, Gloucester, MA

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October 29, 2010

Women on the stern a growing lobstering role

Even though they snagged their husbands years ago, wives Katie Crowell, of Gloucester, and Rockporters Barbara Silva and Marilyn Halmen still stand by their men at sea as sternmen — or sternwomen — on their lobster boats.

These ladies, members of a minority female workforce on commercial fishing boats in the northeast, quicken and ease their husbands' job of catching the lobsters on the bottom and getting them to the market.

Just who first asked whom to come aboard, and what are some of the job's yeas and nays for these sternwomen? Furthermore, are their husbands, Buddy Silva, John Halmen and Dickie Crowell, happy with their job performances?

Going sternwoman "... was my idea," said Barbara Silva, who grew up in Pigeon Cove.

"I started doing this full-time in 2000, the same year I stopped smoking," she recalled. "Buddy would come home from work at 3 p.m., and then he would go out lobstering and return home around 6.

"I just found myself very bored during those hours," she said. "I went out once and liked it, and next I found myself going out more and more." She and Buddy, parents of two grown sons and grandparents of eight, have been married 43 years.

For Marilyn Halmen, the idea of coming aboard "was John's."

"He used to have his cousin Bob (as a sternman)," she said. "Bob eventually couldn't do the job anymore, so John asked me, 'Why don't you give it a try?'"

The Halmens, who have three grown children and five grandchildren, have been married 41 years.

"John and I met at Northeastern University," she added. "I thought he was a rich lobsterman from Rockport, and he thought I was a rich industrialist from Lynn."

For the Crowells, married five years, Katie's going aboard as a sternwoman was a mutual decision.

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