JULIE EATON of the Cat Sass

To many, when they hear the term Lobsterman they automatically think of men navigating the ocean. While the industry is dominated primarily by men there are some women who Captain their own vessels and chart their own course, the ocean does not know gender.

It really doesn’t matter out there as all we have on the sea is each other!” – Julie Eaton

Where were you born?

I was born Ellsworth, Maine

What is your earliest memory?

Sitting on my Great grandpa’s knee playing with his fishing boots.

Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
My Dad! He always told me I could do or be anything I wanted if I was willing to work hard to get there.

Did you attend college?

Westminster College of Salt Lake City in Salt Lake City Utah.

What did you study and why?

Aeronautical Science. My plan was to fly for the State police and help people.

If you could do it again, would you take a different academic path, or are you satisfied with the route you followed?
Maybe, if I hadn’t caught the fishing bug when I went to college. If I knew now what I didn’t know then, I would have studied something that would have helped me be better prepared for the lobstering industry, perhaps, Marine Biology.

What would you say the best job you ever had was?
Lobstering

What was your worst job?
Fiberglassing at a boat shop (I did learn a necessary skill for maintaining my boat though.)

In addition to being paid money, how else has your career created value in your life?
Being a lobsterman in Maine is not just a job. It isn’t what we do but rather who we are. Lobstering is an identity. It has made me stronger, more independent and better able to handle emergency situations… It has given me a much greater appreciation for the natural beauty around me.

Who was the biggest influence in your career?
By far, my Husband has always been my biggest supporter. He is my teacher, partner, and hero!!!

What does the word “family” mean to you?
Family doesn’t just mean a blood relative. When we are on our boats, going about our business, bound by the same desire and a tough work ethic, we are all family!!

Do you have siblings?
I have a brother, 14 months younger than I am.

Who do you admire most in your family and why?
My brother is an amazing human being who inspires me to be better every day! We are very close and bring out the best in each other. I am lucky to have him!

Where do you fish and how long have you been fishing?
I have been fishing since 1987. I started scallop diving and have over 10,000 hours underwater. I love lobstering, and have been doing that for 30 years now.

Who do you fish with?

I am the captain of my own boat. I have a terrific sternman, Derick Gray, he has been working with me for 8 years.

What is a normal day on the water like?
(Laughing out loud) There is no such thing as a normal day on the water. Working on the ocean is a constantly changing challenge! No two days are the same. Some days are sunny and calm, while others are rough and cold. One day the boat could be having breakdowns, and on another, you are helping others who have had troubles. Some days are profitable and some days … well not so much! I can truthfully say, each day, I am blessed to be doing a job I love. The freedom and independence that comes from working the sea are unsurpassed.

What is the name of your boat?

The name of my boat is “Cat Sass”. In my line of work, a little humor is always welcomed. While in the Florida Keys, on vacation with my family, I saw the name on an off-shore racing boat and loved it. I am very supportive of animal rescue so it just fit.

Is lobster fishing a profession that runs in the family?
In my immediate family, I am the only one who fishes. My great Grandpa fished as did his dad and his father before him. I didn’t know them but think they would be proud of my accomplishments. Back then, they went to haul in rowing dories or sailing dories and hand hauled all their traps. Backbreaking work for sure. Now that I am married to a lobsterman, I have my husband’s family of fisherman around me. Sons, grandsons, nieces, and nephews.

Do you own and operate your own boat? If so for how long?
I started as a sternman and learned about the business. When I started on my own, I hauled traps from a borrowed skiff and rowed to my 24 wooden traps and hand hauled them. Over the years, I have upgraded and grown as a lobsterman and now run/own a 28′ Crowley Beal boat that I race in my off time in the Maine, lobster boat races.

What kind of boat do you fish on?

28″ Crowley Beal powered by a Cummings Diesel engine.

How many months do you lobster fish for?
As soon as the water warms up, in late spring, I set my traps out. Take up is usually in November or December, depending on the weather.

How far from shore do you fish?

I have about an 8-mile run to get to my gear but I am usually not more than a couple of miles from one of Maine’s beautiful islands.

How many traps do you fish with? I fish all wire traps now and fish a “gang” of about 650 traps total. My goal for next year is 800, which is the legal limit.

What is the common number of traps per trawl?
Because I am an inshore lobsterman, I do not fish trawls. a trawl is a group of traps on one line. I fish all single traps. One trapper line connected to one buoy at the surface. I feel that this provides me the ability to learn where the lobsters are moving and that makes it a better way for me to move with them.

How long does it take to prepare for lobster season?
I work off and on all winter getting my traps ready for the next season. I am the Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Maine Lobstering Union, and as such, go to the State Capital with other members of the committee to fight for fair regulations for the lobstermen. This happens in the winter, so I am busy through the winter with one thing or the other.

What is involved in this process?

When I am in the shop preparing for the next season, I go through each trap individually checking for damage, replacing and repairing. Every year, I replace the biodegradable clips, called hog rings, that attach the escape vent which allows small lobsters to get out of the trap. If my trap should be lost on the bottom, for any reason, these rings will rust off allowing a BIG hole in the trap which will allow all lobsters to escape. We are very conservation minded in our industry and protective of our resource! We take many measures in Maine to ensure the sustainability of the lobster industry that isn’t found in any other State.

What time do you go out fishing in the morning and what time do you get back?
I leave in the morning at 6 am, because my boat is pretty fast, we are back in before noon after hauling 250 traps.

Who tells you where you can set your traps?
There is no one who tells us where to set our gear but it is also pretty territorial. I fish my husband’s family “bottom” or fishing grounds. I can truthfully say that he has Great bottom!!! (Laughing out loud)

Do inspectors make visits to the wharf to make sure policies are being followed?
Yes, we have Marine Patrol officers who check our catch, both at the dock and sometimes on our boats as we are hauling.

What kind of bait do you use and where do you get it?
I prefer to use herring for bait but have used pogies or flounder racks if herring isn’t available.

Do you fish anything else besides lobster?
No, not now. In the past, I would dive for scallops but as I am getting a little bit older, the ocean is getting dramatically colder!

What kind of equipment do you have on your boat?
The usual: Pot hauler, safety equipment, VHF radio, compass, chart nav- like a GPS for boats, Bait box, lobster tank with water circulation and a GREAT BIG DIESEL ENGINE!

What is the largest lobster you have seen or caught?
My Husband caught a 37 lb. 1 clawed lobster once while dragging, years ago. I have caught lobsters that are so big you can’t see how they got in the trap at all. Without scales in the boat, it is impossible to say how much it weighed, probably 8 lbs. or so.

Do you like lobster and what is your favorite lobster dish?
Yes, I like lobster but not so much when I am fishing for it every day. In the winter, when it is cold and snowing on our little island, I love to make a good hot lobster chowder with potatoes and a little onion mixed with whole milk and a little half and half and butter! Add hot biscuits and there is Maine comfort food at its best!!!

What is one thing you think is misunderstood about lobstering by people outside of Maine?
I think that people think lobstering is all about money, when in fact lobstering is a calling. We do it because we have to! It’s an addiction like breathing. Many lobstermen have college degrees. I have commercial pilot’s license and a degree in Aeronautical Science. When I returned from college, I caught the fishing bug. I love being a guardian of our resource, a protector of the industry and our way of life. I want to be able to hand the passion, commitment, and understanding of how important sustainability is, to the next generation.

Is it hard being a woman in this industry?
There is no question that Lobstering in Maine is still a male-dominated industry. but more and more women are getting into it. A lot of women are sternmen in the back of the boats for their Dad’s or boyfriends. I have found that if you work hard, help when you can, be respectful and honest, the guys will treat you as they treat each other. On the water, they sort of forget I am a woman. It really doesn’t matter out there as all we have on the sea is each other!

Do women face much resistance?

Once you have proven that you are honest, trustworthy and hardworking, women face no more resistance than anyone else.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In 1987, I was hit by a cement truck while going to work. The doctors would not lay odds on my chances for survival. I was in a coma for months with Traumatic Brain Injuries. I had to learn to walk, talk feed myself and just about everything, again. Coming back from that and all of the hard work and effort it took is the thing I am most proud of. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do this by myself. I had tremendous support from the people who cared for me at the hospital, my family and friends… I could never have it to where I am today, without them!

How do you think people will remember you?
I hope to be remembered as a good person, a loyal friend, and as someone who made people laugh!!

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love photography, animal rescue and being involved with the Maine Lobstering Union. As Chairman of the Legislative Committee, I help fight for fair regulations and fishermen in our industry!!

What is your greatest fear?
Failing, at anything.

What is your greatest hope?
I will make a difference to someone else whether it is by making someone laugh when they are sad or buying a stranger a cup of coffee at the diner. Random acts of kindness, the ability to give hope or comfort are priceless gifts.

Where would you like to see the Maine lobstering industry in 10 years?
I would love to see the industry continue to be sustainable, more hard-working women owning & operating their own boats, and the Maine Lobstering Union has grown into a national force in our industry. The Union gives us a real voice in the destiny of our livelihood. Joining the MLU has opened doors for me that were unattainable before both politically & economically. Being a local of the International Aerospace Workers & Machinists Union has taught me the power in SOLIDARITY! Amazing!!!

What are the main lessons you’ve learned in life?
Each day is a gift! It isn’t about what you have, but rather what you do with what you have!