Mary Ella & Gene Gove – Photo by Bill Trevaskis

"It's getting more busy all the time. I mean, there's more people coming that you don't really know and it's really not like it used to be, obviously."

Gene Eugene Gove. Born in Sunset. Lived on Eagle Island and went to Stonington to North Haven and that's about it. 

Mary Ella I'm Mary Ella Brown Gove and I was born here on North Haven and I have lived here ever since. I have big roots here.

Gene I'm a transplant. I wasn't born on the island. If you're not born here, you're a transplant. Well, if you ain't born here you're born somewhere's else. And if you go somewhere's and get some flowers and bring them out here and you plant them you're transplanting. Well, it's the same thing. You're a transplant.

We just got together and been together for, as she says, 55 years.

Mary Ella There’s no real story to it. He just–he caught the love of his life.


Gene has been a fisherman for his entire life

Leta So Gene, when did you first come to North Haven?

Gene Roughly around 1954 or ‘5, I guess.

Leta So around–would you have been around 20?

Gene I would say 20 to 22. 

Leta And why did you come to the island?

Gene To go fishing. Started with Mike Williams over here.

Leta So what have you fished for throughout your life?

Gene Well herring, lobsters, crabs, halibut, shrimp, scallops, gone clamming. I guess, about anything that's in the water. If there was money in it, I was usually into it.

She said that she could never get sick of lobsters. I was seining and I put 50 lobster traps overboard and every lobster I caught, I brought home, which was usually 50 to 75 pounds to a time. In the fall of the year, the kids was taking lobster sandwiches to school and trading them for mustard sandwich or a cucumber sandwich or anything they could get. You throw a lobster trail on the floor and the cat would look at it, turn around and walk off. And after awhile, one day, she told me that, she says, “Isn't there anything you can bring home besides lobster?” And today she doesn't have the hankering for lobster like she used to. 

Mary Ella I'll eat it, but I'm not fierce about it. The first ones, yes. When you first set out, it's nice to have a nice lobster, when you haven't had it for all winter. But after that, maybe on the beach once in awhile because they taste different cooked on the beach, I think. So, but otherwise than that, I'm not that crazy about it.

Leta But, you’re not retired, right? You still–

Gene Oh no, no. Tired but not retired. I've already got 100 traps ready to set. I've told Collette to copper the bottom of the boat. So, in the last of March, first of April I’ll be going overboard. According to the weather, I have to work according to the weather.

I’ve been out this morning, rigged up two strings of traps already.

Leta And when did you start lobstering?

Gene About, probably, 70 years ago.

Leta Wow, so you were like 10.

Gene Mhm. I started as a kid on Eagle Island in a rowboat.

It's 100% changed. Everything is different. I used to have to build my own traps. Now, if you want traps, you go to a place and just tell them, you build me a hundred and they'll build them and you give them the money and you get the traps. And I used to have to go out into the woods and cut my own bows and make my own funny eyes and everything. 

Leta Is that kind of nice that you don’t have to do all that extra work?

Gene No.

Mary Ella Well what helps you helps everybody else and almost anybody can go fishing. They don't even have to have any kind of knowledge or grow up in the families. There's like family things, but it's just now everybody's there.

Gene Well, the young people today don't know what it is to work. If they want anything, they go buy it. We couldn't do that, we had to work. And I think that it is good for the young people to work, not just go the way it is now, because they deplete.

When I first started in fishing, if you had 200 traps, you was a hog. And now, you're only allowed 800 and they bitch because they can't take and fish more. But if they had to go into the woods and cut their bows and go build their traps, like I started.

And now, I've got traps that I've bought that are 15 years old and I got rope just as old. But before, you'd have it for six months to a year and if you had a wooden trap and left it out the worms would go into it and they would eat it up and when it hit the side of the boat it would collapse. Now it's all metal and–it’s all different.

Gene I used to go lobstering during the daytime and go seining nights. 

When I started in seining for herring there was 52 factories on the coast of Maine. Today, it's zero. We had as a good a market as anybody, but it was just that there was more fish than there was market. And a lot of times we'd have take the twine up and let them go because we had more fish than we could sell.

Mary Ella Seining was like, you wouldn't see him for days. It’d be like three or four days sometimes he’d show up. Because he’d be down to Marshall’s [Island], which is quite a ways away with his brother. And you have to–he’d have to stay there and tend the fish. You can’t just come home and go back because it’s too far. So, but, and of course, lots of nights he’d be out seining so, I’d be home. 

Gene My brother had a plane and flew and would spot the herring and then tell me where to go to catch them. Yes, you can see them from the air. 

Leta And how would he communicate with you?

Gene Radio, sometimes. Sometimes he wouldn't because somebody might be listening. He'd go home and then call me on the telephone and tell me where he see fish and what the situation was. Sometimes you write a note, put it in a jug and drop it out the window and then I'd go pick it up.

Leta And then what would the note say?

Gene Where there was fish or what–something that he might want to tell me.

And then I'd take my crew and go. We had two seining outfits, his and mine, and we would work together. So, he would have to get in touch with me without other seiners around because they would hear him if he was on the air. 

Fishing weir in Bartlett's Harbor, 1950s – Photo courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society

Gene standing on a nun buoy in the frozen Thoroughfare – Photo courtesy of Angela Martin & Jane Brown

Mary Ella It's getting more busy all the time. I mean, there's more people coming that you don't really know and it's really not like it used to be, obviously. They come here because it's wonderful. But then, they want to change it the way come from.

Gene When I come over here, you meet somebody on the streets you knew who it was. Today, I don't know anybody. You go down to the boat wharf when the ferry boat comes in, it's all strangers. It's not like it used to be that you would go down and 95% you would know. Now, it's 95% you don't even know, don't know where they come from and you don't know where they go. They just disappear into the woodwork.

Myself, it don't bother me. But I don't dare leave my door unlocked at night anymore because you don't know what's going up and down the street. 

It used to be, you could take and go out in the woods and cut wood, put your ax in the stump and then next fall go back and it would still be there. Now, it's just apt to be gone the same day that you put it there. It's not like it used to be. 

Gene Well, I was hauling and I had a few more traps to haul and I had tightness across the chest and I finished hauling my traps before I come in. And then, when I got up here I collapsed. 

Leta Were you there?

Mary Ella I was here. Called 911. They come gathered him up. Got LifeFlight and he was on his way.

Gene out on the water

Gene I never give it no thought about being the tightness having anything to do with the heart. I just figured that I was tired or I just didn't know so I just kept on hauling. And when I got done I come in and sold the lobsters. 

Leta Oh, and then you sold the lobsters after that?

Gene And then I come home and then I took the LifeFlight. 

LifeFlight is a real good asset to the island. I've had a chance to use it twice, so I know what I'm saying. When you think about it is when you collapse onto the floor and you can’t get up. And then the ambulance comes and grabs you up and runs you up to the field and they give you a quick ride. And it's a beautiful view up there when you're going for Bangor.

Leta And so, were there times when you’d be worried about him?

Mary Ella: Well, yeah. Plenty of times, but it’s just the way that it goes. Even when he's out lobstering, I still worry about him because there’s so many dangerous things that can happen. Thank goodness they don't.

Gene Yes. I've had to cut traps off in order to keep from going overboard. I was in a coil around my foot and I went down, drove my foot out underneath the stern of the boat, laying on my back and grab my knife and cut the trap off, so that I wouldn't go overboard. 

Leta Can you think of a memory or a moment–kind of like scary moments out at sea?

Mary Ella Just the time you was down Saddleback way in Mike's boat.

Gene Oh, that was lobstering.

Mary Ella It was February the 18th. I do know that. I was at my mother's for a while. I can't remember why. But then I got worried and I come home, called him up and I called up Andrew, so he'd go looking for him and he did. 

Gene Engine broke down in the middle of February. The engine would run, the clutch let go, what happened. And I anchored and I knew that nobody was gonna be coming during the daylight hours, so I knew that she would call my brother when it got so late, around eight o'clock. So then, it would take him an hour to get ready to come looking and so I took a bucket, broke some of the platform up and put in it, dumped some gasoline in it, set it on the stern of the boat and waited to see the spotlight looking for me. And when I see the spotlight coming down the bay I waited 'till it got so close and then throwed a match into it and I had a fire on the stern of the boat for them to see and they just come to me, picked me up.

Leta Where you worried they might not find you?

Gene No, no, no, no. There’s no sense to worry. It ain’t going to do you no good. The engine would run, so I could start it up and set my back up against the expansion tank, keep warm. It's just I didn't have no clutch, so I couldn't get nowhere’s. 

Well, my brother got two or three fellas to come with him and they was down below with the lights on and with the lights on down below it's hard to see out through and he had me in tow. And he run ashore on a ledge over off in Stonington. He let my line out and I went on the other side of the ledge, laid there beautiful, and he was on the ledge itself. He called the Coast Guard and told them that he'd run ashore and I was in tow and everything. And the first thing they asked him was, was what color his boat was. And he told them, it didn't make no damn difference what color the boat was come and take the first boat they found on a ledge.

But that's the way that the fisherman do, they work–Peter MacDonald had engine trouble on the end of the point and he was right near standing point ledge, just clearing it. And he called me and I jumped in the boat and run down and took him in tow and brought him in. Other people has towed me. We work together and we kind of look out for each other. 


Mary Ella and Gene have been married for 55 years


Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the Gove family