Skip to content

A Pretty Rugged Interview | Interview with Ali Farrell | True Stories from Women of The Sea

Sherri O'neal |

A Pretty Rugged Interview | Interview with Ali Farrell | True Stories from Women of The Sea

There would be no more fitting month than the month of March to write about Ali Farrell and her book, Pretty Rugged.  March is National Women’s History Month and Ali Farrell has honored some of the hardest working women on the planet with her book and their work in the fishing industry.


I have read Pretty Rugged cover to cover and enjoyed the stories immensely.  Just as enjoyable are the fantastic photos of the women who were often captured working on their boats and in their fishing gear rather than all “glammed up” for a typical photo shoot.


The Lobster fishing industry has taken some pretty hard hits in recent years.  Most obviously, Covid has had a large impact due to fishing industry shutdowns as well as restaurant closures.  Ali is the president of the United Fishermen Foundation and she states that they immediately set up drive-through seafood markets along the Maine coast.  She says that people were thrilled to have their fresh seafood made possible to them without having to go into crowded stores to purchase.  They were also able to help raise awareness about ways to purchase seafood other than grocery stores and offer a chance to show the fishermen that websites and direct sales practices could help them sell their catch.


Another issue that lobster fishermen have had to deal with is the Right Whale situation.  Ali states that “Right Whale deaths are caused by many things including: cruise ships, barges, etc.  Fishermen don’t have deep pockets to fight these incoming threats quite like the cruise lines do.”


Working in a dangerous industry is always a thought when I think of Commercial Fishing.  Commercial Fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States with a 2016 work-related fatality rate (86 deaths per 100,000 full time equivalent workers), 23 times higher than that for all US workers.  Sinking vessels cause the most fatalities in the industry; however, falling from a fishing vessel is responsible for the second highest number of commercial fishing -associated fatalities. 


Pretty Rugged highlights 23 women and they are all from Maine.  Most of them are 3rd and 4th generation fishermen.  They all fish for lobster but many of them also fish for other things as well as aquaculture.  They largely cover scallop, halibut, shrimp (closed fishery now) oyster, kelp and haddock.


I asked Ali if the women in the industry felt as though they are treated as equals.  Ali states “I’ve heard from many male captains that everytime they find a female sterman, they outwork the men.  Maybe its because they have something to prove but, time after time, I hear how relentless women are on the stern of a boat.  I think it really comes down to , not whether you’re male or female, but how hard you work.  The women in this book feel the same.”


Ali further explains that everyone she talked to for the book stated that they wanted to fish until the day they die.


For a great read about some hard working women in a difficult industry, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Check out Pretty Rugged by Ali Farrell and enjoy!

 

Q and As:

Are all of the women featured from Maine or work in Maine?  All they all in the Lobster industry or do they fish for other things?

There are 23 women in the book, and they are all from Maine. Most of them are 3rd and 4th generation fishermen. They all fish for lobster but many of them also fish for other things as well as aquaculture.  They largely cover scallops, halibut, shrimp (when the fishery was open, it’s been shut down for years here in Maine), oyster, kelp, and haddock.

 

How do you think Covid has affected the fishing industry in Maine?

This last year was a scary one for the fishing industry.  When the first quarantine went into place, the seafood industry completely shut down.  There was no exporting seafood and no restaurants to purchase it.  As president of United Fishermen Foundation, this was a time when we were really able to step up and help. The fishermen has lobster in their traps but no outlet for them.  We immediately set up drive-through seafood markets along the Maine coast.  People were thrilled to have the ability to support the fisherman directly, get their hands on the freshest seafood possible and not have to go into a crowded grocery store.  We ended up having about 100 cars per location per weekend and the support from these communities was something really special. Although things were shut down, I think it was sort of a small blessing in disguise, as the fishermen realized there were other avenues to sell their product and the people in the community became more aware and comfortable buying directly from their local fisherman. We helped set them up with websites and gave training on direct sales practices. But we were certainly happy to see the wharfs finally open back up.  Fishermen aren’t exactly used to customer service and having to keep a, sometimes fake, smile on their face dealing with all types of buyers, haha!

 

Do you feel the women in the industry are treated as equals?  Do you feel that they feel that they are treated as equals?

A hard working female in this industry is treated as an equal.  I’ve heard from many male captains that everytime they find a female sterman, they outwork the men.  Maybe it’s because they have something to prove but time after time, I hear how relentless women are on the stern of a boat. I think it really comes down to, not whether you’re male or female, but how hard you work.  The women in this book feel the same.

Did any of the women you interviewed ever indicate that they wanted to find other things to do for a living?  

Literally every single person in this book said something along the lines of “I will fish until the day I die”.   There are people in this book that have other careers alongside fishing, for instance, one is an attorney during the winter months but her #1 is fishing.

What kinds of problems have you experienced or they experienced over the past decade regarding commercial fishing?  How do they work to overcome those obstacles?

The Right Whale situation has been a big one for the industry.  Right Whale deaths are caused by many things including cruise ships, barges, etc. The fishermen don’t have deep pockets to fight these incoming threats quite like the cruise lines do, but we do plan to fight to keep our industry going. Let me know if you need info on Right Whale stuff. Maine Lobstermen’s Assoc. has a defense fund which is paying for attorneys for this situation.  Right now, I have calendars filled with beautiful photos from the book for sale and 100% of proceeds will be donated to the defense fund. That link is here: Sea Street Publishing | Facebook

 

What inspired you to write the book?  Do you have plans to other books similar?

My father used to fish off-shore around Newfoundland.  He always had interesting stories.  When talking shop with some of my friends who are female fishermen I realized some of these awesome fishing stories should be shared with the public.  The fishing lifestyle is a unique one and not many people get to take a peek behind the scenes.

I have a children's book set to release in 2021 called "A Lobstergirl Can". 

 

What are the biggest dangers for anyone in the Commercial Fishing industry?

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, with a 2016 work-related fatality rate (86 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers), 23 times higher than that for all U.S. workers. Sinking vessels cause the most fatalities in the industry; however, falling from a fishing vessel is responsible for the second highest number of commercial fishing–associated fatalities. 

Yet another danger lies in Maine’s unique coastline, loaded with jagged, rocky ledges scattered throughout the waters. The great state of Maine has five thousand miles of coast if you include all the 3,166 offshore islands. Only about twelve hundred Maine coast islands have an acre or more, and six hundred comprise 95 percent of the island acreage. As you can imagine, with all these obstacles, combined with mother nature’s grasp on the conditions, even the most seasoned sailor has run aground at one point or another.

Did you go with them out on the working boats to watch them work and/or do interviews?  What were some of your impressions?  

Yes, I went out and took photos while they worked. I tried my best to stay out of their way because it’s like a well-rehearsed dance and interrupting it will throw them off and could be dangerous.  I was honored to be able to be out there with them. They were all easy going and fun to be out there with.  It’s not every job that I get to have a few drinks on the steam in, haha!