The Life of the Maine Lobster Fisherman

 

A firsthand account by Christina Lemieux Oragano '99

By Gerry Boyle '78
 

How did a London advertising strategist come to write a book about lobstering in Down East, Maine? In Christina Lemieux Oragano’s case, it’s in her blood.

Oragano ’99 grew up in Cutler, Maine, a tiny town and harbor just west of Eastport. Her father is a lobsterman, as was his father. Oragano was her dad’s sternman when she was younger, working 12-hour days, filling bait bags, banding lobsters, cleaning the decks of the the family’s boat, Christina Marie. After graduation the Colby English major moved to San Francisco to begin her advertising career, later settling and marrying in London.

But even in London, Oragano wouldn’t—or couldn’t—shed her lobstering lineage. “I’m the granddaughter, daughter, and sister of lobster fishermen,” she said. “It’s part of my DNA.”

Her blog about lobstering was noticed by a book publisher, and her first book is a comprehensive, authentic, and honest insider’s look at the life of a Maine lobsterman.

There are autobiographical elements—a determined 10-year-old Oragano declaring she’d wanted to be a sternman like her older brother, painting pot buoys and hanging them on a clothesline to dry, even the happenstance meeting that jumpstarted her advertising career. (A yacht limped into Cutler Harbor and Oragano’s father, after fixing the ailing engine, mentioned that his just-out-of-Colby and hard-working daughter was in San Francisco looking for an advertising job. She had one with the man’s advertising firm within a week.)

But this is more comprehensive primer than memoir. Oragano backs up her firsthand experience with research, including perusing of the records kept by state marine-resources officials and a survey she sent to 200 lobster fishermen. “I wanted the fishermen to be as involved as they wanted to be,” she said. “I wanted them to help me tell the story.”

The book covers the strategy involved (they don’t just plunk those traps anywhere), the complexities of the market, the perils of the profession, the finer points of lobster-boat design, and even the unwritten rules that lobstermen use to police their waters (they are strictly, if unofficially, enforced).

Oragano doesn’t overly romanticize the lobstering life, but she does acknowledge that her survey showed that the vast majority of Maine lobstermen love their jobs—despite long hours, rugged weather, no small danger, and financial uncertainty. “These men aren’t just the masters of their ships;” Oragano writes, “they are the captains of their souls.”

Her book tells us how and why.

 
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