The Haycock Family- Milbridge, Maine
Photo credit: Cheryl Clegg
You might have seen portraits of Maine lobstering families in their oilskins and boots popping up in social media feeds lately. It’s the work of Cheryl Clegg, an award-winning photographer, based in Boston, who has been shining a light on families in Stonington, Gouldsboro, Milbridge and Steuben.
Clegg, who has photographed Matt Damon, among other notable personalities, specializes in business, lifestyle and portraits. But it’s Maine she keeps coming back to, literally and figuratively with her latest portrait series, “The Endangered Lobstermen.”
Clegg first visited Maine as a teenager and has been coming back to the Gouldsboro area every year. Her connection to the people has deepened over the years as well as her understanding of their plight, first, in part, to new buyers from out of state buying up more waterfront property in the Down East area where lobstermen have lived for centuries, eroding their access and requiring them to move inland. Not only does that affect their access to “territory” but it also makes it harder to transport lobster gear to and from the shore.
And on top of that, a perfect storm has been brewing for Maine lobstermen. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a major seafood ecolabel, suspended its certification of Maine lobster based on a controversial claim that lobster fishing gear is directly responsible for the entanglement of endangered North Atlantic right whales. Then, Seafood Watch, based out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, added Maine lobster to its “red list” of seafood to avoid. In a domino effect, Whole Foods, and Blue Apron have dropped buying Maine lobster for their products, deeply impacting not only the lobstering industry, but the symbiotic relationship to thousands of lobstering families, restaurants, and businesses in Maine.
Meanwhile, with the help of attorneys and scientists, lobstermen are fighting back against the insufficient and misleading data put forth by environmental groups. Gov. Janet Mills spoke for the industry when she said, “No right whale death has been attributed to Maine gear, and there has not been a right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster gear in eighteen years.”
“I am a longtime person from ‘away’ in the small fishing village of Corea, Maine,” Clegg explained. “When I heard about the ‘red list’ of lobster in September on the national news, I immediately thought of all of the fishing families I have grown to know over the years and wanted to show the general public the human lives at stake with the impending new regulations to the Maine lobster industry. The only way I know how to do that is to do what I do — create photographs.”
With the majority of the media covering the other viewpoint, Clegg is mostly focused on the culture, heritage and community of Maine’s lobstermen. Her camera caught each member of the family who lobsters for a living — even the children — to show the entire picture of what will happen if that source of income is cut off.
“Families are concerned that they will not be able to provide for themselves,” she said. “And their way of life, their heritage will be gone forever. The fishermen want the world to know that they run a sustainable fishery and have always had regard for all ocean life. They feel the Maine lobster industry has unfairly been labeled harmful when that is not the case. The fishermen have taken all the measures they have been required to do to protect the North Atlantic right whale and are in compliance with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.”
With her long-time ties to the area, lobstering families trusted Clegg enough to get all of their extended family members together — sometimes on short notice — to pose for her series.
“All of the families I have been fortunate to photograph thus far are happy to be in front of the camera,” she said. “This was their chance to be heard and for the world to see that there are human lives at stake with every decision made regarding the lobster fishing industry. I have received nothing but heartfelt thanks from everyone.”
To see the families portrayed, visit “The Endangered Lobstermen.”
The Maine Lobster Festival supports the Maine lobster industry and ensures a portion of the festival’s proceeds goes directly back into the schools and nonprofits of our communities. Come be a part of our Festival Aug. 2-6, 2023! Visit https://mainelobsterfestival.com/ for more information.