It is a rare day when lobsterman Cyrus Sleeper is on dry land. Growing up in South Thomaston, Maine, Sleeper has logged countless hours on the Atlantic Ocean — at first banding lobster alongside his dad as a 9-year-old. By the time he was 10, Sleeper had managed to save enough money to buy his own boat and haul 30 traps by hand.

Almost two decades later, Sleeper, 28, has 800 traps, which he hauls on the 42-foot Centerfold. “It’s my sixth boat,” he laughs, “but I don’t think it’s my final boat.”

Even though he might still be considered a young gun, Sleeper has his finger on the pulse on Maine’s most valuable commercial fishery, which topped $533.1 million in 2016 and made up more than 70 percent of the state’s total commercial fishery value.

“I think the culture that we’ve fostered in Maine, in terms of giving locals the leg up with licenses, is something that fishermen here hold quite dearly,” he said. “We want to get kids into the lobster fishery and have the opportunity to stay in their communities.”

For three years, Sleeper has served on the board of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, which cultivates new markets and is funded by license fees. “I saw it as an opportunity to try something new and help the industry,” he said.

In this capacity, Sleeper has visited chefs around the country to educate them on new-shell lobster and tell the story of Maine lobster. “People want to know where their food is coming from,” he said. “The trend is definitely toward dock-to-table, particularly for millennials, who are obsessed about food.”

At every opportunity, Sleeper continues to spread the word about his product.

“I find when I talk to chefs and media outside of Maine, they don’t realize that Maine lobster is not just one big company, but almost 5,000 small businesses and their families,” he said. “That’s something I’m proud of — being my own boss."

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

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