Secrets of Lobstering as a Centenarian
by Brie Weisman, OT, Maine FishAbility
Also published by Commercial Fisheries News January 2022
FishAbility: Secrets of Lobstering as a Centenarian
Maine’s newest celebrity is the world’s oldest commercial lobster harvester. At 101, Virginia Oliver has hit national and international news and was the November cover girl for DownEast magazine. I had the opportunity to interview her recently, and thought this a fitting follow-up to my CFN December 2021 article “Aging and Fishing”. While it’s hard to deny that genes have played their part, Virginia’s choices and habits have also played a critical role in her extraordinarily long and successful career.
Born in 1920 in Rockland, Maine, Virginia lives next door to the house where she grew up. She started her lobstering career at eight by helping her brother. After graduating high school, she married Bill Oliver, a lobsterman. While raising three children, she also worked at a local printing plant. When denied a request for a raise, she promptly quit and joined her husband hauling lobsters aboard his boat, The Virginia. After Bill passed away, her son Max began hauling traps with her.
Now at 78, Max is still working too, as the youngest crew member of The Virginia. Fishing three days a week from May through mid-October, they leave home by 4:30 AM and are in the boat heading for Andrew Island by 5:00 AM. They haul 200 traps a piece, keeping their harvest separate, and return to the wharf between mid-afternoon to sell their catch.
What do you like most about work?
‘I like to do it, I grew up around it. Max has his side and I have mine. He usually takes them out. I measure them, band them, throw them in the tank.’
What do you least like about work?
‘I like it all. There’s nothing I’d rather do. I’m the boss and like having Max there.’
What’s the hardest part?
‘Squeezing the bander. I injured my right wrist five years ago falling off a step ladder, so now I have to do it with my left hand. I never got my strength back. I practice to try to regain the strength.’
What have been the biggest industry changes in your 92 years of fishing?
‘They put so many restrictions on it now. They keep putting more.’
How do you make lobstering easier for yourself?
‘I only go out three days a week and not in bad weather, not like I used to.’
What’s one thing you don’t want to leave on the dock?
‘I guess my water. We don’t take lunch.’ (Max, who is listening in, pipes up: “we go to work, not to eat.”)
Do you prepare for the season with exercise?
‘No, I exercise enough on the boat, I do housework more in the off-season.’
Do you feel more tired at the start of the season?
‘No! (to Max) Just wimps, aren’t they?’
Have you adapted your gear over the years?
‘I’ve been known to throw the measure tool overboard, so we’ve attached a foam ball to it.’
Any tips/tricks/words of wisdom?
‘The thing of it is, today people want to set and watch TV all the time–worst thing they could ever do. You got to keep moving. You really do.’
Is there anything you’d tell your younger self to do differently if you could?
‘If I had my life to live over, I’d do just the same.’