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Bringing New Faces Into the Lobster Fishery

Luke’s Lobster restaurant chain has taken the initiative to increase Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) youth involvement in the Maine lobster industry through its growing Lift All Boats mentorship program, which gives students a chance to take part in the industry. 

Last year's participant Joshua Lamour. Island Institute photo.

Luke’s Lobster began the Lift All Boats Project in summer 2022 with four high school students in Portland, Maine from diverse backgrounds. The students worked on the water with local fishermen in Portland and representatives from Luke’s Lobster to learn about the lobstering processes and network to seek potential future employment opportunities. 

“Almost every lobsterman in Maine is a white person, and we investigated why and realized that in large part it’s because the sustainability regulations that keep licensing closed are set up in a way that only the very close connections, usually the children or family members of existing lobstermen, can become lobstermen in the future. The only sure way in is a student program that really relies on having close connections in the industry,” said Luke’s Lobster CEO and Chief Innovation Officer Ben Conniff. 

The first step to getting the program off the ground had the leadership team at Luke’s Lobster purchase a boat and consult with local lobstermen in the greater Portland area to gauge interest and sponsorship from locally licensed lobstermen. After receiving a strong amount of positive feedback, they turned to outlets such as Portland Public Schools and local Boys and Girls clubs to seek student interest. Conniff said the program began with four students, and for summer 2023 the company received 58 applicants and increased the program to 12 slots. 

Learning to lobster takes time and commitment. Luke's Lobster photo.

Students will receive a daily stipend and their own tracking gear and will start the day around eight in the morning out on Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay.

Luke’s Lobster staff organizes rides for the students, and lunch at their Portland, Maine restaurant each day. The program also regularly hosts guest speakers that present to the students during lunchtime to expand their knowledge of the industry. 

“We stay in touch with the students once we’re off the water and they’re back in school and see if they are planning to come back next year and see if we can support them in the meantime. We also like to talk about their long-term goals,” Conniff said.

“The students themselves are really the ones to be celebrated here. They’re breaking down barriers and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and learning new things. This is a lot for 15-year-olds who have not had a job before, and now they’re out on the water and I’m super impressed by their dedication.” 

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