Connect with UPR:
Business
4:21 am
Sun August 19, 2012

She's No Man; She's A Lobsterman

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 3:46 pm

In New England, more women are breaking through the glass gangway. That's the ramp you use to walk down onto a dock to hop onboard your own fishing boat. For generations lobstermen in Maine have been predominantly, well, men — but that's starting to change.

At a small gas dock in a rock-lined cove on Deer Isle, Maine, there's a new captain fueling up. Genevieve Kurilec, 29, wears a tank-top, orange fishing overalls and lobster buoy earrings.

Kurilec's vessel, Hello Darling, is a small lobster boat. It has a standup center console with a steering wheel — no roof or cabin for shade. The engine fires right up, and Kurilec is clearly happy to be heading out into the harbor.

She still remembers the first day she came out here last year, as the captain of her own boat.

"It was the most exciting day of my life that I can remember in near times. It's something I worked towards for six years," Kurilec says. "I was definitely nervous the first few times I came out. Luckily, I had a childhood friend that came out with me last year as my sternman. He made sure I was keeping it together. Now I love it."

Accepting The Challenge

Kurilec calls herself a lobsterman, though she's a woman.

"The lobster fishing industry isn't necessarily always politically correct," she says.

Kurilec grew up just east along the coast near Acadia National Park. When she was a kid, she wanted to be a marine biologist.

After high school, she got into racing sailboats and spent time crewing on boats down in the Caribbean. She then came back to Maine and was working in boatyards and started becoming friends with more fishermen. When she was working at a boatyard in Blue Hill, a sternman needed someone to fill in.

"I was sitting in our local bar. One of the bigger fishermen from Stonington came in, and he bet me that I couldn't fish out of Stonington," Kurilec says. "So I accepted the job and went with him for a year. It was a good job ... I enjoyed it a lot."

Being a sternman is hard work. The captain on larger boats gets to drive, and is shaded from the sun. The sternman is out on the stern — the back of the boat — and has to haul up the traps and re-bait them. The traps are heavy, upward of 40 pounds. They're made of wire mesh, but have bricks or cement runners to keep them on the ocean floor.

"Guys that kind of teased me in the beginning are really supportive now. You know, I can break a big, 4-foot concrete trap over the rail just as well as anybody else," Kurilec says. "Women tend to be faster with their hands. ... And we show up on time, we show up sober and we don't argue with the captain so much."

Kurilec guides her boat over to one of her maroon-colored lobster buoys. Her electric power winch pulls the trap to the water's surface, then Kurilec lifts it onto the boat's rail.

The ocean water in Maine is cold and clear, so even 30 feet down or so, Kurilec can see where the sand meets some rocks. That's where you want to set your trap.

A Down Economy Brings Opportunity

Kurilec says when the recession hit five years ago, more women came into lobster fishing. She says the demand and price for lobsters fell. Instead of paying a sternman, some captains decided to keep the money in the family.

"I think it really gave a lot of women that chance. Your son probably has his own boat and is fishing somewhere, but your daughter's home and she's willing to go," she says. "I really think it opened up a lot of opportunities. Keeping in mind there's always been women fishermen in our area, you just see a lot more of it now."

This summer has been tough. The price of lobster has been down, but Kurilec is still happy she took the plunge.

"To me, every time I leave the dock, it's a little exciting," she says. "I wouldn't want to be doing anything else today."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

We've heard about women breaking through the glass ceiling in corporate America. Well, now more women are shattering the glass gangway. For generations, lobstermen in Maine have been predominantly, well, lobster men.

NPR's Chris Arnold goes lobstering with one of the industry's female captains.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: At a small gas dock in a rock-lined cove on Deere Isle, Maine, there's a new captain fueling up.

GENEVIEVE KURILEC: Genevieve Kurilec - fishing vessel Hello Darling.

ARNOLD: Kurlick is 29 years old. She's wearing a tank-top, orange fishing overalls and lobster buoy earrings.

KURILEC: Actually, hold on a minute. Let me fuel up and get away from the dock.

ARNOLD: Hello Darling is a small lobster boat. It's a standup center console with a steering wheel, no roof or cabin for shade.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ENGINE STARTING UP)

ARNOLD: The engine fires right up and Kurlick is clearly happy to be heading out into the harbor. She still remembers that day last year when she came out here for the first time as the captain of her own boat.

KURILEC: It was the most exciting day of my life that I can remember in near times. It is something I worked towards for six years. I was definitely nervous the first few times I came out, for sure. Luckily, I had a childhood friend that came out with me last year as my stern-man. He kind of, you know, made sure I was keeping it together. And now I love it.

ARNOLD: In case you were wondering, Kurlick is not a lobsterwoman.

KURILEC: I call myself a lobersterman even though I'm a woman. You know, the lobster fishing industry isn't necessarily always politically correct. So...

(LAUGHTER)

ARNOLD: So you're a lobsterman.

KURILEC: I'm a lobsterman.

ARNOLD: That works.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ENGINE)

ARNOLD: Kurlick grew up just east of here along the coast near Acadia National Park. When she was a kid she wanted to be a marine biologist. After high school, she got into racing sailboats. She spent time crewing on sailboats down in the Caribbean, and then came back up here and was working in boatyards. She says that when started becoming friends with more fishermen.

KURILEC: I was working at boatyard up in Blue Hill and one of the stern-men needed a fill-in for a little while - for just a, you know, a couple days a week. And then one day, I was sitting in our local bar. One of the bigger fishermen from Stonington came in and he bet me that I couldn't fish out of Stonington.

So I accepted the job and I went with him for a year. And it was good. It was a good job. We worked well together. I enjoyed it a lot...

ARNOLD: Being a stern-man is hard work. The captain on larger boats gets to drive and is in and out of the sun. The stern-man is out on the stern which is the back of the boat and has to haul up the traps and re-bait them. And those traps are heavy, upwards of 40 pounds and more when they're full of lobsters. They're made of wire mesh but also have bricks or cement runners to keep them down on the ocean floor.

KURILEC: More fishermen, guys that kind of, you know, teased me in the beginning are really supportive now. You know, I can break a big, four foot concrete trap over the rail just as well as anybody else. And women tend to be faster with their hands. You see a lot of women 3rd men 'cause they can bait and band faster. And we show up on time, we show up sober, and we don't argue with the captain so much.

ARNOLD: Kurlick guides her boat over to one of her maroon-colored lobster buoys. Actually, she says the color is merlot. Her electric power winch pulls the trap to the waters surface...

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

ARNOLD: ...then Kurlick lifts it up out of the boat's rail.

Whoa, that one's full of them, huh?

KURILEC: It happens. Every dog gets a bone every once in a while. Yeah, keepers.

ARNOLD: The ocean water in Maine is cold and clear so even here, 30 feet down or so, Kurlick can see where the sand meets some rocks. That's where you want to set your trap.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SPLASH)

ARNOLD: Kurlick says when the recession hit back five years ago, that actually brought more women into lobstering. She says the demand and the price for lobsters fell. And so, instead of paying a stern-man, some captains decided to keep the money in the family.

KURILEC: I think it really gave a lot of women that chance. You know. Your son probably has his own boat and is fishing somewhere. But your daughter is home and she's willing to go. So I really think it opened up a lot of opportunities. Keep in mind that there's always been women fishermen in our area; you just see a lot more of it now.

ARNOLD: This summer has been tough though. The price of lobster has been way down. But Kurlick still says she's happy that she took the plunge.

KURILEC: To me, every time I leave the dock it's a little exciting. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else today.

(LAUGHTER)

ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.