In her boat off the northeastern U.S. coast, 101-year-old Virginia Oliver expertly handles the slick body of a lobster as she snaps rubber bands around its claws, just as she has done since age seven.
The centenarian is the oldest licensed lobsterwoman in Maine, and local historians describe her as perhaps the oldest active one in the world.
Oliver goes out into the waters off the city of Rockland three days a week with her 78-year-old son Max, who helps her crew the boat, aptly named by her late husband “Virginia,” after her.
“I’m going to do (this)… till I die,” said Oliver. “That’s time enough. People say to me ‘well, why do you go for it?’ Because I want to. I’m old enough to be my own boss.”
Oliver – known by friends as Ginny and to some as the Lobster Lady – has lived in Rockland her entire life and still lives on the same street where she was born in 1920.
“Ginny’s awesome,” said David Cousens, a lobsterman and former president of the Maine Lobstermen Association.
“Ginny has been fishing as long as I can remember, obviously. She’s 101 years old, she’s still going, about three days a week she’s down here, she’s usually here early in the morning.”
Oliver is up at 3:30 am and heading out to her boat by 5 am. Either in her pickup truck or Max’s 1956 Chevy, mother and son drive down to a private cove and take their small dingy out to the lobster boat, which sits at a mooring.
Oliver and Max have a few hundred traps in the water and work together to bring in the lobster. Max hauls in the traps with a winch while Oliver measures, bands and places the lobsters in the hold.
Wearing wellies, slickers and rubber gloves, she stands over the holding tank and grabs lobsters to inspect one at a time as her son passes them to her.
Once she checks a lobster is of legal size, she grabs a rubber band and a clamp using her left hand, and wraps the bands over the lobster’s claws.
Oliver also sometimes takes the helm and captains the boat, but she won’t steer if it’s foggy.
At this point in their lives, Oliver and her son only go out in good weather, not like when they started and would go out no matter what the conditions.
“She’s going all the time, she never stops,” said Max.
“Always has been that way. She’s wound-up all the time. She’s always moving, busy all the time. It makes me tired sometimes just thinking about it.”
The lobsters are brought in at the end of the day to the Spruce Head Lobster Pound Co-Op, which helps the mother-son team get a better price at the wholesale level.
Oliver has no plans to stop any time soon.
“Well I don’t want to be in a wheel chair,” she said.
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