As a military kid now seeing the parallels of military spouse & POCF life, there is no better person to reflect on these lifestyles than my old friend Monique Coombs! This Q&A is particularly special because Monique and I went to middle school together – IN HEIDELBERG, GERMANY! – and only just connected again through Instagram. God bless social media! I mean, what are the chances that two Department of Defense school gals not only reuniting but finding out they are in the commercial fishing industry?!
Well, I’d say I’m one foot in as a POCF, but Monique is swimming in it: not only are her husband AND children commercial fishermen, she’s also worked with the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, MIT, University of Southern Maine, and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Oh, and she runs a great blog called Aragosta Mama and sometimes fishes with her family, too—Boss b*tch, 100%.
Without further ado, Meet Monique Coombs!
What is your name, and where have your lived? (I know, loaded question!)
Monique Coombs. My maiden name is Levasseur, my family is from Maine, and I was born in Belgium. My dad worked for the Army after Vietnam so he and my mom and two older brothers traveled quite a bit. I’ve lived in Heidelberg and Munich, Germany; I went to high school in Yarmouth, Maine; and I went to college in Colchester, Vermont. Those are really the only places I have lived (other than Harpswell, where I live now), but my family did travel quite a bit when we were stationed overseas.
How long was your dad in the military, and what was that life like for you?
So, my dad went to school for a bit after Vietnam and then began his career in military intelligence so, I am not great at math, but I believe he worked for the Army for about twenty years before he retired. (He retired about 25 years ago.)
Honestly, it was tough living overseas. My parents worked, and my brothers were out of the house by the time I started middle school. I had an au pair for a bit, and then I was a latchkey kid. As an adult, I have all the lasting impacts of being a latchkey kid in the late 90s so that’s fun.
How and when did you meet your husband? Did you have commercial fishing experience before y’all met?
I attended North Yarmouth Academy (NYA) for high school or “upper school,” as it’s known at bougie prep schools. To get into NYA, you must go through an interviewing process, which includes a visiting day. I went to NYA for my freshman year, so I visited when I was in eighth grade. My guide on my visiting day was Melody, who is now my sister-in-law.
Herman graduated from NYA in 1994 so it was not really until many, many years later at the bars (of course) that we started to hang out.
I did not know anything about commercial fishing until I started dating Herman. I have loved eating lobster since I was little, though, so there is that! It definitely takes time to understand (and come to terms with) what being married (or dating) a fisherman entails: unpredictable schedules; everything depending on the weather; very early mornings and late nights; and the ever-present distraction that all fishermen seem to have (because they are thinking about what needs to be done on the boat, what are they going to take for bait, etc.).
What does your family fish, and where?
Lobster, bluefin tuna, and pogies (menhaden). My kids get to go fishing more than I do, and they even have their own small business, Next Generation Lobster Co. They have a small boat called the F/V Orca that they fish from in the summer and they are in charge of selling all of their product themselves.
During the summer they also help their dad with pogey fishing, and they really love working on the boat with him.
As a family, we go tuna fishing, and it is a lot of fun. Again, my kids go more than I do, but it is a cool experience and I feel so fortunate to get to spend time with my family on the boat in the middle of the Gulf of Maine. No technology, no screens, just a cribbage board, and lots of quality time.
What lessons do you carry into your life as a commercial fishing wife?
Quality time with family and loved ones is so important. There’s an ever-present risk in commercial fishing that no one likes to think about. So, in order to get good quality time, it’s also important to do as much as you can to schedule and plan.
We also have a deep connection to the ocean. We love being on the water and are very familiar with both its beauty and unrelenting, uncontrollable nature.
In what ways are military life and commercial fishing life similar? How are they different?
I’d say probably the sense of community and uncertainty. This is actually something I have spoken to one of my brothers about quite a bit. He’s a retired Marine, and he misses being on bases and moving around. I mean, he’s done it for his whole life until he retired! Whereas, on the other hand, I’m thrilled to be settled and have no interest in moving around ever again. But I think part of the reason I’m less interested in moving around is that I have found a sense of community similar to that you find on a military base. Everyone is kind of in it together and there’s an understanding and connection based on shared experiences; we all have similar worries, concerns, values, and manage similar circumstances. When I’m hanging out with another fisherman’s wife, I don’t have to explain what it’s like having to single-parent for periods of time or how you worry about your partner when they are at sea, or that if the washer machine is gonna break- it’s gonna break when your fisherman is at sea!
What is the longest stretch of time that your partner fishes?
Thankfully, just a couple of days most of the time. Herman will do overnights during the winter because it just doesn’t make sense to come all the way home and head back out the next day. If he’s out tuna fishing during the summer, he might stay out till he catches a fish. So, maybe three or four days at the most. My kids are happy campers at sea, so they are fine being out there that long, too. I love that about them.
But like many fishermen, he loves fishing and being on the water. So, if days go by and he hasn’t been fishing, he starts to get grumpy!
What helps you the most when your partner is out at sea?
Well, two things. Hanging out with my kids and working.
I adore my kiddos, and I think they are pretty fun, so I like watching movies with them, playing badminton or cribbage, or making food. And I know they miss their dad when he’s gone, too, so it’s important for all of us to have that quality time.
I work for the fishing industry. I’m the Director of Community Programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. I feel so fortunate that I get to work for an industry and group of people that I care so deeply about. But, sometimes, my work becomes a coping mechanism for me. It is soothing (and stressful) to work on projects and programs that support my community, friends, family, and husband.
If you could advise other Partners of Commercial Fishermen, what would it be?
This is gonna sound rude, maybe but learn to manage your expectations. If you are dating a fisherman and find it frustrating that they work on their boat so much or that your lives must revolve around the weather, understand that’s not going to change. Ever. You have to learn to plan to do things on your own and then hope that they can make it but not be disappointed when they can’t. If you expect a fisherman to always show up to scheduled things, you’re gonna be awful disappointed and end up resentful.
What advice can you give moms of commercial fishing families?
Meal planning and prep is a lifesaver! One argument Herman and I used to have a lot was over what we were having for dinner, who was making it, and who forgot to take something out of the freezer. I started taking a little time to plan weeknight meals and make a few things ahead of time and things went a lot smoother. Things like American Chop Suey, lasagna, and Shepard’s Pie are great for making ahead and reheating.
Tell us about your awesome blog, Aragosta Mama. (“Aragosta” means lobster in Italian.) When did you start, and what made you pull the trigger?
Blogging is actually what kicked off my career working for the fishing industry many, many years ago. I wrote a blog called Lobsters on the Fly where I wrote about my perspective as a fishing family. At the time, my goal was to network and support Herman and Maine lobstermen. I started writing for Commercial Fisheries News and National Fisherman (and I still write for both publications). I got to know people working in the fishing industry. Then I was able to start doing some contract work with organizations like the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (then known as PERC), MIT, University of Southern Maine, and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, where I work now.
A couple of years ago, I decided to write more and write for publications outside of the fishing industry. I knew, these days, to do that, you need an online presence, so Aragosta Mama was created.
I was able to get some funding support to hire Might + Main to help with my branding and website, and I have been able to accomplish my goals. Last year I wrote for a few other online publications including Heated and Civil Eats, and even in-print publications like Seafood & the Menu.
I like writing on Aragosta Mama because I think it’s important to share humanizing stories from fishing families and highlight the importance of the fishing industry to other businesses like local makers and artists. Plus, I get to brag about how great my kids are!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’m so excited to reconnect with you, Megan! And I’m especially excited to know that you are in the world thinking about military life and fishing family life and celebrating being the Partner of a Commercial Fisherman! Oh, and people should eat American seafood!
(I feel the same, Monique!💗)
Are you a military spouse or have you lived the military lifestyle? Or, are you a Partner of a Commercial Fisherman? In what ways does Monique’s story resonate with you? Please share in the comments below!
*Bonus: This is my favorite blog re: military spouses, written by Laren Tamm!