“I am most proud to teach our children that hard work,
determination and good choices can bring you a wonderful life.”
I was lucky enough to chat with Katy Miller, the mother of a local fishing family out of
Spruce Head, ME. I quickly
learned that if you’re married to a fisherman, you are married to the business. For generations, fishermen have been out on the water while the wife stays home and tends to the rest of life’s duties. Katy steps that up a notch, as she not only cares for the home and family but also works her own real estate business along-side everything else.
Her husband, Ryan Miller, fishes for lobster (among other species) offshore with a federal permit. Katy explains, “I usually plan my days on the idea that I’m a single mom- It’s easier that way. Ryan tends to get up at 3-4 am and is out the door to go to haul. Sometimes he gets in around 1 pm, sometimes 4 pm, sometimes 7 pm. You never know what the weather will do, what the day will be like, how many tangles he’ll have before he calls it a day. If the tide is high or low when he gets in, he’ll need to crate the lobsters somewhere other than the wharf, if they’ll be loading a truck to ship lo
bsters out, if he’ll be getting bait ready for the next day to haul. Our lives are always up in the air, and never is there a dull moment!”
Being married to the fishing life means all the struggles of the industry become her own. Katy touches upon a few subjects threatening their way of life. The first topic on her agenda was the Right Whale. For those of you who aren’t savvy to the situation, environmentalists are aiming to shut down the lobster industry here in Maine to protect Right Whales. The problem is, they are filing lawsuits without having proper facts to back it up. Fishermen love their ocean environment. They spend their lives there; they respect it and protect it. Not one single fisherman wants to put a whale in danger- but the fact is, they seem to be getting the blame without factual evidence proving their gear affects the whales in the ways they claim. Katy explains: “I feel that the research isn’t sufficient on this subject and that we’re trying to create rules and regulations off of something that isn’t solid or factual. I would love to see this process happen one step at a time instead of being pushed through due to lawsuits and turning into which side has more money to fight with.”
“Maine lobstermen have been practicing sustainability measures for over 150 years. This means protecting the lobster stock’s health and treating the entire marine environment with respect and care. The industry recognizes the precarious situation of the North Atlantic right whale. Since the 1990s, fishermen have been taking proactive steps to ensure the fishery and the whales can co-exist.” – Monique Coombs, Aragasta Mama.
Next on the list for Katy was offshore wind power. International energy companies aim to claim a large portion of the Gulf of Maine to install industrial-size windmills (see image below). The issue is, this will restrict fishermen from their fishing grounds which they have worked for generations. Maine’s lobster industry brings in about 1 billion in revenue for the state each year. The lobster industry will be shattered if they lose their ability to fish these grounds- not to mention the impact on the habitat’s creature is still unknown. The rushed process is leaving everyone in fear, as Katy discusses:
Protect Monhegan: The Monhegan Island Light stands 178 feet above sea level – lower than the cell tower below. The new turbine proposed stands at approx. 700 feet – almost 10 times the size of the original proposal of 75 feet – and 100 feet taller than the one on the right below.
“It’s frustrating because I feel that a lot of the same people who don’t want to see whales hurt are happy to promote the installation of windmills offshore and dig up and destroy many grounds that are prosperous in order to do it. They say that the benefit outweighs the cost. I’m not so sure if we’re destroying fishing grounds. On average, a windmill costs 1-2 million to build and about 45k per year to maintain. Windmills have a lifespan of 20-25 years on land. I’m not sure what that number would look like on the ocean. I’m thinking it would be shorter depending on weather, salty seas, and the greater amounts of wind. So, over a lifespan of 1 windmill, you’re looking at approximately
2.5 million in costs. This isn’t including the costs of taking away the fishing ground in that area. Then you add up the benefit: A windmill powers 1-2k homes in a year on land. Say that’s doubled offshore, and the average power bill is $300 a month bill through CMP. That’s 1.2 million dollars in electricity bills through CMP at .78 cents per kwh. Turn that into wind power at .02 per kwh, and the bill is 31k. That’s a savings of 1,169,000. From where I’m sitting, 2.5 million in costs and 1,169,000 million in benefits doesn’t add up, yet they say that windmills can pay for themselves in as little as 6 months. I think that this is something that would need to be tested, but unfortunately, that involves some major damage to the bottom of the ocean and prosperous fishing grounds.” This is a huge risk that large international corporations are taking without proper research- and we Mainers will be the ones to pay.
The economy has affected each and every one of us over the last year. For fishermen, this meant adapting their business and shifting to a direct sales model- something most fishermen have never done. Typically a fisherman will pull up to the wharf and unload their days’ catch, and the wharf will handle the rest. But when covid shut down wharves, exports, restaurants, etc., fishermen and their families had to take to the community to sell directly. Social media pages like United Fishermen Foundation and Maine Fish Direct were utilized to get the word out about local fishermen selling their catch from homes and parking lots all along the Maine coast. Have you ever seen a gruff fisherman who was out fishing all morning have to deal with customer service, forcing a smile and answering tourists’ questions about lobstering? It was slightly entertaining to watch, but man, did they step up and adapt. Katy agrees, “The economy is always going to be an issue when it comes to any sort of business and totally depends on world events. With Covid, the industry has been pressed to its’ limits and really challenged the principle of survival of the fittest. Those who are wise with money and saved for a rainy day had very few reservations about whether they would make it through, but some have struggled. We were a part of the revolution of selling your own catch and actually had a blast with it but did it have some concern attached to it; some letdowns, some lost catch…sure. It truly shows fishermen’s ability to adapt to the constantly changing conditions in their trade.” Although Katy feels it’s an unpopular opinion, she believes in the importance of fishermen following conservation laws to ensure future generations can work the same career on the water.
She explains, “Conservation. This is one word that I don’t think a lot of fishermen like to hear; however, it’s necessary for future generations, and if you want to see lobster around for a while- which I definitely do! Being the daughter of a retired Marine Patrol Officer definitely gave me another perspective on this issue as I watched my father propose countless bills, have many conversations, and take a lot of hits from those who were not fond of the rules and regulations surrounding conservation. It’s so important!”
A bit of wild west anarchy has always been a part of fishing history. Although matters on this front have improved greatly, Katy feels there is still work to be done: “One of the more disheartening parts of the job is the need lobstermen feel to take matters into their own hands when any issue arises on the water between each other. Unfortunately, there will always be those who feel the need to haul others’ traps or cheat the system somehow, and it’s even more unfortunate that it’s difficult to prove and there is such a lack of manpower behind enforcing the law. I would love to see the State invest more into Marine Patrol and funding more teams to target this issue. I would love to see the fishermen who do wrong
and cry poor to the court system be reprimanded and punished anyways. One of the big issues is that even when it is proven that a law has been broken, the legal system tends to allow a way out of the crime. It creates a bigger problem in the end when the perpetrator “gets away” with it, and other fishermen still have to deal with the nonsense on the water.”
Katy is beyond proud to be a fishermen’s wife and raise her kids in a fishing family. “I’m proud to be carrying on the traditions of the generations who came before us and their legacy, the freedom that we carry, and I am most proud to teach our children that hard work, determination, and good choices can bring you a wonderful life.
I think the average person tends to look at lobstering as a profitable, romanticized, dirty job that requires little to no education. It’s so much more than most people see or think about. The long hours, the weather, the knowledge of weather, mechanics, boats, fishing grounds, ropes, traps, buoys, nautical knowledge, and the countless hours spent learning all of this. It’s not something that you just pick up and do. You’ve been taught by a father, an uncle, a
grandfather. There are so many unspoken rules, territories, and lines that are not supposed to be crossed. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of ambition to be successful. My oldest has held her apprentice license for 2 years now and loves it! She has ten traps that she fishes from a skiff. She loves checks and can tell you a lot about the hard work that goes into it as she has not saved enough money for a hauler yet, so she pulls them up by hand!”
Katy and her family will continue to fight for the legacy of past generations and rights for the present and future generations of lobstermen in Maine. To learn more about how you can stand behind our fishing communities, email us at PrettyRuggedBook@gmail.com!