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News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 24, 2014
Hundreds gather to celebrate 25th annual Fishermen’s Day

Who can make the best fish face in Stonington?

Fish face contestants for the 6-and-up category give it their best shot. From left, winner Elliott Burrin, 9, of Stonington; Natalie Posner, 9, of San Francisco; and Ashly Emerson, 10, of Deer Isle. All participated in the Fish Face Contests in Stonington, Maine, part of Fishermen’s Family Day on July 20, 2014.

Photo by Jessica Brophy Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Jessica Brophy

Sunny weather marked the 25th Fishermen’s Family Fun Day. More than a dozen vendors and booths welcomed more than 1,200 people to the Stonington Fish Pier on Sunday, July 20.

Island Fishermen’s Wives Association member Liz Perez described the day as “going off without a hitch.” Attendance was steady all day long, she said.

“I was manning the gate and people just kept coming,” she said.

Harry Vickerson read a prayer to open the day. “Lord, thank you for this wonderful creation, especially for the ocean and the creatures that live there, for letting our community sustain ourselves by the ocean. We ask you to guide today’s fishermen and their families,” said Vickerson.

After IFWA members inducted Steve Robbins, Gerry Heanssler and Paul Sewall into the Fishermen’s Hall of Fame, co-president Vickie Hardie took a moment to celebrate the five IFWA members who have been part of the organization since it was founded in 1989.

The five founding members who are still active are Debbie Robbins, Su Oliver, Jenni Steele, Julia Trundy and Suzy Shepard. Each received a small plaque and personalized bag, as well as a round of applause.

Fishermen’s Family day brings crowds and ‘wacky’ fun. The Stonington Fish Pier and Hagen Dock are the scene of family fun, centered around the Stonington, Maine fishing industry, on July 20, 2014, showcasing antique cars, Wacky Rowboat Races to the annual pet show and a Fish Face Contest. Photos by Jessica Brophy

IFWA was founded in the autumn of 1989 after two Stonington fishermen drowned within six weeks of each other.

“The island was devastated,” said Shepard. One of the men who had drowned was a neighbor, and the other was the husband of a good friend. “When I heard [IFWA] was starting up, I knew I wanted to be there. I had no idea we’d be together for 25 years.”

Over the years, the organization has focused on promoting safety, including sponsoring swimming lessons for Island youth, Coast Guard-approved safety training classes to help fishermen respond in emergencies, offering scholarships and operating a bereavement fund for those times when a fisherman is lost to the sea.

In the early years the group met every month, and members paid dues to raise funds, said Shepard. Fishermen’s Day is something that is both fundraiser and fun, she added.

Robbins, also a founding member, said she became involved to honor the memory of her father, Clyde Haskell, who was one of the two Stonington fishermen to drown in 1989. She said the organization has done so much for the community.

“I called one lobsterman to ask for a donation of five pounds of lobster, and when he said yes, I said thank you, and he responded, ‘No, thank YOU,’” said Robbins. “I couldn’t imagine this community without IFWA.”

This year, IFWA has organized various monthly efforts to mark the 25th year. These have included distributing first aid kits to fishermen, attending the Fishermen’s Forum, and more. The group is also helping to support the Eastern Maine Skipper’s Program, with donations of life jackets.

“We do whatever we can,” said Perez.

Working for so many years toward common goals such as improved fishermen safety has forged many bonds between past and current members of IFWA.

“I have relationships with these girls,” said Shepard about her fellow IFWA members. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re family, they’re my sisters.”