July 17, 2020

Fisherman Friday — Francis Hardy and the F/V Miss Brieanna

Francis Hardy is a lifelong lobsterman. As he says, he was ‘born into it’. He has been fishing Deer Isle waters for 38 years and got his start as a kid on Eggemoggin Reach under the Deer Isle bridge in a small skiff with an outboard. From there he moved up to a 32’ Jonesporter which he describes as ‘old, but got you where you needed to go’. His first new boat was a 32’ Osborn called the F/V Downeast Pride and now captains a 36’ Northern Bay F/V Miss Brieanna named after his first granddaughter. Francis has had his license since he was 12 years old, and now has 800 traps. He remembers the old equipment and gear, and although he’s upgraded, he still works hard for every lobster he catches. He is ‘old school’ and lobsters that way, the right way, the ‘Stonington way.’

Francis has been in this business a long time, and understands the complex nature of the profession and industry. Through the ups and downs he has learned the necessity of hard work and ‘earning your lobsters’. He likes the work, and the challenge, even when times aren’t great, and the lobsters are harder to find. Francis explained the importance of the early season, ‘spring training’ as he called it, to success during the height of the summer lobster season when every minute counts as the team does their best to haul all traps every day but Sunday to maximize the haul from the season. The early season is about establishing trap locations, identifying early season lobster movements, and getting the hauling process down with his sternman to define roles and responsibilities on the boat that will allow them to catch the most lobsters and ensure their safety in doing so.

Francis says he was ‘born’ into lobster, but the reality is he made it in the industry all on his own. His father didn’t fish, but Francis always knew that’s what he wanted to do. He started in his skiff, put his time in ‘sterning’ in high school and saved until he could buy his own new boat. Because of this, he has been open to giving newcomers a chance to apprentice, and although he has had several apprentices over the years, his cousin Matt Eaton was his biggest success. Francis saw a lot of himself in Matt since they both didn’t have a family history in the business, and both knew from an early age that’s what they wanted to do. Francis taught him well, told him to ‘put his head down, work hard, and you’ll get there.’ And Matt did. He started as a kid going with Francis, got a small boat and worked his way up to fishing his own gear with 800 traps. The most important thing Francis taught Matt was the importance of reputation. He told him ‘it can take a whole lifetime to get the respect of the older fisherman, and it can take one little thing to screw it up.’ Francis is proud of how respected Matt is by the older fishermen, and must’ve learned from his mentors the value of that lesson he passed on to Matt.

F/V Miss Brieanna is 8 years old, and her namesake is 9. Brieanna is Francis’ firstborn grandchild. Brieanna has earned the right of the boat being named in her honor, showing interest in pursuing a career in the industry, pestering her grandfather all spring to get her traps out he gives her as part of her apprenticeship. She is allowed 10 traps this year, but that moves up to 50 next year when she turns 10 years old, and goes up from there. The traps are counted under Francis’ license but he’s happy to help his granddaughter his boats’ namesake to get a valuable lobster license.

Francis has a new sternman Slade who has been on boats a few years, but is new to F/V Miss Brieanna. Slade has a great sense of humor, and seems to know his way around the stern. He is constantly moving, even when in conversation; filling bait bags, readying new traps to be set, pulling traps on to rail to be emptied and rebaited once hauled up the winch, preparing to send out the second and third trap on a double and triple once Captain Hardy has found the perfect spot for the string and confidently sent it over the side. Slade’s actions are determined by the Captain’s actions, and he is ready without being asked, which is impressive since they just started to fish together. That is probably partially due to good direction from Francis and partly due to the competence of Slade. They are already working well together, maybe due to ‘spring training’. One of the first things Slade said to me when I got on the boat was ‘best job in the world’, and I could tell he meant it. After spending the day out on the F/V Miss Brieanna, I understand why.

Francis Hardy is ‘old school’. He takes great pride in his profession, and treats his boat, employees and the lobsters with the respect they deserve and that will make the industry last a long time. Francis takes no short-cuts (except for those over shoals he knows like the back of his hand). He is careful with the lobsters, and not just to avoid the fines that come when cheating, but because he cares about the fishery for the sake of Brieanna and her Maine license to lobster. He cares about his boat and keeps it in top condition, cleaning it as soon as he’s done fishing and before he heads in for the day. He cares about his employees and understands the importance of getting out even when he has to ‘earn’ his lobsters and likely won’t make much on the day after paying for bait, fuel and his sternman. “Anyone can catch lobsters in summer”, he said. Lastly, he cares about his fellow fisherman, apprenticing younger guys, teaching them the trade, sharing his knowledge and secrets, even though they may take the lobsters he gives them the knowledge to catch. He understands generations prior did it for him, and generations that follow will continue to do it, for family and for the community.

We ended the day heading into the harbor threading the needle over the shoals between George’s Head and Steve’s Island, talking about Hugh’s operation in Bucksport and its proximity to Crosby’s, the traditional Maine summer take-out. Francis told me Crosby’s is ‘old school’, which it is. But it made me realize that based on my day out on the F/V Miss Brieanna, Francis Hardy is ‘old school’, and a big reason why Stonington is the best lobster port on the Maine coast.