I asked Dana Hole what his favorite part of being a fishing family was, and his answer was sort of all encompassing, “I love being a fishing family.” This was said with a huge smile and chuckle that those that are lucky enough to know Dana can probably imagine. Dana lives in Harpswell and goes lobster fishing, he’s an eel harvester, and does a little part-time tuna fishing in the summer. If he didn’t do all those things you might find him being a guide or an arborist or maybe making moonshine.
Dana and his wife Elizabeth have two boys, Jonathan and Christopher, both of whom have their own traps. Dana and Elizabeth still aren’t sure if their boys will end up fishing, but will support them if they do, if they go to college first. Like many fishing families, they are a little worried about the future of the industry and want to make sure their kids have a plan B.
My conversation with Dana and Elizabeth took place at Maxwell’s in Bath over lunch with a couple of other fishermen, Heath and Derek. Dana has been working on his boat, a Young Brothers, in Phippsburg at Heath Hawkes’ boatyard. Like many lobstermen, although a new boat would be nice, he’d rather work on his boat than owe too much on another boat. Especially considering the many uncertainties in the lobster industry right now, like bait costs and conservation closures. You know how it’s a relief to be around other parents with the same worries and kind of vent and support each other? It’s like that for fishing families, too, except we share worries about safety, our kids, bait prices, boat engines, and how to get fiberglass out of clothes.
Elizabeth and I chatted, and I asked her what she thought of being a fisherman’s wife, and she laughed. Seems like it might be a weird question, but she knows, and I know, and other fishermen’s wives know, it takes strength, patience, and independence. Elizabeth said, “We’ve been married for 20-years. If you asked me this question 5-years into it, it would have been a different answer. I’ve had to figure out schedules and financing and I get it now, but it does take time.” I told them that when Herman and I first got married I would get so disappointed when I would make plans and when I shared them with Herman he’d say, “Depends on the weather.” So, I started making plans without Herman and hoping he could join when the time came. To that, Dana replied, “Bingo.”
I asked the table, Heath, Derek, Dana, and Elizabeth, what is it about fishing that makes it so unique? And, I got an answer I’ve heard time and time again, “Fishing is not a job, it’s a way of life.” One, I might add, that is tough to convey to someone that’s not a fishing family. (This whole website is basically my attempt at conveying how special the fishing industry is.) Dana said something else that I hadn’t thought about before, but it really resonated with me, he said, “I’ve had boat problems and engine problems and really bad days on the water, but I never once thought about quitting. The regulations have made going fishing really hard, and they have made me consider leaving the industry.” I’m not sure what that says about how the fishing industry is managed, and it’s not my goal to try to answer any fishery management problems, but it speaks volumes to me that someone who has likely been in some dire situations on the water would continue to go back time and again, but think twice about it because they feel so restricted by management.
Dana reminisced about the wharves and what it used to be like in Harpswell. He said, “It’s a shadow of what it used to be. Wharfs always had kids hanging around waiting for their dads. And if you had a question you could go down there and there would always be people around who could help. It was like a community hall for fishermen.” The other fishermen at the table nodded their heads in agreement and shared their own stories, and Dana added, “We used to be so excited to be down there waiting for the boats to leave or comeback. Now it seems like it’s just kinda depressing down there and people are just waiting to leave the wharf.” They also said that when they were kids and went down to the wharfs, they had options for their day because there were so many fishermen and so many different fisheries: “You could go groundfishing, catch pogies, lobstering…”
As usual I asked Dana and Elizabeth about seafood, and asked them how often they eat it, they replied, in unison, “Not enough.” We chatted a bit about my goals for the website, to get people eating more seafood by sharing stories from fishing families and others. As Dana put it, “There’s a face behind every bit of it [seafood and fishing], family, business, heart, and soul.”