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New Brunswick Trail Blazers – Mother/Daughter Fishing Duo Finding Success in Lobster Industry

Years before Maisie McNaughton ever set foot on a fishing boat, her mother was blazing a trail as one of New Brunswick’s only female lobster boat captains — the two of them now make up a mother/daughter fishing duo.

Sailing aboard 13 Blue Lobsters, McNaughton and her mother Debbie Thompson have fished together since 2019. Well before their beginnings as a family enterprise, in 2000, Thompson began fishing as means of making ends meet after her divorce.

“I had just separated from my husband and had two small kids and thought, ‘Well, now I’ve got to get to work.’ Lobster fishing was something that always sparked something in me from the time I was a kid, but being a girl in the 60s, it wasn’t really encouraged to go be a lobster fisherman,” said Thompson.

Before her lobster fishing career, Thompson worked as a clam digger. One day, after spotting an eel net, she wondered if she qualified for an eel license. Upon inquiring, Thompson discovered she qualified to fish lobster.

“Things just kind of lined up after that, and within months I had my fishing rig,” said Thompson. “I did have somebody at the bank say, ‘You can’t do that, you’re a woman.’ And I said, ‘Do you really think the lobsters are going to think they can’t go in that trap because it’s a woman’s trap?’”

At the time, Thompson was a rarity. She was the second female fishing captain in her area, and the first to jumpstart her own career without being a part of a succession plan.

“Mom was definitely the first one in her area, and dare I say the first in New Brunswick who went out and wanted to get into the industry. She was met with a lot of resistance,” said McNaughton.

McNaughton, a teacher in the off-season, started off helping her mother for part of the season. For the last two, however, McNaughton has been fully entrenched in the lobster fishery out of their home port of Richibucto, N.B. McNaughton and Thompson fish in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 25 during the fall season from August to October.

“I’m an educator. It’s a very good career, I love it, but at the same time there’s just something about fishing that grips my soul,” said McNaughton. “I’ve watched my mom. I was seven years old when she got her first boat, and I used to go out with her a lot when I was little just to go see. It’s always been something that I’ve been drawn to, and I’ve watched her do, but it’s been within the last few years that it’s really started to grip me as well.

According to McNaughton, her mom is a good boss, but like any parent/child duo, tempers can flare at times.

“She’s all about safety and she’s kind and fair, but being a mother/daughter duo, there are times where the tempers will rise. But just like any mother/daughter team, we kind if just let it all out and go back to work,” said McNaughton. “We don’t hold grudges against each other out there, just once in a while there will be a little bit of a tiff. We do feel sorry for the other helpers that’s onboard.”

“I’ve always had male deckhands onboard,” said Thompson. “But, with her being another woman, we just hash it out, get it over with and move on. There’s no sooking in the back of the boat. She’s got such a great attitude and really loves it… It’s like looking at myself when I was young.”

At 61 years old, Thompson has no plans for her retirement. She said between the love for the work she does, the short season in which she works and the fun she’s having with her daughter, she sees no point in hanging up the captain’s hat just yet.

“You work all your life to retire to go do what you love to do, so I feel like I’ve been retired for 25 years,” said Thompson. “It’s physical, it is. But it’s only 10 weeks and I have learned to sit down and let the others do the lifting. Maybe in a few years I’ll probably consider it, but right now with Maisie onboard we’re just having too much fun. I don’t want to stop now.”

Following in her mom’s footsteps, McNaughton herself has been eyeing the title of captain at some point in her future. For now, she’s more than happy to keep sailing alongside her mother.

“Fishing wasn’t even something that I planned to get into, so I’m just leaving it open-ended. I would love to captain my own boat one day, but we’ll just see where it goes,” said McNaughton. “The market is so up and down in terms of prices of licenses and stuff like that. Just like any fishing season, I’m just going with the flow.”

“We’ll see what happens,” added Thompson. “I’m open to her taking over one day, just not today.”