An Interview with Miss May, Merritt Carey, our fifth lady in the 2018 Lobster Ladies calendar.
May marks the fifth month of our 2018 Lobster Ladies Calendar. Come back each month for a full interview with each of the women who in our opinion are the unsung heroes of the lobster industry. We created this calendar in order to support Maine's coastal communities and showcase the real women behind them, and 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Maine Lobstermen's Community Alliance.
What is your name and where are you from?
Merritt Carey and I’m from Yarmouth & Tenants Harbor, Maine.
Have you always lived in Maine? If not, how did you get there?
I’ve lived all over the place. With the exception of 1 summer, I’ve spent every summer in Tenants Harbor. My family has been going to Tenants Harbor for 5 generations. After college I did a lot of traveling - sailed around the world, lived in San Diego for the America’s Cup, and then I enrolled in Law School in New Zealand (where I was living at the time). After having traveled for about 10 years, I decided I was ready to come home - to Maine. I came back and moved to Portland and finished my law degree at University of Maine School of Law. That was in 1997; I’ve been happily in Maine since. I like to tell people - I’ve been all around the world and Maine is the best place on earth.
What’s the thing you love most about your harbor/town, and why?
What I love most about Tenants Harbor is that it feels like home. I know it so well; the shore, the sounds, the smell of the salty air. All of Maine is beautiful, but this particular stretch of rocky and wooded coast is where I’m most comfortable. I enjoy working with the fishermen at the co-op; I love the fact that I worked on that wharf as a girl and have now come back to collaborate with the fishermen and help build an innovative co-op that delivers more value to the shore.
Tell me about a typical day in your life… how does your day start, how does it end, what happens in between?
The best answer to that question is that I don’t have a typical day, though I can say, no matter what I’m doing, my day usually starts between 4-5 am with a strong cup of French roast coffee and some time in front of my computer. If I’m hauling, I’ll head down to the wharf. Sometimes it’s a 4 am start (in June) and other times as late as 5:30. Hauling days are pretty consistent: bait up, head out and haul; come in sell at the buy station and maybe fuel up for the following day. I have a number of different projects I’m working on at any given time, for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, for Luke’s, for the Maine Aquaculture Co-op which I helped found (we’re growing scallops!). I work from home, so around 3 pm my kids start to come home if they don’t have after-school activities. My later afternoons are usually focused on running my kids around during the school year. Summer has an entirely different pattern – more outside time, time with kids and time at the wharf. I try to be in bed by 9 -10 and read before I go to sleep. I try hard not to look at my phone once I’m in bed, but I’m not always successful.
What is the most memorable event/favorite day in your life, and why?
I’ve got three favorite and most memorable days - the three days my three kids were born (two of them were home births, and my youngest, Grace was born at home in Tenants Harbor, the first baby born at home in Tenants Harbor in more than 100 years).
Merritt and her three children, Liam (Left), Madeleine (Center), and Grace (Right)
What event/moment had the most influence on you/your job/the industry, and why?
There are people who influenced me more than a particular event. First was my father. I was an only child and I spent a lot of time with him as a girl. He had a hands-off approach to child rearing (one I’ve adopted myself – I call it benign negligence!), which left me to spend a lot of time on the shore by myself; exploring and tooling around in a skiff. Then there was Mrs. Miller, who was the first person I ever worked for, at the wharf in Tenants Harbor. She had a big influence on me and introduced me to the fishing community and lobstering industry. My first job was delivering cooked lobsters from Cod End (which is now Luke’s at Tenants Harbor) to cruising yachts that were visiting the harbor. It was a great summer job!
You do so much being involved in so many industry organizations, sitting on many boards, running your own business and being a wife and mother, how do you balance it all? And, any tips or tricks to share?
I have a high tolerance for chaos which is helpful, and a sense of humor which is crucial. Also, strong coffee, and wine, usually in that order. More than anything else; I love what I do. I feel excited about all the projects I’m working on and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with fishermen, industry leaders, politicians etc.
If you had a chance to meet somebody, who might that be, and why?
Alexandra Fuller, she’s written a handful of books about growing up in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). She’s a brilliant writer, her books are fascinating. Also Beryl Markham and Ernest Hemingway.
What do you consider unique to your line of work (if anything)?
I think what’s most remarkable about what I get to do is the diversity of work – from board rooms, to boats to parent teacher conferences and back again. The most constant theme in my life is the ocean. I’ve been a professional sailor, a professional rigger, and now my days are filled with thinking about Maine’s working waterfront – how to make it better, more robust economically, more innovative. I’m always learning and looking forward.
Merritt on the water, past and present.
What would you change about your work/the industry, and why?
I don’t know that I would change anything about the industry per se, but I would certainly like to create a deeper understanding for the general public regarding just how hard it is to make a living along the shore. I would like to see more collaboration between scientists and fishermen (this is happening which is great) and I would like to see fishermen having more input into some of the regulations they must abide by. I would also like the world to know how wonderful Maine’s seafood is – and not just lobsters but scallops, oysters, mussels and groundfish. Our waters are cold and clean and extremely tidal – and so our seafood is the BEST!
What do you see on the horizon for Maine and lobster?
My own view is that the industry will need to make incremental changes to start delivering more value to fishermen. I think fishermen need to start thinking about where their products are going and how they can begin to add value at the wharf. I also think there needs to be more diversification in income opportunities for fishermen so they are not completely dependent on lobster, aquaculture is a natural fit but value added underutilized species may present another.
Favorite weekend activity, and why (if you have them)?
Mostly anything outdoors and active. In the winter skiing. Most anything with my kids. I’m involved in scallop aquaculture and I love working on that project. I like planting gardens but I’m not so good at tending to them, by the end of summer I usually have a mess of weeds.
Merritt with her daughter Grace (left), and Madeleine (right) at Sugarloaf.
What's your favorite funny story about yourself?
It’s kind of an ongoing saga - I get lost all the time. Especially in parking garages. I have been known to spend half an hour trying to navigate my way out of a parking garage. The advent of GPS seems to have only made this tendency worse. On the bright side, I often discover neat little side roads and places I would have never known existed.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know.
Since returning from a trip to Georgia with my kids, I’ve discovered I actually love country music. I think it’s the lyrics: all pickup trucks and six packs.
List three misconceptions that people often have about you/the lobster industry/Maine? And why do you think they exist?
I think in general a lot of people who come to Maine, even those who have been coming here for a long time, don’t understand all that’s involved behind the scenes: what it takes to be a fisherman, not just the grit and hard work, but on the business side, dealing with the regulations, reporting requirements, etc. I think there’s a general misconception about what’s required to make a living working on the water - whether you’re a lobster fisherman, or a clammer, or running an oyster farm.
Two of Merritt's talents: lobstering and photographing lobstermen
What is your favorite way to prepare/eat lobster, and why?
I really like a lobster chowder. Lots of people prefer a stew, which only has lobster, cream and butter (basically), where a chowder has corn and potato. I’ve always loved a good chowder on a brisk winter day.
What was the last thing that made you laugh so hard you nearly peed your pants?
My oldest (Liam, 15), with my youngest (Grace, 7) doing an impromptu rap session (“yoyo this is Gracie in the house; uh huh, Gracie eating her supper now, ah-huh”) and so forth.
Best compliment you've ever received?
If you had a superhero power, what would it be and why?
The ability to create more hours in the day.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Come to the source in Tenants Harbor this summer!