Lobsterman and UNE student Nathan Orff fares well in rough tides

Nathan Orff
Nathan Orff (Marine Entrepreneurship, ’21) sits on the stern of his boat, The Highlander. Despite a complicated semester, Orff is looking forward to continuing his lobster business and expanding into other ventures in the shellfish industry.

These are hard times for Maine’s lobster fishermen and women. Just ask Nathan Orff (Marine Entrepreneurship, ’21), who has been lobstering since his teens, and he will tell you the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on his livelihood.

“Since the restaurant industry has totally collapsed, the summer lobster industry has been put on hold,” said the Scarborough, Maine native. “It's interesting. With no restaurants open right now, who's actually going to buy lobster?”

Orff said most lobster fishers have just begun to drop their traps in Maine’s waters, and only about 15-20% of traps have been deployed this season. But as the weather warms and more boats take to the sea — including Orff’s own 37-foot vessel, The Highlander — it is unknown how the coronavirus outbreak will affect an already stressed seafood market.

“So many lobsters are sold on cruise ships and in restaurants, so who knows what the consumer market is going to be like?” he said. “Hopefully it can’t get any worse than it is right now.”

But Orff said he will be prepared for an uncertain future by obtaining his degree in Marine Entrepreneurship from the University of New England. Instead of skipping college to fish full-time, Orff saw UNE as an opportunity to extend his career on the water.  

“If I was born in the 1980s or 1990s, I definitely would’ve just fished. But the world is changing, and I thought that getting a degree would be a smart thing to do in order to position myself for another career if I needed,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be fishing full-time forever, but I like the idea of having the option to get a different job right after school if I want.” 

Orff is already involved with his community. He currently serves as chair of the Scarborough Shellfish Conservation Commission, which works to insure the protection and optimal use of shellfish resources within town limits. Some of Orff’s work on the commission includes advising the Town Council on waterfront zoning, harbor policy, and shellfish management.

The experience, coupled with his years of fishing, has made for a unique classroom experience at UNE.

“When I take an environmental economics or conservation course, it’s interesting because I can give my own perspective to the professor,” Orff said. “Some of my classes at UNE have been so relatable and relevant to the things that I'm actually dealing with in my life. And, vice-versa, UNE has kind of helped give me an understanding of my fishing experiences.”

While Orff hopes to continue lobstering after the COVID-19 pandemic eventually subsides, he is not limiting himself to fishing just the iconic crustaceans. He also holds a license to dig clams, and wants to focus his future on aquaculture, with plans to take on an internship at an oyster farm in the next year.

“Things are tough right now, but aquaculture is definitely a booming industry and it's the future,” Orff said. “I already have my own boat, so now it’s all about getting permits and a financial foundation behind me, and I’m off to the races in the aquaculture world."

Nathan Orff holds a lobster
Orff holds a lobster while standing on his boat. When not studying at UNE, Orff fishes for lobster commercially and serves as chair of the Scarborough Shellfish Conservation Commission.

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