Merritt grew up spending summers in Tenants Harbor, a small fishing village on the western edge of Penobscot Bay. “My father was a college professor, we would land in Tenants Harbor in May and leave in September. I was an only child and I spent a lot of time down at the shore, hunting for crabs or tooling around in a skiff by myself,” Merritt recalls.
Merritt’s first job was delivering freshly cooked lobster to cruising boats in the harbor. “My father had given me a 13ft Boston Whaler when I was about 9, but he made sure I was going to earn some money with it. So I began working for Mrs. Miller, who ran Cod End, a fish market which also served cooked lobsters. Each evening I would go out and take orders from boats in the harbor, come back in give my orders to Mrs. Miller, she would cook them up and I would deliver them. We did lobsters, steamers, mussels, all in waxed brown paper bags, they would still be steaming hot when I delivered them. I had a lot of happy customers and I made a lot of money. It was probably the best job I ever had!” It was working for Mrs. Miller that Merritt met the rest of the Miller family, Red, her husband, and their 9 children, the boys all fishermen.
Merritt attended Brown University and then, facing a dismal job market, and with itchy feet, jumped aboard a sailboat headed to Antigua. Merritt wound up sailing on the second all-female team to compete in the Whitbread Around the World Ocean Race (now the Volvo Ocean Challenge), and was then selected to be a member of the first all-female America’s Cup team. “I was the youngest member of both teams, the bowman and rigger, I spent a lot of time getting beat up – either up the mast or at the pointy end of the boat.” Following her sailing adventures, Merritt settled in New Zealand where she enrolled in law school.
After a few years in New Zealand, Merritt returned home and finished her law degree at University of Maine School of Law. “After all my travels and time away; I wanted to come home, back to Maine. I like to tell people: I’ve been all around the world and I can say Maine is the best place on earth.”
Merritt practiced law for a few years and then went out on her own as a consultant; over time her consulting practice increasingly involved fisheries and rural economic development. A few years ago, hauling with Peter Miller, one of Mrs. Miller’s sons, for a piece she was writing for the MLMC, Merritt learned there was a possibility of the Miller family wharf (where she had worked as a girl) being sold. “I knew enough about rural economic development to know a locally owned wharf would be better for the community and knew the Millers well enough to have a conversation.” One thing led to another and, with other local fishermen in the area, and Luke Holden from Luke’s Lobsters, we formed the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op; a vertically integrated co-op that works collaboratively with its downstream partners, Cape Seafood and Luke’s Lobster. “My work with the co-op is in many ways the same thing I did all those years ago with Mrs. Miller; delivering lobster directly from the fishermen to consumers; it’s just scaled up a bit.”
Merritt lives in Yarmouth, Maine with her husband and three children (Liam, 15, Madeleine, 10 and Grace, 7); the two older kids lobster-fish in the summer. “We’re lucky enough to spend our summers in Tenants Harbor, like I did when I was a girl,” Merritt reflects.