Annie Tselikis (it’s pronounced Sill-eek-us) is the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. That’s her part-time gig; her full-time work is as the marketing director for Maine Coast, a York-based wholesaler of lobster and seafood. We called the Cape Elizabeth native up to talk about Maine’s largest fishery, just as the European Union announced that it would reject Sweden’s request to ban Maine lobster from sale. (Phew.) Our conversation moved swiftly to about a dozen other topics; Tselikis is only 34 but she has packed a great deal into her career already. Starting with her deckhand days.

TALL ORDER: We reached Tselikis by cell phone as she was driving to Boston for a meeting about Tall Ships Boston, scheduled for summer of 2017. What do lobster dealers care about such things? “The tall ships are tying up on the Boston Fish Pier.” That’s where Maine Coast, as well as a lot of other dealers, have offices. “There are trucks on and off that pier from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. every night.” It’s going to be a shipping nightmare, but obviously, a beautiful spectacle, so Tselikis is plotting a reception for her Maine Coast customers. “This will be the biggest Tall Ships festival ever,” she said. “Then on top of that, I am going to make things worse for our Boston facility. Those guys are going to hate me.”

RESUME: When Tselikis was a student at Connecticut College, she studied photography and documentary and spent the fall of her junior year at Maine’s SALT Institute. Fisheries hadn’t entered her mind. Maine never left it though, and she decided after college to join friends who were working for Casco Bay Lines as deckhands. She ended up staying two years. Her parents might not have been thrilled, but the economy wasn’t great in 2004 and money was steady on the ferry. Also, fun. “There were days in the summer time where it sort of felt like camp for grownups,” she said.

FISH TALK: That’s where she started to get a sense of the complex world of Maine’s fisheries. “I would hear fishermen talking about what was going in the industry,” she said. “Until that point, it just didn’t register with me that natural resource management was a thing.” That’s how most people are, she says. “They just see boats, they go to Harbor Fish and they buy lobster,” without a sense of the many moving parts involved (a partial list: buyers on the wharf, dealers with the trucks, holding tanks, processors, transportation everywhere from Portland to Hong Kong).

DOING DOWN EAST: In 2006 she applied for (and received) an Island Institute fellowship, a program that places young people in coastal communities “whose way of life and identity face many challenges” to help build sustainabilty. Her assignment was in Stonington, the lobster capitol of Maine, where she worked at the Opera House and on the community’s economic development committee. Among other things, she helped develop a website to encourage shopping local. “We were trying to build up Stonington as a destination.”

STAYING IN STONINGTON: When the fellowship wrapped up, Tselikis stayed on to work with Robin Alden at Penobscot East Resource Center, a nonprofit that works to help make Maine fisheries sustainable and innovative. Tselikis’ role was to serve as liaison between policy workers and the industry. “There is a real disconnect between those groups. We have made great strides, but it is still a real us versus them mentality at a number of different levels.” For Tselikis, being embedded in the heart of lobster country was game changing, career wise. She has never been a fisherman, but now she understands their work.

NEXT STOP, PORTLAND: Her next gig was at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). Wait, she’s worked there too? She laughed. “I have worked for pretty much everybody but DMR (the Department of Marine Resources) at this point.” She took two leaves from GMRI, one to work for Eliot Cutler’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the other for a conservation exchange program sponsored by the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. She traveled to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, studying resource management. It was an eye-opening experience and an education in water and waste management. “There was one area of the West Bank that was in the running to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” she remembered. Mar Saba monastery, which is built into a cliffside, was one of the most beautiful sights she’d ever seen. “But there was literally a river of brown sludge running under it.” When the fellows from the Middle East joined her in Stonington to study lobster resource management, she was struck by the incongruity between her trip and theirs. “You’re traipsing around Maine where it is very lush and green and thinking about going to the Middle East, where you are going through checkpoints constantly. It sort of feels ridiculous talking to people about lobster management.”

BALANCE BEAM: In between Cutler’s campaigns, Tselikis “ran around the state” working for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “It connected me with the lobster dealers for the first time.” She’s worked for two now, Garbo’s Seafood in Hancock and Maine Coast, giving her a chance to observe close up how hard the off-the-water business of the fishery is. “They work six and seven days a week. Most people only close their operations on Thanksgiving day. You’re dealing with live animals, and it is a very difficult product to deal with.” In other words, it has to get where it is going in a refrigerated hurry. How does she balance a full-time and part-time job? Lots of hours at night. “It is a fair amount of juggling, but I am very passionate about this industry.”

IS THAT SUSTAINABLE? What impact does being on the supply side have on her view of conservation? “I think about it both in terms of economy and ecology. In this industry, without a sustainable lobster resource, we will struggle to have sustainable coastal economies.” She gives a lot of credit to the Maine Department of Marine Resources for effective resource management. “Without good enforcement – the men and women of the Maine Marine Patrol – you cannot have effective management. We are very lucky that many of the laws in place today have been in existence for over 100 years. They have helped to provide us with the sustainable resource we are looking at today.”

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