Since Nicole Fel'Dotto was a kid, she has lived and breathed the salt air. Her father, Erik, wore quite a few hats as a marine biologist, commercial diver, and, well, some would say, dad to a mermaid. Nicole was raised venturing through the tide pools on the coast of New Hampshire, where she would spend hours looking at the marine life, which would lead her to a similar path to her dad—a life on the water. 

In addition to being one of the only commercial fishing women in New England waters, Nicole has mastered the craft of social media, posting on Instagram and TikTok, where she not only shares her fishing journey but has truly inspired men and women to share all things commercial fishing.

Although Nicole's path is not the traditional commercial fisherman's story, she has continued steadfastly, now working with her boyfriend, Charlie, and sometimes her father from their 22' Novi boat, the Salty Blonde, out of Hampton, NH. They have predominantly caught lobster but have recently harvested invasive green crabs and partnered with local restaurants to use them in seafood recipes. In addition to those fisheries, Nicole has dabbled in striped bass, clamming, and tuna fishing. To say the least, she has probably put her hands on every species of fish in the Northeast. 

It wasn't always picturesque.

Openly sharing her adversities online, she has become a role model for girls on and off the water. Photo courtesy of NF

When Nicole was in high school, she was severely bullied. She dealt with physical and mental harassment along with constant death threats. It got to the point where she didn't feel comfortable in school around those individuals who were harassing her. She often hid in her marine biology teacher's room during class assemblies, feeling the most at home where she could disconnect from the thought of being on land, near these people. Eventually, restraining orders were put in place, but Nicole knew how small the town she lived in was.

"I couldn't walk to the beach, rollerblade, or do any activity outside of school without getting harassed. I knew I would never want a job on land where these girls could get to me," she shared. 

Nicole openly shares this adversity on her platforms and encourages those who have been bullied to speak up and shed light on the impact that bullying has on people. If you've followed her for some time, you can see the community she has built around empowering each other while working in a male-dominated industry.  

"Everyone has been so supportive on Instagram, and at first, I was scared to share the personal side of my life. The community you can find within social media by telling your story and doing what you love is just amazing," Nicole shared. 

"The fishing community can be so great in some ways, and the ocean really saved my life."

How hard could it be?

Though she began fishing with her dad, Nicole took the next step to work full-time on a fishing tour boat. The first boat she worked on was in a different harbor, and even though that included bringing people out on tours, Nicole was increasingly intrigued by the fishing side of things. 

"For the first year, all of the fishermen in the harbor called me Barbie, and even though my boss was a woman, I was like 100 pounds soaking wet, so it was always in question if I could handle the job."

Determined to get on a legitimate commercial fishing boat, Nicole didn't give up. She kept pushing for fishermen to give her a chance at being crew. However, in her case, this was easier said than done.

"I got turned down a lot. Being a woman in the industry is HARD, and I was determined to show my passion for the job and not just be eye candy on someone's boat. I just wanted a chance to prove that I could do it," Nicole said. 

"The first opportunity I got, we had hauled about 100 traps, and he asked if I was okay to keep going. I said, 'Well, how many do you normally haul?' He told me 250 to 300 traps, so I was like, then let's fucking do the 250 to 300."

Nicole landed that job and worked with that captain for about a month before discovering he was telling everyone in the harbor that she was his girlfriend.

"This was my first experience with commercial lobstering, and even though I had to deal with an unfortunate situation, I just fell in love with it. You never know what's going to come up in a trap, and you never know what you'll see that day," shared Nicole.

"I was cautious after what I went through in high school, and I didn't want to share my private life or who I was dating with my boss. I was just there to fish. I was never scared of these fishermen; I just felt disrespected."

While Nicole gave commercial lobstering a go, she was still working with the tour company a couple of days a week.

"One day, my boss and I were grabbing bait in a mesh bag right off from a dragger for the lobster tours. All the fishermen around were laughing because we were struggling to pick it up. I was also scared of my boss, and this was probably the only time I ever raised my voice at her. I was like, 'You need to stop trying to pick it up,' to this day, I have no idea how I did it, but I picked it up, threw it over my shoulder, and carried it to her shack. It was only a few yards, but I was absolutely covered in blood and guts. The laughing stopped immediately, and I never again heard another person call me Barbie," she shared.

Determined was an understatement.

Nicole and her dad, Erik, have been on the water together since she was a young child. Photo courtesy of NF

Nicole dabbled in marine biology in college for a while, but her true passion was being on the water. One of her professors allowed her to do a project on green crabs. At the same time, her dad worked on numerous commercial fishing projects for his position at Nomandeau Associates, including green crabbing. This was a hands-on project, so she could go out on the boat with him and haul the traps. 

Knowing this was the right path for her, Nicole began solo lobster fishing out of a skiff and further connected with Charlie, who started fishing with her. During COVID, she got even more serious about lobstering and connected with Jim Willwerth, who became her mentor and taught her the ins and outs of the trade. Jim watched Nicole go out in a skiff no matter the conditions and knew she meant business. He held lobster research contracts and taught Nicole what she needed to know to run her own vessel and haul her own traps. 

"I really wouldn't be where I am today without Jim," she shared.

Nicole and her boyfriend, Charlie, continue to fish together today. Photo courtesy of NF

Later, he was looking to retire and offered Nicole and Charlie the contract, all his gear, the boat F/V Finest Kind (now F/V Salty Blonde), and licenses. They made it work with her dad's guidance and the motivation to be at the helm of the new boat. 

"He's truly the salt of the earth and an absolute fishing legend in our harbor. He taught us all the ropes, and we are so grateful for him. He still calls to check in and see how we are doing," she shared.

Not a Barbie, but a Badass.

Now running her boat, F/V Salty Blonde, Nicole wouldn't be where she is without her mentor, Jim. Photo courtesy of NF

Not only is Nicole keeping busy catching lobster and green crab, but she also stays informed about issues within the fishing community. She looks forward to advocating the importance of staying informed and knowledgeable about regulations and changes in New England's fishing industry. This past year, she participated in the New England Young Fishermen's Alliance deckhand to captain training program. This nine-month training program to prepare them to become owner-operators. 

She and her boyfriend plan to keep fishing for years and are hopeful they can upgrade to an even bigger vessel when the time is right. Nicole inspires women who fish and younger generations aspiring to enter the fishing industry. She has set an example to show that no matter the hardship, there will be a place that feels like home. For some, it may be a place; for others, it may be the sea. 

Follow along for Nicole's fishing journey on Instagram and TikTok.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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