Ten Questions with Tom Duym
A Q&A with Tom Duym, the Fisheries Education Specialist at Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. Tom started with our team this summer, after years of teaching within the Eastern Maine Skippers Program at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. He has 37 years of experience in public vocational education. His experience runs the gamut, from boatbuidling and repair, to construction of fishing gear, to skippering vessels in commercial fishing and passengers for hire.
We’re excited to have Tom aboard. Get to know him a little bit better in our latest blog:
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Blue Hill and went to school there 1-12th grades. I got my first boat when I was 10 and spent summers cruising Blue Hill Harbor when I wasn’t working to pay off my outboard and gas bill in the family boatyard. Some of my favorite memories are walking out on the ice and sitting on mooring poles in the dead of February, hanging out with friends at the ESSO yard “social club” through high school, and giving my wife of 41 years her engagement ring across the street from what was the original Marlintini’s, with the inner harbor in the background. Very Norman Rockwell-ish life, in the best way.
2. Where did you go to college?
I went to the University of Rhode Island for a two year Associates Degree in Commercial Fishing and Marine Technology, thinking it would benefit my role in the family boatyard, but the allure of the fishing industry slapped me upside o’ the head, and I was off on a different career path. I returned to The University of Maine and received a BS in Secondary Science Education with a focus in Marine Education. This was at the encouragement of my wife and knowing the boatyard gig was not where my heart was. I had to find some way to connect to fishing, who knew it would be in the School of Education!
3. What experience do you bring to the Eastern Maine Skippers Program?
I’ve worked on, maintained, skippered, sailed, fished, and built boats since the age of ten. I have had a career in marine vocational education and management for 38 years and was one of the original authors of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program concept during my time at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. And through it all, an almost obsessive fixation on the fishing industry. Though I have never had to rely on fishing for my living, my drive to learn all I can about the harvesting side of the industry, my experience in working with organizations and people, and my constant ambition to try and see the next opportunity has led me to this point in my career.
4. What is your experience working on and around the water?
I like to sum it up this way, “I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about anything.” After growing up working in the family boatyard, doing my fair share of the less desirable tasks of maintaining boats, and post attending URI, I was bitten by the otter trawl fishery. I really enjoyed building gear and troubleshooting it on the boat. I also had landed a job at Washington County Technical College as a junior instructor and mate aboard their 72-foot stern trawler, eventually becoming the single fisheries instructor, running a 50-foot combination dragger/longliner and 36-foot lobster boat. After teaching and overseeing the vessel operations, I went into management of the college’s marine campus in Eastport. We had programs at the post-secondary level in boatbuilding, marine mechanics, marine coatings, and mariculture. I was involved in the respective industry associations and a member of the Maine/UNH Sea Grant Cooperators Network.
Post Washington County Technical College, I began teaching Marine Trades at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. In the summers I’d go lobster fishing as a deckhand and run a 50-foot party fishing vessel out of Bar Harbor.
I’ve also owned various vessels, both sail and power, of my own. In the end, whether running a boat or being a deckhand, it always (except for a few really crappy days) feels good to be out on the water.
5. How has your view of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program changed since transitioning from a Skippers teacher, to now the person in charge of the entire program?
My views on why the Skippers Program should exist and grow have not changed at all. Through my career, I’ve seen generational fishing communities wither away and transform into something that is driven by property values and tourism. I promised myself that I would do what I could to help preserve and revive the commercial fishing industry on the coast of Maine. It seemed my best option to contribute toward that end was through education. The Skippers Program is an effort that I truly believe can bring all the essential components together to fulfill this pursuit. Working day to day to help reach the potential of this program is both fascinating and rewarding. The program has very devoted and creative staff, excellent teachers and school support, and willing and constructive industry partners. This only creates a feeling of there not being enough hours in the day to move the program ahead fast enough, a truly satisfying challenge to have.
6. What is your favorite part about the Eastern Maine Skippers Program?
There are many! But to describe a few: Experiencing the pride students have in their chosen profession or the excitement about their ideas and how relevant they are. How the students and teachers are so proud of their communities and local culture. Most of all, building lasting friendships with all the participants, supporters, and contributing institutions who get what the core of this effort is about; preserving and visioning the future of fishing as an identity of coastal Maine.
7. What do you see as the future of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program?
I can easily envision a time when the communities support this initiative into regular programming in their schools and that it reaches some level of repeatable success that coastal communities in the rest of the state strive to have available. And most importantly, all stakeholders, schools, teachers, fishermen, regulators, and local businesses can easily express the value they get from this program functioning in and around their community.
8. What is your most memorable experience on the water?
Oh, I’ve had many, but this one always comes to mind. While working at Washington County Technical College, we had taken the 50-foot longliner out groundfishing to the “outside shore,” as the Bold Coast between Eastport and Cutler is known locally. It was a classic late-summer day Downeast; fog in the morning, a 3-4 foot swell out of the southwest, and just enough breeze to make it a refreshing afternoon. We had set and hauled 300-400 hooks, hadn’t caught much and were calling it a day. Earlier we had seen some finback whales cruising around offshore from us, which is fairly common that time of year. On the way in the tide was at, or just beyond, low and I decided to take a shortcut inside of West Quoddy Head, (yes, the horizontally red and white striped lighthouse) called Sail Rock gut. This gut was a skinny piece of water about 60-feet wide and 15-feet deep at low water, between two ledges that were just out of sight at high water. Remember, tidal height down there is around 20 feet. Steaming along at 8 knots and the gut three boat lengths in front of me, suddenly, directly ahead, one of those finbacks surfaced on the same course I was steering! It is a bit shocking to see an animal come up in front of you and have a beam as wide as your 50-footer and with less than 100 feet to go through a very narrow and shallow channel! My instant thought was it was going to turn back on us as there was no way an animal that size could make it through that gut in time, so I grabbed the clutch and jammed it into reverse and braced off, waiting for the sickening sound of a collision with a whale in an older wooden boat. Unaware, all hands on deck went for a tumble and then back on their feet were asking “what the hell was I doing?” Unable to speak for a few moments I looked to starboard and there was the whale gently cruising back off to deep water, so I just pointed and uttered: “that was a close one.”
That weekend while in a tourist shop in Bar Harbor I spied a bumper sticker that said: “I Brake For Whales.” Says I, “I know just the place for that!” Next trip out, that bumper sticker was firmly stuck to the cross member on the gallus frame facing aft on the F/V Fundy Pride.
9. Where can you be found on the weekend?
Working around the house, out pleasure boating with family, trying to hunt down a fish, or pretending to be an old salt, well, I don’t have to pretend on the old part.
10. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Our family dog is a poodle, best dog ever! Clean, smart, loyal and well, damn cute.