The Making of A Fisherman's Co-op


We've all heard about fishermen's co-ops but how do they actually come together, and how do they work? The story of the Tenants Harbor Fisherman's Co-op, like many good things that come to fruition, is a story of false starts, perseverance and doughnuts! Last winter, the Miller family, fishermen in the community interested in seeing a Co-op in Tenants Harbor, with longtime summer resident Merritt Carey, who had worked for the Millers as a girl, began a conversation with Luke Holden, owner of Cape Seafood and Luke's Lobster.

From those conversations, most of which were fueled by Frosty's doughnuts, and took place around kitchen tables, and in the unheated Cod End building, an idea took hold.  Why not create a vertically integrated partnership - giving fishermen a processor and restaurant partner, and a processor and restaurant group a traceable supply and real partnership with fishermen? Like anything, the devil is always in the details and forming this Co-op was no different - how would the buying work, how would the price be determined, how would the fishermen get paid, and how could we continue to build trust? Communication and transparency were key ingredients to success. We did a lot of communicating over the winter - and a lot of doughnut eating as well. Luke continued to show up at every meeting - getting to know all of us, answering questions, and sometimes even bringing doughnuts (which was when we knew we had a real partner!).

From the get go, we wanted to do things a little differently - we are one of the few Co-ops to have non fishermen sit on our board - both Luke Holden and Merritt Carey, an attorney turned communications consultant, are board members - bringing a different perspective to our discussions. Our Co-op is in its infancy and there are certainly many more challenges ahead. Our goals - to return value to our fishermen; change the business model for the better and deliver traceable, high quality lobsters to Cape Seafood and Luke's Lobster- will, we think, guide us as we grow. 

Parking Lots & Plotters: 800 Needles in a Haystack


As someone who never can find her car in the grocery store parking lot, I’ve often wondered how, with 800 traps, fishermen keep track of them all. I’ve seen the plotters, a device similar to a GPS which allows you to put marks in, but these just  look like colorful etch-a-sketches to me.  I know fishermen rely on them to locate their traps, but plotters are a relatively new phenomenon, and even with them, it seems like looking for 800 needles in a haystack.

Peter Miller has been fishing for more than 40 years, well before there were plotters, and the day I went hauling with him I was determined to learn not only how plotters worked, but how fishermen found their traps before them. There must have been tricks of the trade, honed over years of practice.  Earlier in the season, when Peter had helped my kids set their traps in Tenants Harbor for the first time, he asked if I knew where they all were. One look at my face and he didn’t need to wait for my answer. “Madeleine’s got four up in the eel grass in the inner harbor; three on the southern side by the Shipyard; three down by your dock; Liam has five up in the inner harbor; four over on the northern side up high; five down by Witham’s, six over by your dock and five on the southern side of Mouse Island.” I had known the general locations, but definitely not how many traps in each spot. “Geez,” I said, “how did you remember all that?” With a wry smile, he replied “It’s what I do, how I make my living.”


Behind Every Good Fisherman, there’s a Busy Wharf

Each morning up and down the Maine coast, thousands of lobster boats head out for a day of hauling and then return to sell their catch to wharfs and buying stations. The fact that virtually all of Maine’s lobster fishing fleet – some 5,500 strong – is comprised of day boats sets it apart from many other fishing fleets which head out for days or weeks at a time (think of the big fishing fleets in New Bedford and Gloucester, MA). Most of us, when we think of the iconic lobster boats steaming out of our harbors, do not think about the behind-the-scene intricacies. As a board member of the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op, which I played a small role in helping set up, I felt I had a reasonable understanding of how lobster-fishing industry operated. But as I learned when I jumped in to help at the wharf when we were short on workers, the logistical intricacies behind a lobster getting from the ocean floor to your plate are not for the faint of heart.

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