Norah Donnell, 11, of Wells, is fishing 30 lobster traps this year. She got her first student license when she was 8 and said she loves everything about lobster fishing. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

WELLS – Just a few months after she was born, Zachary and Stacey Donnell tucked their daughter, Norah, into her stroller, and took her out for her first foray on a lobster boat.

She started spending more time on the boat when she was 5.

“We’d go out as a family,” her mother Stacey, said.

Fast forward a few years, and these days, Norah, now 11, is a young entrepreneur and lobsterwoman, with four years as a student fisher under her belt. With her father’s help, she fishes 30 traps from her 25-foot lobster boat, Old Memories, out of Wells Harbor. She has a business, “The Lobster Peddler,” where she sells some of her catch, and the rest is sold  to a wholesaler in York. The check she receives goes into her college fund, she said, and she’s saving for a car. But she pays for the bait she uses, though her parents pick up the tab for boat gas and some other expenses.

Norah got her first student license at age 8, which allowed her to fish 10 traps,, Stacey explained. This year, she is one of 1,012 student license holders, 279 of whom are female, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Norah Donnell is shown here fishing lobster with her father, Zachary Donnell. She got her first student license at 8 and has been fishing a couple of days a week in the summer, guided by her father, ever since. COURTESY PHOTO

Overall, the numbers of student license holders has decreased somewhat over the last few years. In 2018, there were 300 females among 1,099 student license holders, reported spokesman Jeff Nichols of DMR, and in 2017, 326 females were among the 1,149 student license holders.

At some point, Norah will be an apprentice, which will position her to be eligible for a full-time commercial license, once she turns 18. To be eligible, apprentices must log 1,000 hours and 200 fishing days over 24 months, according to DMR, and must be sponsored by a commercial license holder.

Norah talked about lobstering on Thursday, while spending the day ashore. Norah and her dad, Zachary, her sponsor,  fish together on her boat a couple of days a week, and he then fishes on his own vessel, Happy Hour, out of Perkins Cove, 4 or 5 days a week.

Norah Donnell, 11, is among several Maine lobsterwoman featured in an exhibit of paintings at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. The paintings, by Belfast artist Susan Tobey White, will be featured through Oct. 20. COURTESY PHOTO

“I get the lobsters out of the traps and measure them to see if they’re legal to keep,” she said. “I check to see if the lobster is male or female. If it’s a V-notch (an egg-bearing female), it’s not legal to keep.”

If the lobster is an egg-bearing female, without a v-notch, she makes one, she said, and throws it back.

Norah bands the keepers and then places them in the live tank, and fills the bait bags – these days, with menhaden, called pogys, due to the unavailability of herring.

Then she turns the trap, positions it just the right way, so it will slide off the boat without damage, and pushes it overboard.

“My father helps me find the right spot,” she said.

Sometimes, she operates the boat, but most times, for now at least, her father does.

Getting ready for summer lobstering involves trap work, fixing her tags  to the traps, and painting buoys – Norah’s colors are white, blue and white – and other tasks.

She’s not yet hauling the traps on her own – her father Zachary does that bit, at present, but she said she likes what she sees when the traps emerge from the water.

“I like seeing the big lobsters in the traps. I like everything about it,” she said with a big grin.

Norah hails from a lobstering family. Zachary started at 14, in the days before a student license was required, as a sternman during summer vacations, working out of York Harbor. Since 2000, he has been on his own, fishing from his own boat. And there’s some history of lobstering in his family, a couple of generations back, he said.

Stuffing bail bags is part of the job when you’re fishing for lobster. Norah Donnell, 11, of Wells has held a student lobster license for four years and fishes, supervised by her father, a couple of days a week in the summer. COURTESY PHOTO

“I’ve always always loved the water and fishing and I love being out there,” Zachary said. He likes being in business for himself, he added.

Stacey, a registered nurse, has previously held a recreational lobstering license.

Norah’s  maternal grandfather, Tom Farnon, was a school teacher who started giving tours and showing visitors the lobster industry out of York Harbor, when he retired, said Stacey, and fished 50 traps during the summer.

Farnon died in 2012 – and left Norah his 25-foot lobster boat – hence the name, Old Memories.

“He wanted me to become a ‘wharf rat,’” she said of her grandfather.

When she planned her buoy colors, she chose white, for the ones her grandfather used and blue from her father’s distinctive blue,  green and maroon buoys.

Norah was recently featured in  an exhibit of paintings called  “Lobstering Women of Maine,” by Belfast artist Susan Tobey White. The exhibit opened two weeks ago at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport and will remain on display through Oct. 20. The painting of Norah, which shows her carrying a trap, is from a photograph taken by her mother.

Norah was among seven featured lobsterwomen who attended the opening reception – and the youngest. More than 300 people attended.

As to the future? Well, probably college, and maybe veterinary school, Norah said.  These days, besides fishing, she’s a member of the Kidding Around 4-H Club, is a member of the Wells Winter Guard, and will attend Wells Junior High School in September. She likes to paint, and create sculpture.

And if she becomes a veterinarian?

“I’ll do lobstering as a side job,” she said. “I love it.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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