Day In The Life: How a Former Lawyer & America’s Cup Sailor Found Her Passion Lobster Fishing

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Growing up the daughter of a college professor, Merritt Carey spent summers in the small fishing village of Tenants Harbor, Maine. After attending Brown University, she jumped aboard a sailboat headed to Antigua and wound up competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now the Volvo Ocean Race) on its second ever all-female team. After studying law in New Zealand, Carey returned home to finish her degree at University of Maine School of Law. A few years ago, upon learning that the family wharf she’d worked as a girl would be sold, she got together with a group of local fishermen to form the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op. Today, Carey, who lives in Yarmouth, ME, with her husband and three kids, juggles roles as board member of the Co-op, Director of Maine Operations for Acadian Seaplants, a Canadian company that harvests rockweed, and a sternman who hauls lobster. In honor of National Lobster Day on Sept. 25th, Carey offers a look inside her seafaring life. 

Merritt Carey

4 AM: I get up between 4a.m. and 5a.m. most days, which means it’s pretty much always dark. The first thing I do is make coffee — extra dark French roast. For days I haul lobster, I wear stretchy Patagonia leggings, wool socks and a tank top (in summer) or thermal shirt (in winter). Boots are a year-round must — LaCrosse in summer; Muck Boots in winter. And I always wear a hat. I grab my Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op Seabags handbag made of recycled sails, and try to remember chapstick (Burt’s Bees is my favorite). As a sternman, I jump on different boats to fill in when guys (or gals) need help. I love that I can jump on the back of any lobster boat and be useful.

Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative

8 AM: Watching the sun come up on the water is stunning every single time. I’m not a big breakfast person; I usually have a banana or an apple at some point before 8a.m., but not much else. Lobstermen captains typically employ one to three sternmen (like me), whose responsibilities include baiting bags, measuring and sorting lobsters and knowing my way around the back of a boat. I’m at my best working on the water, and it gives me credibility when it comes to working with fishermen, harvesters and anyone working along the shore. I can “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”

Patrick Daly for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative

1 PM: For lunch, I like to have smoked salmon on crackers, and I love apples. I also have a real sweet tooth: I like Haribo Cola Bottles, Good & Plenty’s black licorice and dark chocolate with orange and ginger. When I go hauling, it’s typically with a male captain. I’ve always found them supportive. But I always enjoy working with women, especially in male-dominated fields. I was on the first ever all-women’s America’s Cup team. Recently, I had an opportunity to go hauling with lobsterman Krista Tripp. It was just the two of us and it was terrific. There’s something great about all an all-girls boat.

Merritt Carey

4 PM: We start coming in to sell lobsters as early as 1p.m. or as late as 9p.m., depending on the boat I’m on and whether we fish inshore or offshore. Maine lobstermen have been practicing sustainability for more than 150 years. Lobsters are 100% hand-harvested from small day boats one trap at a time — there are no drag nets, which helps protect the ocean environment. Anything under 3¼” and over 5” is tossed back in to the ocean to protect the population and quality of meat. If we catch a female egg-bearing lobster, we’ll cut a notch into her tail before tossing her back in. That way, if someone catches her when she doesn’t have eggs showing, they’ll see the notch and know she’s a breeder, which legally requires them to toss her back.

Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative

Egg bearing female

6 PM: I usually start to unwind when my kids are ready for dinner. I never watch TV; we don’t have one. In summer months, I love sitting on our deck and looking at the water and tides. I also love watching our chickens run around; we have a little urban farm complete with chickens (fresh eggs!), miniature goats, a dog, cat and bunny.

Patrick Daly for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative

Maine

10 PM: I try to be in bed by 10p.m.I typically read The New Yorkerbefore I fall asleep. I try not to look at my phone, but I’m not always great about sticking to that rule.