Captain Genevieve McDonald heads to Augusta from Stonington, Maine’s lobster capital

Lobster captain Genevieve McDonald, 35, has become Maine’s first woman commercial fisherman to be elected to the state’s House of Representatives. McDonald, who owns and operates the 32-foot Hello Darlin’ II, hails from Stonington and will represent District 134 as a Democrat, having defeated Republican candidate Philip Brady Jr.

The Downeast district represents the biggest lobster ports in Maine. “Stonington and Vinalhaven have the two biggest lobster fleets,” said McDonald.

That makes this energetic lobsterman a perfect fit for the district as she begins to set her priorities.

“I hope to serve on the Marine Resources Committee,” said McDonald. “My top priorities are to try to mitigate Maine’s bait crisis, addressing our opiate crisis. I also want to make sure we keep Pat” Keliher, the state commissioner for the Department of Marine Resources. “Keeping Pat is on my Do It This Week agenda.”

That decision will ultimately be up to incoming Gov. Janet Mills, also a Democrat and the first woman to serve as Maine’s chief executive. Keliher served under Republican Paul LePage for both of his terms as governor.

“I would assume that she will keep Pat because she’s part of Maine government now. She’s not coming in from the outside,” said McDonald. Mills currently serves as Maine’s attorney general. “If she talks to anybody that has any involvement with marine resources — if she takes their advice — they would keep the commissioner.”

McDonald hopes for the industry that the continuity of Keliher’s leadership would be maintained so they can jump into tackling some of the significant issues that face Maine’s fishermen.

“The bait crisis is going to be our biggest issue,” McDonald added. “There’s not a lot I can do as far as getting the herring quota back, but I want to try to see what we can use in terms of other species.”

Maine has a restrictive list of prohibited species, an effort to prevent the introduction of pathogens to the habitat.

“If you look at Maine’s list of prohibited baits, it has the reasons,” McDonald explained. “When you look at salmon, it just refers to a law. And when you look at the law, it doesn’t have any reasons. Everyone I’ve talked to has a different theory, which tells you there’s no direct answer.”

McDonald also puts climate change at the top of her list of priorities. As it relates to fishing, the key is securing access to other species, said McDonald.

“Maine is not the end of the earth. As other species shift north, other species are going to shift into Maine from the Mid-Atlantic.”

In the short term, McDonald has a little end of the season cleanup before she makes plans for long days in Augusta at the statehouse.

“I still have gear out there,” McDonald said. “I should probably go get it, but the weather hasn’t been cooperative. It’s been blowing hard.”

Those winds carried in a blue wave. McDonald will be part of the majority in the House, and the Democrats also hold the Senate and the governor’s office in Maine.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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