesport to sell our catch, buy bait and refuel. 

A day on the water as a mom is pretty much the same, just the time spend out there may be less and requires more coffee to make it through the day. My 1 year old is still waking up throughout the night, so I don’t get that solid 8 hours of much needed sleep. Depending on how my night went, I may not start hauling until 7am at the latest. 

 

So many people love Maine lobster...but often they know very little about the journey and hard work it takes to get into a beautiful lobster roll or amazing summer meal!  What ‘one thing’ would you want a lobster lover to know about that journey to their plate? 

A lobster takes about seven years to reach the size where they can be harvested legally. Seven years of shedding their shell, dodging predators, swimming around on the dark ocean floor, crawling into traps, being measured, and thrown overboard! A lot of time is invested into that lobster’s life. I want people to know that lobster fisherman dedicate so much time and hard labor to bring them their favorite seafood! 

 

What’s next for you in your profession? Any aspirations? You mentioned you really are passionate about shedding more light on women who fish!  What would you want folks to know? 

I would love to continue lobstering and digging for clams for the rest of my life. I hope to get my kids started in the industry when they reach the age of 8. They’ll probably be digging clams and fishing their “own” traps before then. I really want my kids to value the dollar and learn a strong work ethic. 

The idea of writing a children’s book has weighed heavily on my heart the past couple of months. I would love to write about my years lobster fishing and clamming with my father. I read a few lobstering books to my children at night, but none reflect my point of view growing up on the water with my father in Down East, Maine.

As a lobster fisherman who has been blessed to bring 2 beautiful children into this world, enjoyed that newborn stage that goes by in the blink of an eye, and supported a man who has devoted his life to serve our great country, I have had some lobster trap tags that never made a splash into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. The Maine Department of Marine Resources requires each lobster license holder to attach a thin, plastic tag with a one-time use snap enclosure to every trap we are privileged to fish. The trap tag displays the year in which the tag is to be attached to the trap. Once the year identified on the tag has passed the trap tag is no longer legal and cannot be used in future years. The color also differs each year to help Marine Patrol wardens know that the fisherman is fishing legally. The license number is also included on the trap tag. I have had the license number 70266 for over 18 years. Along with the license number, the tag will display the zone in which the fisherman is permitted to set traps in and will identify the trap with a number from 1-800. The zone is the area in Maine in which the fisherman lives and the water that he shares with fellow fishermen. Not each fisherman sets the same amount of lobster traps. Many have to work their way up to the 800 trap tags by increments of 100 each year until they reach the 800 limit. Each tag tells a unique story of the Maine lobster fisherman it belongs to!

 

Rebekah Cox (@lobsterlady89

 




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