What I do is a big part of who I am

Steve Train - Lobsterman and Owner, Wild Irish Rose (Lobster Boat), Long Island, Maine

News | 14 September 2020
Steve Train pilots his boat through the familiar waters of Casco Bay as he starts his daily run where he and his apprentice will pull 400 lobster traps by lunchtime. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
As his fishing boat navigates the calm waters of Casco Bay bathed in the brilliant orange glow of the morning, Steve Train has been up long before the dawn preparing his boat for the day’s catch.

“It’s a way of life, it’s a culture. It’s more than just a job,” says Steve, a fourth-generation commercial lobster fisherman out of Long Island, Maine. Owner and operator of the Wild Irish Rose, a 46-foot Jarvis Newman boat, Steve fishes year-round, with lobster being the prime catch.

Like most kids growing up on the island, Steve remembers wanting to be a pro player for the Boston Red Sox or maybe a firefighter. “But the real heroes were the guys coming in off the boats with the lobsters every day. I couldn’t wait to be with them.”

After majoring in small business at Northeastern University in Boston, Steve returned home and has worked in commercial fishing his entire professional life: lobstering, shrimping, scalloping, sea urchining, ground fishing and one winter, fishing for cod in Alaska on a longliner. But things are changing in his home fishing grounds off Casco Bay and into the North Atlantic.

“In the last 20 years the range that we fish has changed. We started getting further offshore because the lobster were getting more productive in deeper water.” Steve isn’t sure exactly if it has to do with more competition in the shallow water or with climate change. “But I would be willing to bet it has to do with changing water temperatures,” he says.

Steve checks the size and sex of the lobster to ensure a flourishing and world leading lobster resource that supports the Maine economy with over 119 million pounds of catch per year. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
Changes to regulations and increased competition over the years has reduced his catch each day, but technology on board does help Steve shorten his daily run. “When I started we didn't have a trap limit, so we used to haul five to seven hundred traps a day. Now, I haul three to four hundred and sometimes less if it's not productive. So I mean we used to just grind. We'd be on the gear by daylight and we hauled through, whether it was 10 or 12 hours every day.”

As the Governor’s appointee from Maine on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, former chair of the state’s lobster advisory council and long-time board member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Steve says “it’s cultural. I love lobster. I’m not just Steve Train who lives down at the end of Vernon Road. I’m Steve the Lobsterman that lives down at the end of Vernon Road. The Lobsterman that goes to the meetings and helps manage the resource. It’s a big part of who I am.”

Steve says careful management of the resource is essential for the families who depend on it, for jobs now and in the future. “Sustainability is a pretty good buzz word,” he says. “But it’s not just about sustaining lobster resources. It’s about sustaining communities in the state of Maine. This is not a corporate industry. This is about five thousand small businesses. And if you buy lobsters that come from Maine, you’re supporting small businesses.”

As an apprentice on the Wild Irish Rose, Max puts the lobster traps in position so that they can be pulled back in the water for another day’s catch. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
Steve and his wife Marcia, who is a teacher, raised their two daughters on the island and both of them lobstered with him when they were girls. One is in graduate school now and the other is in college. “Education is very big with us. I have every belief our daughters will do better than I did because of who they are and what they do,” he says.

In looking out across the picturesque waters dancing in the sun Steve says that “natural resources and care for the environment have been very big,” from the beginning. “People say that fisherman were environmentalists before it was cool, but you had to be,” said Steve with a smile.

“This entire industry has been successful not by happenstance. The management techniques we use to manage the lobster resource have come from industry. We believe in them and they allow us to maintain a long-term, healthy resource because our communities and our children and our neighbours depend on that for the jobs of the future too,” Steve said with conviction.

Expanding further on the importance of his industry, Steve believes that “without sustainable lobster we can’t sustain these communities. You're going to have schools closing. You're going to have store closings. If they're only seasonal, they won't be open year-round.” He believes that “the lobster industry sustains more than that just a few votes. It’s sustaining communities in the state of Maine.”

And how has Steve done so well, for so long? “Dedication, follow through, and time,” he says. “You’ve got to apply yourself to what you are doing, and you’ve got to know there’s a time commitment involved. It’s not instant gratification.”

Although Steve does admit there is a bit of instant gratification every time he goes out. “We haul in three to four hundred lobster traps a day. Every one of them is like opening a Christmas present.”

“When I wake up in the morning, I want to go to work,” says Steve. “Because if you don’t want to go to work in the morning you are just not going to be happy.”