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MLA member profile: Lobstering, racing, all part of a full life

First published in Landings, January 2014.

The members of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association come in all shapes and sizes. These men and women may be from a small harbor or large, old-timers or youngsters, yet they share one thing: they all recognize the value of being part of the state’s oldest fishing organization. This month Landings begins a new series, profiling MLA members from throughout the coast of Maine.

Andrew Gove is a man who sticks to things. Take, for instance, lobstering. On this day in early December he has just returned from bringing in another fifty of his 600 traps. Seventy-seven years ago, when he was less than seven years old, he was doing the same thing but at a smaller scale. He was hauling his two traps by hand from a rowboat.

Gove received his commercial lobster license in 1937 at the behest of his grandmother. “It cost a dollar,” he recalled. “She told me I had to have it if I was going to haul my traps. She took care to follow the rules.”

Gove was born in Stonington at the start of the Great Depression when money was scarce. “My father done most anything he could,” Gove said. “It was hard to find something to eat then.” At age two, when his parents were expecting another child, Gove moved in with his maternal grandparents, who raised him to adulthood. The two families lived next door to each other on Eagle Island, to the westward of Deer Isle.

“My grandfather learnt me everything I know,” Gove explained. “He would let me do something and watch me do it wrong and then show me how to do it better.” Gove’s grandfather had a large vegetable garden which fed the family throughout the year. Gove was impressed by that garden; one year his grandfather gave him two rows to plant on his own. “I thought there wasn’t much to it. I figured I was going to have some two-foot carrots,” he recalled. So he laid fertilizer down a good six to eight inches in the ground and then followed that with his seeds. Needless to say, those deeply planted carrot seeds never came up. “I think the Chinamen got them, they was so deep. I decided I would fish and get someone else to raise the vegetables,” Gove laughed.

Back in the 1930s, Gove sold his lobsters for 10 cents a pound. A good haul was one hundred pounds. “I remember the price went up to 12 cents and we thought that was great,” he said. As a child, he used his money to buy school clothes. Eventually he progressed from a rowboat to a small wooden boat. “My grandfather got this 14-foot sailboat from a lady out to Isle au Haut. He took the centerboard out and put in a 5 horsepower one-cylinder Grey engine,” Gove said. “I just about wore myself out cranking that engine.”

Times were hard and Gove decided at the start of his sophomore year in high school to concentrate on fishing. “I had to put food on the table,” he explained simply. His next boat was a 22-foot wooden boat built for a local summer person. The boat was sturdy but not elegant. Other fishermen nicknamed her “the goddamn pumpkin seed.” When the V8 Ford engine in the boat proved unreliable, Gove was at a loss as to what to do. “Carlyl Webb, he had the garage in town, he liked me and knew I was trying hard. So he said, I’ll buy you an engine.” Webb purchased Gove a 6-cylinder Plymouth engine and installed it in Gove’s boat, an act of kindness that Gove marvels at even now.

Much of Gove’s life as a child and young man was spent on Eagle Island. “On Eagle Island there were only farmers and fishermen,” Gove recalled. He attended the island’s one-room school house and set traps with the other lobstermen. “We’d crate the lobsters up and then a smack would come to the island. Fifield would come out or Ralph Barter,” he said. Bait came from weirs the Eagle Island men set around the island. “Oh, we caught a lot of herring in those days. And mackerel. My grandmother would can the mackerel with a little vinegar and the bones would just dissolve,” Gove recalled.

As a married man, Gove and his wife, Rose, began their family on the Eagle Island. They moved back to a house on the Stonington harbor after the island school closed down in 1942. Gove turned his hand to different types of fishing – halibut, herring seining, scalloping (“the most boring thing I ever done”). In the 1960s and 70s he also began working as an aerial spotter for the herring boats. “I flew for twenty years. I liked it. I knew where everyone was operating ,” Gove said. “I miss my plane.” He also became very involved in the lobster boat races held along the coast each summer, winning race after race over the years. In fact, in 2013 he won four races in Stonington in his boat, Uncle’s UFO, including the Jimmy Stevens Cup-Fastest Working Lobster Boat and the Fastest Lobstah Boat Afloat races.

During his years as a lobsterman, Gove has seen the lobster population rise and fall many times. But, as he says himself, “the longer I go, the less I know.” He is concerned that if and when groundfish stocks come back, lobster numbers will take a tumble. “The fish, they eat them up around here. Day and night, 365 days a year, they are eating them up. Lobsters are going to deplete terribly,” Gove said.

When asked why he is a member of the MLA, Gove replied in his trademark matter-of-fact manner. “The MLA is a good thing. I believe that the dealers still have so much pull, it’s good to belong.”


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