Posted on September 23, 2022

Bringing Diversity to Maine’s Nearly All-White Lobster Fleet

Fred Bever, NPR, September 15, 2022

Many of the workers in Maine’s lobster processing industry are people of color, but lobstermen are almost all white. A new program is aiming to diversify the state’s lobster fleet.


Maine is one of the whitest states in the nation, and the fishermen in its famed lobster industry reflect that demographic reality. But this summer, a small group of Black men, some of them recent arrivals from Africa, are learning to lobster, as Fred Bever reports.

FRED BEVER, BYLINE: At 15, Cristiano Silva thought he might spend the summer working at a McDonald’s near his home on the outskirts of Portland, Maine, and help with household expenses. Instead, he found himself on a lobster boat called the Sea Smoke out here among Casco Bay’s rocky islands. {snip}


BEVER: Cris was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he was still a toddler when his mother emigrated here a decade ago. Now, he and several other Black teens are learning how to lobster in a new program called Float All Boats.


BEVER: {snip} Captain Jeff Holden, a volunteer with the program, teaches the use of an electric pulley that helps to bring the attached lobster traps up from the sea floor.


BEVER: Holden is a longtime fisherman and lobster dealer who, with his son Luke and partner Ben Conniff, founded the Luke’s Lobster company in 2009. Conniff says that Maine’s seafood packing plants are some of the most diverse places in the state, with immigrant workers from Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

BEN CONNIFF: But when you think about that most prized job in the industry, getting to go out and catch and sell those lobsters yourself, you don’t see any diversity. You see a sea of white.

BEVER: And the waiting list for a lobster license is years long, which is why Portland schoolteacher Halima Noor pushed Cris and other students to say yes when Luke’s offered boat time, gear and expertise, the tools needed for a state apprenticeship program that allows teens to bypass that waiting list.

HALIMA NOOR: I had never heard of a lobster man that was a person of color.

BEVER: Noor, who was born in Somalia, says that the doors of opportunity don’t always swing wide for young Black people in Maine, although she’s not expecting the lobstering program to change the world.