A young man in his early 30’s, Marshall Spear is the youngest lobsterman that sells his catch to Harbor Fish Market. I visited Marshall in his shop at his home in Yarmouth. When I walked in, he apologized for the mess which I immediately chuckled at; I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a lobsterman’s shop that was organized. Coils of rope and beat up buoys, random nails and screws, pieces of rope, hog rings, and zip ties are common on the floors of most shops.
I would have made myself comfortable sitting on a coil of rope, but Marshall dug out what he described as a “vintage chair” for me. (Disclaimer: Unless you know how to coil rope, don’t sit on a coil of rope.) “So,” I started, “how long have you been selling lobsters to Harbor Fish Market?”
He’s been selling to Harbor Fish Market for fifteen years and if you’re doing the math, yes, that means Marshall has been fishing since he was a teenager. He started fishing with his father, Willis Spear, who started fishing with Keith Lane, both of whom also sell their hauls to Harbor Fish Market. He likes selling to Harbor Fish Market because they are a family business, they treat their fishermen well, and he ties up his boat at Custom House Wharf where Harbor Fish Market is located, so it’s also convenient.
Marshall has three boys, Jack, Walter, and Calvin, (9,7, and 3 respectively) and he hopes that one day soon Jack can head out on a lobster trip with Keith, solidifying three generations of Spear boys on the back of Keith’s boat.
Much like Harbor Fish Market’s business, lobstering is a family affair, and the fishermen who sell their lobsters to Harbor Fish Market especially embody this deep connection, family ties, and loyalty. Marshall’s middle name is Lane, named after Keith Lane’s father who died at sea in the 1960’s. Marshall’s son Walter is named after Walter “Alden” Leeman, famed fisherman from Linda Greenlaw’s books. When Marshall’s wife, Rebecca, went into labor she called him on the boat while he was hauling traps. Marshall looked down at the lobster trap that was on the rail of his boat, and it was a trap that he had secured one of Alden’s old trap tags in. He told Rebecca, “I know what we are naming the baby. We are naming him Walter.” Walter’s middle name? Willis, of course.
Making the fishing community even smaller, and even more close-knit, like Linda Greenlaw, my husband Herman started fishing with Alden Leeman; Alden is Herman’s father’s cousin. Alden also used to sell some of his fish to Harbor Fish Market when he was alive. Sadly, he passed away in 2011. Alden was a force and presence along Commercial Street’s waterfront when he was fishing. He was the king of swordfish, one of the founders of Vessel Services, and what many might describe as a legend.
Marshall and I spent a lot of time talking about our families, how we wished Alden was still around to give us and our kids the same experiences that his dad and my husband were lucky enough to tolerate. We talked about how we understand the nostalgia that many of the older fishermen feel about the waterfront and fishing industry, but that it’s up to the younger generations to adapt and improve and ensure that the heritage and opportunities that exist because of fishermen like Willis and Keith endure for the next generation.
Establishments like Harbor Fish Market help fishermen like Marshall and his sons do that. The business creates opportunities for consumers to try new types of seafood and connect with the fishermen to better understand where their seafood is coming from, or more importantly, who is bringing their fish and lobsters to shore.