GOULDSBORO—Maine lobstermen are under siege these days with many of them frustrated over not being heard. Cheryl Clegg, an award-winning Boston-based commercial photographer, is making sure that they are both seen and heard. Taking a journalistic approach with her camera in her latest series, “The Endangered Lobsterman,” she has captured the hard-working ethos of lobster-fishing families in a corner of Downeast Maine.
Clegg was 14 when she first visited the small fishing village of Corea within the town of Gouldsboro.
“I spent a month there with my friend’s family and then came back next year,” she said. “I’ve kept in touch with the people I met there and have returned every summer. And last year, my husband and I bought a house there.”
Her childhood visit and the years she has spent around Corea’s lobstermen made a deep impression on her, which would later formulate a portrait series she started this fall, after the environmental group Seafood Watch put Maine and Canadian lobster on the detrimental “red list,” discouraging people from buying lobster over a hotly debated claim that lobster fishing gear is directly responsible for the entanglement of right whales.
The Endangered Lobsterman features portraits of families in Stonington, Gouldsboro, Milbridge, and Steuben, who have been affected by the rating, as well as other factors, such as high fuel costs and low prices per catch this past summer and fall and a slew of new federal regulations that pose formidable challenges to the industry. Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling Maine lobster last week has put additional financial stress on the fishery, and drew statements from Maine’s politicians, who are fighting back against the designations.
A story from ‘The Endangered Lobsterman’
“Having our product, ‘lobster’ red listed has persuaded a few businesses to stop buying our lobster. This has lowered the price and the supply is down. In all of my years fishing, this has to be the hardest due to the rising cost of fuel and bait being the most expensive it has ever been. That limits what we have money for food, home heating fuel and various other amenities- all of this because of the whales.”
— Tomi Colson, fifth generation lobsterman, 25 years fishing.
Clegg said on her website: “This threatens the way of life and livelihood of Mainers throughout the state, as well as all lobstermen throughout the New England area. It is not only the lobster fishermen, but anyone associated with lobster (restaurants, boat builders, sternmen, suppliers of bait, trap suppliers.....the list goes on.)”
The purpose of the Endangered Lobsterman series is to put a spotlight on these families and to hear their stories on how these changes in the industry are impacting them emotionally, physically, and economically.
“So much has changed since I was a kid,” she said. “Many people out of state have moved into Corea and have bought homes. For the last couple of centuries, locals have been on the wharves and fishing. They could walk to work. Now, so many of the fishermen are living inland.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the locals: will they still be able to continue in the career that they know and love?
“As I started to see this happen, I started taking pictures of people before the culture changed too much,” she said. “This is a way of life you can’t find in many places. I started this series as a labor of love.”
Her volunteer work on this series developed because she was concerned people reading the news aren’t getting the whole story.
“When I heard about this Monterey Bay aquarium red-listing suggesting to ban the purchase of Atlantic lobster, I wanted people to realize, maybe it’s not just Dad going fishing,” she said. “Maybe it’s Mom and Dad who fish or the whole family, and all the livelihoods at stake over this designation. And it has nothing to do with being against right whales, but to my understanding, there has not been an entanglement attributed to Maine lobstermen since 2004. One of the lobstermen I interviewed had been fishing for 60 years and he’d never seen a right whale in his lifetime.”
Because of her longstanding connection to the area, she said lobstering families were happy to pose for photos.
“Most people were receptive and more than friendly, and willing to have their picture taken, she said. “Not that everybody likes it; I had to ask some of them to take their sunglasses off.” She also asked that everyone wear their oilskins (protective fishing clothing) for every shot. “It also demonstrates who in that family is a fisherman–sometimes it’s the entire family.”
For her effort with this project, she said, “I’m getting heartfelt thanks from families and sometimes the stories I hear bring a tear to my eye.”
For more information and to see more portraits visit: https://www.cleggphoto.com/the-endangered-maine-lobstermen
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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