Students present findings on Winter Harbor oral history project



WINTER HARBOR — Don’t say “pig” on a lobster boat. Look out for other fishermen, even if you’re in competition. Water temperatures are affecting lobsters, but in truth the fishing industry has always been fickle.

These are a few of the lessons learned by students who conducted an oral history project in Winter Harbor. Fourteen students from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor interviewed members of the community, covering issues such as global markets for lobster, the culture of fishing in the town and how to build a wooden lobster boat.

The project is part of a collaboration between College of the Atlantic, Maine Sea Grant, The Island Institute and the Winter Harbor Historical Society. Recordings of the seven interviews are available through the historical society.

The participating students are in a class called Mapping Ocean Stories, which uses oral histories to capture the culture and changes in coastal communities in the Gulf of Maine.

On Thursday afternoon, the students traveled back to Winter Harbor’s Hammond Hall to present some of their findings.

“It was a blast, there’s really no better way to learn about the families here,” said student Teagan White before she summarized her interview.

White and Vanessa Taylor interviewed Dale Torrey, who told them about old methods for lobstering and how the industry has changed throughout his decades in the business. Traps used to be made of wood, he said; now they’re all metal. Boats are larger than they used to be.

If a fellow fisherman was injured, Torrey told them, others would haul their traps.

Laura Montanari and Taylor Mason interviewed Jeff Alley Jr. about his work on lobster boats.

Alley was born in 1971 in Germany, where his family was stationed for military service. When he was 5, they moved back to Winter Harbor. He began fishing at 7, and was on the boat full time at age 11.

“It’s standard in the lobster industry to work before children generally work,” Montanari told the crowd at Hammond Hall. “As you can see, there was a serious kind of work ethic that was passed down to Jeff from his father.”

In his decades on the waters off the Schoodic Peninsula, Alley told them he’s seen a constantly unpredictable industry. Recently, he said, rising sea temperatures have shifted the behavior of lobsters.

Montanari paraphrased him: “They’ll always make a damn fool out of us,” he told them, referring to a fisherman’s inability to fully predict how the industry will change.

Randy Johnson and Susan Soper of the Winter Harbor Co-op were interviewed by Téa Speek and Val Peacock. They discussed global trends and the intricacies of selling their product.

Peacock noted that there’s no schooling for lobster cooperatives, and that people involved had taught themselves about global markets and business.

“Through talking to them, we discovered that the co-op is super important to the Maine lobster industry and the Winter Harbor community,” Speek said.

These interviews are available as CDs through the Winter Harbor Historical Society:

  • Dale Torrey, interviewed by Teagan White and Vanessa Taylor, with Winter Harbor Historical Society (WHHS) support from Diana Young.
  • Chris Byers, interviewed by Morgan Heckerd and Leelou Gordon-Fox, with WHHS support from Deborah Martin.
  • John England, interviewed by Ela Keegan and Hannah Miller, with WHHS support from Dan Keegan.
  • Reginald Knowles and family, interviewed by Corina Gribble and Patricio Gallardo with WHHS support from Johanna Smith.
  • Jeff Alley Jr., interviewed by Taylor Mason and Laura Montanari, with WHHS support from Margie Gerrish.
  • Danny and Fred Backman, interviewed by Kenya Perry and Heather Sieger, with WHHS support from Cathy Carruthers.
  • Randy Johnson and Susan Soper, interviewed by Val Peacock and Tea Speek, with WHHS support from Pearl Barto.
Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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