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Industry Pioneers

Mary “Fish Mary” Stanley was the first, if not the only, female lumper on New Bedford’s waterfront. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mary joined the Lumpers Union and unloaded fishing vessels in New Bedford. “She was very dependable, she was a very kind person, hard worker … I don’t see anyone coming into the lumping career as Mary did. And putting in her 13 years of service. I just don’t see it happening; she was one of a kind.” Jim Dwyer


Solveig (Jacobsen) Balestracci (1921-1984) ran the first  woman-owned settlement house serving the Port of New Bedford. Old timers often gathered at her Fairhaven settlement house to share stories. She was known around town for driving a pink and white Metropolitan car.

Photo provided by Christina Jacobsen deVilliers

Pat Gerrior was the first female port agent in New Bedford. “…it hasn’t always been quite as easy for women to do these jobs as it seems to be right now. The old boy network has been very strong. And I got to tell you, fishermen themselves didn’t wrap their arms around having women down here at the docks. When I first did the job, I got repeatedly asked—not just by the fishermen—by the lumpers, and the weighers and everybody else, they’d say, “What does your husband think of you doing this job?”

Photo provided by Pat Gerrior

Linda Despres grew up on her father’s boat learning with her brothers about tuna fishing. She graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in zoology and began work at the NOAA’s Northeast Science Center in 1973. She became the first female chief scientist on bottom trawl surveys in 1975. “When they said my main responsibility was to go to sea, it was like I died and went to heaven because that’s what I wanted to do. Be outside and go out on the surveys, weigh, measure, and dissect fish.”

image provided by Linda Despres

Judy Ramos began managing her family’s boat at the age of 17. She was the only woman member of the Offshore Mariners Association and was elected president in 1992. Judy speaks fluent Portuguese and acted as a translator for members of the fishing industry. “I’m very proud to be from a fishing family and I’m very proud of my heritage … I figured someone had to speak for these guys.” Today, Judy owns F/V Elizabeth and Niki, which is captained by her son-in-law.

Photo by Phil Mello

Gail Isaksen is a prominent business and boat owner. Gail, her husband Arne, and son Max along with Kevin McLaughlin are co-owners of Fairhaven Shipyard. Gail established a number of restaurants, retail spaces, and commercial properties and has been instrumental in redeveloping the Fairhaven side of the Port.

Photo by Max Isaksen

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