Mike “Munsey” Kennon
“It’s going to be a lot of work to survive, but I want to make it,” shares Mike Kennon, more commonly known within the fishing community as Munsey, in fact I didn’t even know his real name until I had asked. Munsey, a graduate of Maine Maritime Academy continues, “I could be an engineer right now, and have benefits and steady pay, but I love fishing. This is what I do, and I love it. It’s more of a way of life than anything.” He pauses, and trails off, “But it’s hard to live this life…”
Munsey has been fishing on and off his entire life starting out at the age of 6 helping his father who had began lobstering at the age of 14, before later joining the army, only to return to fishing, both dragging and gillnetting. His brother had also fished up until recently when the increase in government mandates drove him out of the business. While at school, Munsey lobstered out of Boothbay and worked on tugboats out of Bath, Maine. After graduating from Maine Maritime with a degree in Marine Engineering, Munsey began working as a deckhand for Jamie Hayward. “If you don’t mind working, you make money with Jamie,” he says. 9 years later Jamie acquired another boat and promoted Munsey to captain of Rolling Stone, a 44 foot Novi built in 1999.
The catch of the day on Rolling Stone was less than ideal that day, and I apologized for the lack of fish, or even dogfish for that matter, because at the end of the day even a couple thousand pounds of dogfish shark are better than nothing.
“Is it the worse you’ve ever seen?” I asked.
“As a captain, yes, as a crew member on a boat, no. You just never know.”
Munsey describes a good day fishing to consist of 5,000 pounds of groundfish, preferably pollock, and 1,000 lbs of dogs. “That would be a ‘F*** yeah!’ day for me,” he says. “I would love a day like that.” But in reality, it was not that kind of day, with the first string of nets only pulling in a couple hundred pounds of dogfish and a few groundfish, and the last 2 strings pulling in around 10 dogfish and under 7 marketable fish. However, according to the word on the radio, Munsey wasn’t the only fisherman left to wonder where the fish were that day. When I ask what it takes to be able to catch fish he responds, “Accommodation and determination, and the brains to be able to do it. That’s what it takes.”
Some of the richest fishing in the North Atlantic occurs around Jeffrey’s Ledge, a 33 mile-long glacial deposit, where it’s shallower edges border much deeper waters creating nutrient upwellings conducive to a productive marine habitat and for that reason is closed off to fishing to provide high-demand species a safe haven of sorts. Munsey states that 90% of the herring in the world come and spawn at Jeffrey’s Ledge. Munsey and his crew, Jerry and Steve, leave at 3 am 7 days a week, for the 3 hour trek to fish just west of Jeffrey’s, approximately 25 miles offshore. In the words of Munsey’s brother, in reference to Jeffrey’s Ledge, “You work the edges the best you can and you scrape.” Rolling Stone’s catch is offloaded at Portsmouth Harbor where Joe, Jamie’s truck driver, is there to receive it. From there it is shipped to Seaport Fish Market or the Portland Fish Exchange for auction.
In reference to fishery management Munsey claims, “I tried to work with them from the start and then they started taking everything over. They don’t want to work with us. If they don’t stop making rules based on nonsense, then we’re dead.” Munsey shares that though he’s not using his college degree at this moment in time, he’s glad he has it to fall back on. “I’m glad I went to school, because if this all goes to hell, I’m going to be okay, because I can still have a career.” He worries for other fishermen who aren’t so lucky, and for people like his crew member Steve. “I feel for the guy, it’s the only thing he’s ever done. He doesn’t know any different.”
Munsey, a resident of Somersworth, New Hampshire, is thankful for his wife, and the mother of his 2 children, a 2 year-old and a 3 month-old, for understanding and respecting the demands of his career. “I’m gone a lot of the time, but I’m working,” he says. For the past 6 years now, Munsey has been working October through March on a crabbing vessel, Southern Wind, out of Seattle, Washington, with 6 other people onboard. They leave for week-long trips each time, fishing for Trident Seafoods, one of the biggest seafood companies on the northwest coast.
I ask him about sustainable fisheries and how it affects him. He responds, “Every aspect of the term affects me. If you can’t sustain the fish than you can’t sustain the fishermen. We’re willing to work with management, they just don’t want to work with us. They have all this data, but they don’t want to use it.” We come out of the fog, and the shore becomes visible once again. The waters around us are speckled with tuna fishermen waiting patiently for the flash of a fin, making it difficult for Munsey to decide where to set his last string. A crossing of fishing methods can often lead to conflicts, both small and large. He continues, “If the government refuses to work with us, they’re going to kill us. If they don’t open some of the closed [fishing] areas and make some good rules for us to fish by…” He pauses for a moment. “Game over, I guess.” When I ask him if he could share anything with NH seafood consumers what would it be, he responds: “Buy local, plain and simple. Support your local fishermen; that’s what it’s all about.”