Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Essay 492 • Jan 23rd 2022

The Gulf of Maine is now considered one of the fastest-warming bodies of ocean water due to climate change, posing an existential threat to the state’s fishing industry. From rising sea levels, coastal acidification, to increasingly stormy weather, the decades-hardened fishing community is facing ever greater threats to their livelihood.

These images shed light on the people behind a variety of jobs that depend on the ocean in Maine. On board the gill-net fishing boat, the Shannon Kristine, crewmembers scramble under the decks, scooping pollock and monkfish tails into plastic buckets. On land, Operations Manager Pete Small guides the loaded buckets towards a chute leading to a steel conveyor belt. As the fish tumble down, his co-workers at the Portland Fish Exchange begin sorting the fish by size and weight into black containers. Nearly all groundfish landed in Maine are auctioned here.

At Habor Fish Market, workers filet fresh deliveries at lightning speed—halibut, yellowfin tuna, plaice—and replenish stocks of local oysters from Winter Point, Mere Point, and Yellowhead. Dan, the resident lobster expert, checks the morning’s delivery of lobster, steaming and picking the meat off the shells of those that already look less lively. Up in Georgetown, oyster fisherwoman Sadia Crosby checks her traps, removing seaweed that might block the oysters from filtering the crisp Robinhood Cove waters.


Mailee Osten-Tan is a freelance multimedia journalist, currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. Her visual reporting has been commissioned by the United Nations, Longreads, the Southeast Asia Globe, Thai Enquirer, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Oxford and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in film, Mailee’s work frequently explores social exclusion, discrimination, and resilience.
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