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A Lobsterman is a Lobsterman, Regardless of Gender

What would you call Heather Strout-Thompson of Harrington when she starts her boat’s engine at 4 a.m. and heads out of the harbor? You had better call her a lobsterman.

Strout-Thompson, who has lobstered for 38 years, would not have it any other way. “I’ve never referred to myself as anything but a lobsterman,” said Strout-Thompson in a recent Bangor Daily News article. “My dad was a lobsterman. My grandfather was a lobsterman. That’s what I am, too.”

Photo courtesy of M.Carpenter for NPR.

In Maine, a lobsterman is a lobsterman, no matter the gender. Likewise, a sternman is a sternman, period.

As author Emily Burnham points out in her May article, people from outside the state and its lobstering culture find it hard to understand the use of the word for women who lobster. Ali Farrell, who published Pretty Rugged: True Stories From Women of the Sea in 2020, soon heard from readers who thought the word “lobsterman” should apply only to men.

“One hundred percent of the women I talked to called themselves lobstermen, and some people asked me why I used what they said was an inappropriate word,” Farrell said. “I had to explain to them that female lobstermen aren’t lobsterwomen, or lobster fishers. They are lobstermen.”

As of 2021, approximately 15% of lobster licenses in Maine were held by women. A decade ago, that number was less than 5%, according to the Department of Marine Resources. Many young people, women and men, lobster during their high school years and even through college because they can make good money working hard. Many, like Strout-Thompson, stay with lobstering as a career.

“I just want to make the same money and have the same opportunities as everybody else,” Strout-Thompson said. “I want respect on my own merits, not because I’m a woman or in spite of the fact that I’m a woman. Who cares what I am as long as I do a good job?”

On the water, lobstermen judge each other by time-honored standards: seamanship, fishing ability, confidence on the water, and of course, their boats. What they are called by those outside the fishery is the least of their concerns.

“At the end of the day, I only care about doing a good job. I’m not going to get too worked up over a word,” Strout-Thompson said.


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