Meet the woman who’s been trapping lobsters since before World War II
Virginia Oliver, 101-year-old resident of Rockland, Maine, started trapping lobsters when she was just 8 years old, right before the Great Depression hit, and she’s been going ever since. She’s been a trailblazer her entire life: when she started, few women were trapping lobsters, and now she’s the oldest lobster fisher in the coastal northeastern state best known for its lobsters, and most likely one of the oldest lobster fishers in the world.
She tends to her traps with her 78-year-old son Max, having learned about the business from her father, a lobster dealer. Lobsters, which used to be considered a cheap food primarily eaten by working class families, fetched 28 cents/pound when she started trapping; now, having become a delicacy, they fetch 15 times that. Perhaps most surprisingly, she isn’t sick of eating lobster yet – she enjoys a lobster dinner of her own roughly once a week.
Oliver catches lobsters by loading small fish called menhaden, or ‘pogeys’ in lobster-speak, into wire traps, and drives a boat that once belonged to her late husband that bears her name, ‘Virginia’. She said she has no intention of stopping, but she is concerned about the health of Maine’s lobster population, which is subject to heavy fishing pressure.
Of her decision to continue working, Oliver said, “I’ve done it all my life, so I might as well keep doing it.” Even after a scare where a crab snipped her finger, requiring seven stitches, she never considered retirement. According to family friend Wayne Gray, the doctor admonished her, asking, “Why are you out there lobstering?” with Oliver responding with a simple, “Because I want to.”
“I like doing it, I like being along the water. And I’m going to keep on doing it just as long as I can.”
Images: Joseph Prezioso/AFP