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Young lobstermen upbeat despite uncertain future

Jace Doughty, 16, likes to lobster. In fact, he’s liked to lobster since he started with his father Travis at age 6. Sure, there were a few bumps in the road back then. “I remember seeing a lobster for the first time. It freaked me out. Plus, one got me,” he recalled.

Photo by J.Doughty.

Since then, lobstering has been a key element in the life of this busy young man. Now a junior at Oceanside East High School in Rockland, he fishes from Cushing aboard his 32-foot boat, Chasing Tail, which he co-owns with his cousin Noah Ross. He got his lobster license at age 14. “I started out in a skiff with five traps. Once I got older, I got a bigger skiff with a hauler and fished with my cousins and my dad,” he said.

The lure of lobstering for Doughty was two-fold. “My dad got me going. I wanted to make him proud. And the money is definitely good,” he said with a laugh.

Over the years he found a way to balance school and lobstering. Doughty would haul in the summer months and then on weekends.

Once he entered high school he hauled on weekends and occasionally during the school week. “I skip some days,” he said. He typically sets 150 traps but this year will have 300 ready by June 6, his birthday. Doughty is aware of the issues facing the fishery, from right whale regulations to offshore wind developments, plus the environmental changes in the Gulf of Maine due to warmer water. They are clouds building on his future horizon.

“I hope it will all hold off until I really get going. I want to be able to save money and buy my own house when I’m 21,” he said.

He has a back-up plan in case the fishery changes dramatically in the next five years. “It’s always good to plan ahead. I’m interested in joining the Marines or training to be a plumber,” Doughty said. “But I really want to fish until I can’t because of regulations. My great-grandfather was a lobsterman, my father is and now me.”

Noah Ross when he's on shore. N.Ross photo.

His cousin Noah Ross, 19, is a lobsterman through and through. His thoughts are on the upcoming season, what the price is now, what the price might be in July. He remembers when he started fishing back when he was 13, sterning for his uncle Travis. “I was baiting irons, all that. The biggest thing, even then, was being my own boss,” he recalled.

After graduating from Oceanside East High School, Ross set his mind to lobstering. “I never really thought about doing anything else, to be honest. But I don’t know where it’s going. If lobstering goes bad, I’d be kind of stuck,” he said. “Maybe scalloping or working at my grandparents’ fencing business.”

He and Jace have fished together for years, currently from their shared boat. But that will change this year. “He is going to go alone. We’ll get a schedule to make it work. I haul through twice a week so it might be two days at the beginning and end of the week for me, the rest for him,” Ross said. He lobsters inside; his cousin is thinking about someday getting a federal license to fish outside state waters. Looming right whale protection regulations, now delayed until 2029, concern Ross but he realizes that he is in a better position than many other lobstermen.

“I don’t have a lot of debt. A lot of the highliners, they have a lot to worry about — big boats, houses, nice trucks. If we lost the lobster fishery, they would be in trouble real quick,” Ross said. “My worry is that we will end up with a quota for lobster, like so many other fisheries.”

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