October 17, 2017

Fisherman Friday; Captain Ronald Shepard

Colloquially known as ‘Ronnie,’ he is among one of the first boats to sell to Greenhead Lobster back in the mid-90s. But Ronnie’s fishing history goes back well before Greenhead Lobster was in existence! At eight years old, he’d bait bags for local lobsterman, Johnny Haskell for $1 a day, and he’d “save like hell for the Blue Hill Fair.” Ronnie’s family goes back five or more generations as Little Deer Isle residents, and Ronnie kept his first boat, a flat-bottomed, 12’ cedar skiff, built by his grandfather, Levi Sewall, there on Little Deer Isle. He’d fish a handful of traps, hauling by hand off the west side of LDI by the power of a 5hp Sears and Roebuck outboard. “I must have replaced more pull-cords on that thing than any other outboard combined” he reminisced. His next boat was a 16’ round-bottomed skiff with 3/4” cedar over oak planks, which Ronnie built from one of his grandfather’s molds. Building wooden boats was certainly a passion of his grandfather’s, who was known to say, “if God meant for fiberglass boats, he’d have made fiberglass trees.”

Over the years, Ronnie has fished for far more than just Maine lobster. As a ground fisherman, he fished for cod, hake and pollock. At that time, around 1977, hake and pollock would bring in around $.03 per pound, and cod, aka ‘money fish’ would bring in $.15-$.25 per pound. Ground fishing required at least three crew, and a LOT of work setting nets, and often long trips away from home.

In addition to lobstering and ground fishing, Ronnie also went scalloping as far away as George’s Bank, and shrimping from 1980 to 2013.

Built in 1979, F/V: Star Fire 2 has been through quite the adventures with Ronnie. The name comes from the sentiment of ‘wishing upon on a star.’ Ronnie said, “I never believed that I’d have such a boat” even though he’d wished for it as a youngster, so he figured when his wish came true, he’d name it ‘Star Fire’ in honor of that star delivering the wish!

Over all the year’s he’s fished, from shrimping to scalloping to ground fishing and lobstering, Ronnie figures he’s had anywhere from 60-70 crewmembers. Before there was F/V: Star Fire 2, there was F/V: Star Fire, which Ronnie had from just 1978 until January 1979. F/V: Star Fire was out on the mooring during a horrible storm, where the wind blew upwards of 90 mph, and parted the chain of Ronnie’s mooring. F/V: Star Fire blew ashore into the old cannery in Stonington, creating a large gash in the hull.

Bruce Jones jumped aboard F/V: Star Fire and was able to get it over to shore and tied up to Junior Bray’s dock. Enough damage had been done to the hull that it was determined that the fastest way to get Ronnie back on the water would be to start with a new hull. Everything else that hadn’t been damaged in the accident would be transferred to the new hull. Over at Billings Diesel and Marine, Ronnie got a new 44’ Stanley hull, and side-by-side with F/V: Star Fire, had everything moved over—the cabin, the electronics, the hauler, everything! The hull of F/V: Star Fire was repaired, and Ronnie believes she’s still fishing in Southwest Harbor under a different name. F/V: Star Fire 2 was rebuilt in 1993, and is the same boat that Ronnie fishes today!

After years of fishing through winter, Ronnie now takes his boat out, and uses the time to prepare for the upcoming season. He’s had Ryan Betts on the stern for three years, and this season Justin Rojas jumped onboard as third man. When asked about Ronnie as a captain, Ryan said, “he’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, he’s consistent and doesn’t bring negativity to the boat. It’s his ‘home away from home,’ he really loves it… he’s never too grumpy… he’s really funny, keeps it light, he’s good to work for.” Justin added, “he’s really patient, this is my first year fishing and he’s a great teacher.”

When asked what is Ronnie’s favorite part about being a lobsterman, he heartily replied, “I get to eat my own lobster!” He continued with, “If I was going to die, and I could request my last meal, it would be a 1.5lb new shell lobster from the Western Bay… you know those West Bay lobsters, with the big claws…” Ronnie’s favorite way to eat Maine lobster at home: “Lobster rolls. Steam the lobsters, pick the meat, little mayo, salt and pepper. Toast the roll with butter. That’s a lobster roll.”

Thank you, Ronnie, for selling your beautiful Western Bay lobsters to Greenhead Lobster for over twenty years and to Marjorie, Ronnie’s wife, for supporting his fishing habits! When you buy lobster online from Greenhead Lobster, not only are you choosing the most delicious Maine lobster, but your choosing to support independent fishermen like Ronnie Shepard and his family and crew! Thank you!