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Photographer puts a human face on Maine’s embattled lobstermen

“I hope people see what lobstermen are going through. They want to survive,” the photographer said.

PORTLAND, Maine — In September, when a conservation organization in California placed lobster on its red list of seafood to avoid because of the alleged threat that lobster gear poses to endangered right whales, Cheryl Clegg, a professional photographer, picked up her camera and went to work.

“I immediately thought of all the hardworking families in Maine whose livelihoods would be at stake,” she wrote. Traveling to Milbridge, Steuben, Stonington, Gouldsboro, and Bar Harbor, she began photographing those families, creating a series she calls “The Endangered Lobstermen.” 

One of the first things she found was that the people who make their living in the industry felt their stories were not being heard.

“I’m trying to create awareness,” Clegg said. “I want this to be about the families. I want people to see that it’s a family business that is at risk. And they’re scared for their livelihood, their heritage…a way of life.”

The photos were shot without frills or flourishes. The lobstermen, often accompanied by their spouses and kids, stood on a dock and looked directly into the camera. No smiles, no poses, just a straightforward look at people whose families in some cases have been hauling lobster from Maine waters for five, six, or even seven generations.

Since Clegg began shooting, the challenges the industry faces have grown. In November, the Whole Foods supermarket chain banned lobster, again because of concerns about sustainability. That move left Clegg even more convinced of the need to keep telling stories with her photos.

“I hope people see what the lobstermen are going through,” she said. “They want to survive. They’re scared.”

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