“That’s how things were framed,” says Scully. “And in some instances, not a lot has changed.”
Scully was one of few women in Maine involved in the nascent industry as it was forming in the 1980s. While holding down a job at the Maine Department of Marine Resources and raising two young children on her own, Scully spent her weekends and evenings exploring aquaculture. She knew people had tried (and failed) to grow oysters in the Damariscotta River before, but she began experimenting, bringing her kids along to the waterfront. At the time, the equipment to grow oysters — without also growing algae and barnacles, and collecting oyster waste — had not been invented. So Scully collected mesh, old window screens, sports netting — whatever she could find — and built her own. When flotation was a challenge, she started using swim noodles.
Soon, the manufacturing industry started producing equipment for aquaculture on a larger scale, but much of it was not ergonomic for Scully, so she created her own. “Honestly, women in aquaculture come up with some of the more creative ideas because we don’t have the brute strength … When you don’t have that as your go-to, you have to think,” she says.
“Women in aquaculture come up with some of the more creative ideas because we don’t have the brute strength.”
Scully didn’t get much respect, but she kept growing her knowledge and skills, showing her kids how to take apart outboard motors and fix things when they broke, solving problems together. As her kids grew, she hired them and their friends to work for her in the summers. She eventually grew a successful and influential business, but she measured success in nontraditional ways. “It’s not about aquaculture,” she says. “I mean, that is the vehicle. It’s just about being a good mom.”
Scully recently sold Glidden Point to downsize into a smaller shop up the road and open up more time for experimentation and innovation. She has come full circle, developing a new culture method for growing oysters in the intertidal zone, which is more exposed to air and sun. She has more time, now, to be present and meet the customers who stop in, including those who still ask to speak to her husband or direct their questions to her male employee.
“There are always assumptions and there always will be. But that’s their problem, not mine,” she says, shaking her head slightly, her wire-rimmed glasses shining in the sunshine. Thinking back, it was her grandfather’s insistence that she couldn’t pump gas that set her on the path to pioneering a new industry.
ON A WARM SPRING DAY, I catch up with Moeser and Selinger doing gear and tackle prep in Selinger’s driveway. While we measure out floating line lengths and repair gear, I ask them what people think about women as aquaculture farmers. “A lot of the coverage I see has the same theme, which is: Hey, there’s a woman,” says Selinger. There is a perception that more women are going into both aquaculture and fisheries. But despite this common narrative, the little available data suggest otherwise.
In Maine, the available data suggest that while more women are enrolling in the state’s aquaculture training programs, the owners of aquaculture leases that provide long-term rights to farm are overwhelmingly men. Dr. Meryl Williams, who has spent her career studying gender and aquaculture around the world, says that globally, more women may be going into aquaculture, because women tend to have more access when an industry is new. But because of the gendered division of labor across the value chain and the barriers they face, “as aquaculture scales up — and it’s the same with fisheries — women disappear,” she says. Dr. Joshua Stoll of the University of Maine suggests that as the industry grows, and competition and private investment increase, “those people who are getting in now, in generation two and three, will likely not have access to it.”
In Alaska, for instance, Dr. Marysia Szymkowiak, a fisheries scientist at NOAA who uses software to analyze name trends as a proxy for gender, has found no evidence that more women are doing the actual fishing. But when she broadened her consideration of the different ways women participate in fisheries, her findings changed. Although Szymkowiak has been studying fisheries for years, it wasn’t until she had her first child that her perspective on labor in fisheries shifted. She realized that she too, had been thinking about fishing as an individual endeavor. “We think about individuals, we think about vessels, but we don’t think about the family unit,” she says. “And within that, what is the role that women play?”
When Szymkowiak asked that question of women from fishing families, “there was instantly a downplaying. There would be women saying things like, Well, I’m not really the fisherman in the family, he does all the work.” When she asked women what they did do, she says they’d respond, Well, I get the bait, and I set up the fuel, I set up the paperwork, and I do the laundry and the meals, and when he needs me I crew on board, and I sell our fish.