Senior spends summers as local lobsterman
Matt Carey '11 knows jobs in the fishing industry are "not glorious."
“You’re from Maine? You work with lobsters? That’s so cool. That’s so typical.” Matt Carey ’11 said this is the response he often gets when people learn about his summer job. Carey is from York, a small town on the coast of southern Maine, and he has worked as a lobsterman every summer since he was 13.
The local lobster industry is very competitive, Carey said, and there is something like a 25-year waiting list to get a spot on the dock. “You have to know someone [to get a job with a lobster company]” he said, and he got his start with Skipper’s Bay Lobster Meat through the recommendation of his middle school gym teacher, a real “renaissance man,” as Carey put it.
During Carey’s first two years with the company he was by far the youngest lobsterman, working alongside men who were five to ten years his senior. “I was too intimidated to say anything…I just worked,” he said. It was all about “earning my stripes.” Carey is now a veteran, and (other than the owner) he has been with the company the longest out of all the lobstermen.
The company Carey works for runs a multi-part operation. They get calls each night from restaurants in the area, estimating how much lobster meat they will need for the next day, and the following morning the men will go out and catch the lobsters, bring them in and pick out the meat, and deliver it to the restaurants.
Carey has been out on catching expeditions before, but “I’m not a big boat guy,” he said, because it is “cold, wet and smells.” Instead, Carey specializes in taking apart the lobsters that are brought ashore.
“I’m really good at getting the meat out,” Carey said. He and a co-worker can pick the meat out of 100 lbs. of lobster in as little as 12 minutes, and they usually go through about 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. of lobster a day.
Carey goes in to work anytime between 3:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. each day and works non-stop until mid-afternoon. The work is physically tiring, and “by the end of the summer your hands are like leather,” Carey said. “You can reach into a pot of boiling water and not feel anything… I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”
Carey feels that jobs in the fishing industry are often romanticized by popular television shows like “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel. From his own personal experience, lobstering “is cool... but it’s definitely not glorious,” he said.
“The smell is the worst,” Carey asserted. In fact, it’s so bad that his mom won’t let him enter the house after a day’s work until he changes out of his clothes in the garage. And even after changing, it takes multiple showers to get rid of the scent of lobster. Carey takes his first shower with toothpaste and lemon juice, a “secret recipe” that helps neutralize the smell of fish, he said, and he follows that with a normal shower.
Carey said that he has noticed a change in the local lobster industry in recent years, as small, independently-owned lobster companies struggle to compete with companies that operate on a much larger scale and can therefore sell their product at much lower prices.
Carey described one such company that came to York as the “Walmart of lobsters,” and said that what is upsetting is that they don’t even sell Maine lobster, but frozen lobster that they ship from Canada. Companies like Skipper’s Bay Lobster Meat therefore rely on their guarantee of freshness to continue to sell lobsters, as well as “loyalty and personal connections,” Carey said.
Carey, an international studies major, will be graduating this spring, and while working as a lobsterman “is not something I see myself doing long-term,” he said, he appreciates the work ethic he’s gained from his experience. “Most days [while picking the meat out] we would never stop, not even to go to the bathroom,” Carey said.
For the past four or five summers, Carey has held jobs in addition to lobstering, including cooking at a restaurant, delivering pizza and hanging dry wall and ceilings. Whenever Carey had any down time on these jobs, “I’d be lost… I’d be fidgeting and looking for something to do,” he said, because working as a lobsterman there are never any breaks.
Carey’s job as a lobsterman also taught him about “responsibility, after being there so long,” he said. “And then I also know a lot about lobsters, so I don’t know how that will help me,” he said with a laugh.