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  • Earlier this month I spent two days with Captain Justin Libby (second from left), of Port Clyde, dragging aboard CAPT’N LEE forty to sixty miles southeast of Monhegan Island. It was a memorable time and added to my already considerable respect for these guys and the work they do.

    Justin had me meet him and his deckhand, Ray Leroy, down at the wharf at 2:00 a.m. The guys showed up, ran out in the skiff, brought her in and off we went, with a hold full of ice and a crew full of hopes that this trip would be a rewarding one.

    With Justin at the helm we steamed a steady eight knots until we reached the fishing grounds, known locally as The Finger, reflecting the distinctive shape of the mostly 100 fathom bottom we would be towing. The gear went over at 8:50 a.m. and we all settled in for the six hour tow.

    At 3:25 that afternoon the first catch was dumped on deck, then sorted, cleaned and iced down in the hold. This was roughly the pattern for the next 36 hours, with Justin and Ray alternating turns at the wheel. The engine was never shut off and a fair amount of ground was covered at a slow but steady 1.5 to 2 knots.

    The marketable catch was largely cod, monkfish, flounder, sole and redfish. The bycatch was mostly dogfish sharks, which at $.40/lb Justin didn't bother keeping.

    It’s worth pausing here to note that “The Boys,” as Justin and his Port Clyde colleagues are known to all, recognize the peril they face from the forces that have eliminated all other dragging boats from Portland north to the Canadian border. Working with the Island Institute they have adapted their fishing techniques, gear and mindset and, among other things, created Port Clyde Fresh Catch, the first CSF (community supported fishery), modeled on the growing movement of CSA’s (community supported agriculture) in the United States.

    These guys really do have a lot on the ball…they work hard and smart, and I have to say that every time I spend time with them, or their small-boat brothers on the sea, my understanding of and respect for the challenges that make up the fabric of their lives is deeply enhanced.

    I’m planning on writing more elsewhere about this - and much else - that constitutes the working environment of Penobscot Bay, but I’ll close for now by offering my thanks to Justin, his family, and the rest of The Boys who have so kindly let me into their homes, boats and lives.

    Stand by for more about them in the future…theirs is ultimately the story of steadfast commitment to sustaining a way of life that has been lost in so many other places. They are not going to go fish on the big corporate boats in the southern regions of New England…they have made a stand to remain their own men, fishing their own bottom. At the same time they have adapted new practices that put them in the forefront of the cleanest and greenest bottom-fishing in this country.

    I am very proud to call them friends.
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