Arnold “Joe” Nickerson and Chris Pinkham were remembered Friday as devoted family men and hardworking, experienced members of Maine’s commercial fishing community.

The two men were fishing aboard Nickerson’s boat, the Hayley Ann, about 50 miles southeast of Portland on Thursday when the vessel is believed to have either capsized or quickly flooded. They did not have time to make a radio call, although the boat’s automatic emergency beacon apparently floated free and sent a distress signal. Both men were dead when a  fellow fishermen pulled them from the water.

Nickerson, 60, was a well-known and widely respected fishing boat captain. He lived in Arundel with his wife, Sharon, and had a young grandchild. His boat was named after his grown daughter, according to a friend.

Hayley Brown, 29, Nickerson’s daughter, said in an interview Friday that her father spent his whole working life as a fisherman.

“This is just such a shock. It’s so surreal,” Brown said. “He was so experienced and knew exactly what to do. This had to be some emergency, for things to have ended the way that they did.”

Brown said her father was kind and loving and doted on his toddler grandchild.

“He always seemed indestructible,” Brown said. “He was 6 foot 5 inches tall, wore a size 15 shoe, went on fishing runs to Alaska. He was a big, tough guy.”

Chris Pinkham with his daughters, Cedelia and Dorothy, and his wife, Jessica. Pinkham was one of two fisherman who died Thursday when their boat overturned 50 miles from Portland. Photo courtesy of the Pinkham family

Pinkham, a longtime fishermen who sported a thick beard, leaves a wife and two young daughters in Boothbay Harbor.

A woman who answered the phone at an address in Boothbay Harbor listed for a relative of Pinkham said she was his mother-in-law, and said Pinkham’s wife was too upset to talk about him. “He was a wonderful dad and a wonderful husband,” the woman said.

His family later released a statement about his devotion to his wife and children. “Chris’ family was his whole world. He was such a loving and devoted father and husband,” the statement said.

Their deaths were a blow to the tightknit community of fishing families, who quickly organized to support the families left behind.

Ed Hutchins, 51, a selectman in Kennebunkport and a fifth-generation lobsterman and eighth-generation fisherman, said news of Nickerson’s death reverberated among the lobstermen who fish out of Cape Porpoise.

Hutchins said the danger of working on the water never goes away. It’s something he has to put out of his mind. Fishing is a way of life for him, and one that doesn’t feel like work, but the danger is real and everyone in the community looks out for one another.

“You just can’t think about (those) things,” Hutchins said. “It might change the way my wife thinks about this job. But it doesn’t change the way I think.”

Arnold “Joe” Nickerson with his wife, Sharon Nickerson, in August 2017. Photo by Amy Paradysz

Nickerson was chairman of the board of directors of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, an industry group that advocates for sustainable, community-based fisheries.

“Maine has lost a great man, father, husband and grandfather and I have personally lost a dear friend,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the organization. “Joe’s dedication to the fishing communities of Maine throughout his extensive fishing career, and his knowledge and expertise on the water, made him an invaluable leader for our organization.

“While not always the loudest voice in the room, Joe put thought and passion into every decision that he made and was a respected presence who worked tirelessly for the greater good of Maine’s fishing communities,” Martens said.

Martens said Nickerson usually fished for shrimp and scallops in the winter, elvers in the spring and groundfish, lobsters, whiting and bait in the summer and fall.

“Joe participated in numerous fisheries over the course of his career and was a true representative of what it meant to be a Maine fisherman,” he said.

Burt Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange, said he first met Nickerson around 1988 or 1989.

“Him and Chris were a few of the really standout guys,” Jongerden said. “He was a multi-purpose fisherman. He did some lobstering, he did some groundfishing, some elvering. He kind of covered all the bases.”

Jongerden said no one knows yet what happened – it will be up to the Coast Guard to investigate – but he said he suspects that whatever occurred, it happened fast.

“It must have happened really quick, because they didn’t have a chance to get their life suits on and they didn’t have a chance to get into the life raft,” he said. “It wasn’t really that choppy. It was pretty low seas. And there wasn’t a whole lot of wind, either, so it’s a tough one. A lot of people just can’t understand why this happened.”

Nickerson was also praised as “an experienced, successful fisherman” with “a calm and constructive approach to problem solving,” by Patrick Kelleher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Nickerson served on the department’s advisory council, and Kelleher said “he was committed to the proper management of Maine’s marine resources and was willing to give his time to help his fellow fishermen. I always valued his insights and ideas. He was a first-rate fisherman, and an excellent representative for Maine’s fishing community.”

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this story.

 

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