Recently, Stonington state Representative (and lobsterman) Genevieve McDonald put up a post in a Facebook group expressing a current frustration. Often, when fishermen stand up to speak, regardless of the topic, they start with; “I’m just a fisherman…”
It made me think of all the times that I have heard fishermen say those same four words. In policy discussions regarding their fishery, in scientific meetings on species they catch, and even on community issues related to zoning or infrastructure.
And the absurdity of the statement finally struck me. I’ve never met a fisherman who is “just” anything.
I’ve been on the phone with fishermen talking fisheries ecology while they are rewiring a boat. I’ve sat in meetings with fishermen who are debating policy while at the same time running their business through text messages. I’ve watched fishermen develop new gear, create research projects, build marketing plans, create organizations, and get elected to office while supporting their families and catching the most delicious seafood in the world. If I must know what the weather is going to actually be, I don’t turn on the news, I call a fisherman. Being a “jack of all trades” doesn’t go far enough to express the skillset that fishermen need to not just know, but excel at, in order to survive in the fishing industry.
It is time for fishermen to drop the "just."
Putting a qualifier in front of being a fisherman undermines the knowledge, experience, and ideas that come from the fishing communities.
Fishermen might not know how a scientific model turns data into spawning stock biomass, but their experiences, knowledge, and network make them an incredibly valuable resource. We have some of the best science in the world managing our fisheries in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it's always right. To ensure fisheries science isn’t just based on a good model, but that it is also based in reality, fishermen need to be a part of the equation.
Fishermen don’t want to write the policy and regulations to address climate change along Maine’s coast, but without their participation and insight, solutions will be missed. Fishermen are amazing at taking complex issues and breaking them down into solvable problems.
You never hear an entrepreneur say that they are “just a small business owner.” No, they are a job creator, an innovator, an expert.
The humbleness of fishermen is doing a disservice to all aspects of fisheries management, science, and the Maine coast. Those of us who aren’t on the water, but a part of the fishing community, need to come together to empower fishermen to realize that being “just” a fisherman might be just enough to make a very big difference.
*Thank you to Rep Genevieve McDonald who let me use her fantastic insight as a starting off point for this post.