Emily Selinger working on her oyster farm, Emily’s Oysters. Courtesy / Steve De Neef

FREEPORT — Recognizing the significance of women in the largely male-dominated fishing community, a Rockland woman has recorded stories about female commercial fishermen and compiled them into a new book titled “Pretty Rugged.”

Ali Farrell, author of “Pretty Rugged.” Courtesy / Ali Farrell

Ali Farrell said she as inspired to write the book when she introduced her young daughter to some friends that work as commercial fishermen and her daughter’s reaction surprised her.

I was going out on the boat with one of them and my daughter was like, ‘But she’s a girl, what do you mean she’s a fisherman?'” Farrell said. “Another time one of them came over and it was one of the really beautiful fisherman and she said, ‘I’m surprised you wanted to be a fisherman instead of a model,’ and I thought I better show my daughter and all these young girls that you can be a bad*ss fisherman if you want to.”

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources licensing database, in 2020 there were 5,519 commercial lobster harvesters, of which 496 were women. More specific data about female fishermen was not available.

Farrell’s book is a coffee table-style documentation of 23 female commercial fishermen from Harrington to Rockland, featuring photographs from local Maine photographers, including some by Farrell. The author highlights the gritty reality of the commercial fishing lifestyle in North Atlantic waters and the tight-knit fishing communities that span generations.

A typical day begins before sunrise and consists of long hours of physically demanding work, such as baiting, setting and hauling traps.

When Emily Selinger was a professional sailor looking to shift careers, she didn’t envision a future as a self-employed oyster farmer in Freeport.

It wasn’t until she met Amanda Moeser, who ran an oyster farm in Yarmouth, that she began to imagine starting her own business.

“For me, meeting another woman who was an oyster farmer allowed me to project myself into her shoes and be like, she’s doing this on her own,” said Selinger, the founder of Emily’s Oysters. “There’s something about being able to picture yourself in their place that I think is really important.”

Selinger worked part time as a sternman on a lobster boat for two years to supplement her income as she started her oyster farm.

“I was lucky and never had any real scary mishaps, but definitely been in a few situations where the traps we were hauling were coming up in a huge mess of lost gear that was floating around in the sea,” Selinger said. “Trying to safely untangle yourself without losing your gear or falling overboard or damaging the boat in the process can be a real challenge.”

From what Farrell gathered from her time spent with those in the industry, everyone is treated equally regardless of their gender.

“I’ve heard from many male captains that every time they find a female sternman, they outwork the men,” Farrell said. “Maybe it’s because they have something to prove, but time after time, I hear how relentless women are on the stern of a boat. I think it really comes down to not whether you’re male or female, but how hard you work. The women in this book feel the same.”

Farrell grew up in Camden and has been intrigued by the fishing industry ever since she was a child, when her father would come home with stories from fishing off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

The book was originally going to be published in spring 2020, but the pandemic took a toll on the seafood market and hindered Farrell’s ability to meet with fishermen and go out on their boats. “Pretty Rugged” can be purchased on Farrell’s Facebook page, as well as on Amazon. Farrell is working to make the book available at multiple local bookstores, including all five Sherman’s locations in Bar Harbor, Damariscotta, Boothbay Harbor, Freeport and Portland.

During this time, the United Fisherman Foundation reached out to local fishing businesses, including Emily’s Oysters, to feature them in an online directory, where consumers can find their closest seafood harvester and connect with them directly.

Selinger noted that despite the hard year, she found a silver lining in the increased support of small businesses.

Across the board there’s been a lot of promotion around local food,” Selinger said. “It’s been pretty cool to see the outpouring of local support.”

Captain Lindsay McDaniels pulling up a trap, accompanied by her daughter, Lanaia McDaniels, and her mother, Cindy McDaniels. Courtesy / Celeste Sandstrom

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