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  • Writer's pictureMonique Coombs

Fishermen Wellness: How family members cope.

Or maybe I should have called this "How family members barely cope sometimes."

If you're a long time follower of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, you might know that not only do I get to work for this great organization, but I'm married to a fisherman and live in beautiful Harpswell. I also have my own website where I share quite a bit about being a fishing family and some of the culture + community that is inspired by the commercial fishing industry. You might say I'm constantly surrounded by some aspect of fishing at all times. And you'd be right.

Most of the time, like 95% of the time, I love how much I get to talk about fishing, seafood, the ocean, and fishermen. And, I love that I get to support an industry that my family depends on for both our financial security as well as our culture, lifestyle, and inspiration.

But then there is that 5%.

Like many Americans, I manage anxiety and depression with medication, a good diet, and exercise. Regardless of my attempts to control anxiety and depression sometimes I just, well, can't.

The fishing industry is a complex industry that is constantly adapting and changing in order to keep up with science, species' stocks, fishing trends, markets, demand, weather, new technology, prices, and cost of doing business. (That doesn't even include the stress that comes with owning a fishing vessel.) There are always balls in the air and rarely do we have them all under control. Not even half of them. Understanding the industry and managing our own fishing businesses is a stressful endeavor.

And then there's the part that no fishing family likes to talk about. The risk.

Fishing is a dangerous job. Weather can rapidly change and be more severe than what was forecasted. There are lots of moving parts on a boat and things move quickly. Accidents happen fast, and the ocean while beautiful, is unforgiving.

Even under the best of circumstances and for people who rarely deal with anxiety and depression; being a fisherman, the spouse of a fisherman, a child of a fisherman, or a mother, brother, sister, or cousin can require coping and stress management because of the uncertainty and inherent risk.

This is in part what led MCFA to think about how to identify resources and funding that can be made available to commercial fishermen and their families to help support their mental health and wellness. While definitely not a new crisis, mental health support is becoming increasingly necessary in this industry due to the ever-changing circumstances and fear that the end of being able to fish is in sight for many.

Fishing does not operate on a schedule. It does not exist today the way it did twenty years ago and it will not look the same even just a few years from now. We have so much to be thankful for, us fishing families, but we also have a lot on our minds.

Every fisherman's wife knows what it's like when her husband is out fishing for a couple of days and you're rushing to a soccer game after work and trying to finish dinner and the dryer breaks with the wet soccer uniform in it. Fishermen answer to the weather and fishermen's wives know that making plans with their husbands, well, "depends on the weather." Like many wives, I make plans and hope my husband can come along, but I don't expect it.

As a member of a fishing family, it can be especially tough to manage financial uncertainty, worry, and watching our fisherman loved ones struggle. I see it in my own community and I see it every day at work. Fishing families, you are not alone. This is a hard life we all got ourselves into, and I don't know about you, but I wouldn't change it for the world and none of us would let this ship go down without a fight.

Lastly, I need to admit something to you. Working for MCFA helps me cope because I am able to actively work on some of the things I worry about as a fishing family. I suppose this is similar for fishermen who fish harder when they are stressed. I'll also admit that sometimes this is probably not healthy or even what's best for the organization.

Please make sure you are reaching out to loved ones, checking in, and talking with friends and family during stressful times. If you need support please also check out some of the other blog posts that we have shared in partnership with NAMI Maine. There you can also find numbers and resources that can support you.

Remember: Together, we persevere.

A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is a new on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. This week is a detour from the norm in order to share information in a different way. Later next week we will be sharing a podcast that features a discussion between MCFA staff Monique Coombs and NAMI Maine staff Hannah Longley. Next week's blog from NAMI Maine will include resources and information for family members of fishermen dealing with stress and grief.

We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.



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