Jonesport, Maine / Lobster

For Zach Smith, lobstering means 4 a.m. wake-up times, 10-hour days, and hauling more than 300 traps four times a week. The six-month Maine lobster season from May to November is perfect for Smith because it affords him valuable time off to rest and focus on his other passion: Music.

Smith is sternman for his father, Chris, on the F/V Pamela Jane (named for his mom). The father-son crew works out of Jonesport, Maine, a small commercial fishing community with about 1,500 full-time residents. Jonesport is a peninsula 6 miles out into the Gulf of Maine, where boatyards, lobster boats, blueberries, loons, grebes and eagles are just about as common as people. As a youngster, Smith would go out fishing with his dad, but he never imagined he would earn his own living on the ocean.

“I worked other jobs in high school, studied sociology and theater in college,” Smith says. It was not until after Smith finished college that his father offered him a position on his boat.

He says his father has taught him a ton and that “it’s been a growing experience for us working together. I pick up things from him all the time on how to be a better person as well as a better businessman.”

While they typically don’t talk much while they’re out on the water, when they do, it’s “about music, the gear we are hauling, marine life,” Smith says.

Until recently, Smith was the lead singer of a five-piece surf-adjacent punk band called Beach Trash, when he was on dry land. The band formed in 2017, and Smith says he started creating music “because I heard the calling to it, literally hearing music in my head.”

In Beach Trash, Smith performed in drag, usually heels and brightly colored dresses, as Sandy River.

“Performing is an act of rebellion, because that’s what self-expression is,” Smith says. “My purpose as an artist is to take people on a journey, to make them feel something.”

Smith’s lyrics often touch on bigger issues and conversations.

“I think that until the presence of racism, sexism, transphobia, etc., at the very root of our civilization is acknowledged and accepted by the powers that be and the public, we would finally be working toward a solution. There is a huge divide right now amongst people, with so much misinformation and hatred, it’s scary.”

In the world of commercial fishing, which the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified as a dangerous occupation, it may seem just as risky for a sternman to perform in drag in communities that have not always been receptive to differences, of any sort.

“Some fishermen know I do drag, but nobody seems to care,” says Smith.

Zach Smith performs in drag as the lead singer of Beach Trash.

Beach Trash is currently on hiatus, but Smith says there may be a reunion. In the meantime, he is still out every day before sunrise with his dad, which he says “gives me a lot of creative ideas, but also it’s just a time to be present and work hard.”

Smith also has a new blues album in the works. But for now, he says, “I am just trying to get through the lobster season.”

In 20 years, Smith will be almost 50 years old. What might he be doing then?

“Massage therapy practice? Famous singer?” Ultimately he lands on, “hopefully a full and happy life.”

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Caroline Losneck is an independent radio producer, filmmaker and documentarian living in Portland, Maine.

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