Friends and family members of the four fishermen gather for a candlelight vigil on the Maine State Pier, one of the two vigils held on Portland’s waterfront Wednesday night. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Members of Portland’s fishing community gathered on the city’s waterfront Wednesday night to remember and honor the four Maine men who were lost at sea when the Emmy Rose sank off Cape Cod early Monday.

Reyann Matthews organized the vigil at the Maine State Pier for her father and the three other fishermen who were lost when the Emmy Rose sank. She said her father was 55 and had been fishing for about 40 years. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Candlelight vigils were held on the Maine State Pier and on the Portland Fish Pier, with roughly 100 people between both sites talking about the men, their lives and their devotion to fishing.

At the Maine State Pier, family and friends placed candles around a makeshift memorial that said, “Family is the anchor that holds us through life’s storms.” At the Portland Fish Pier, candles were placed in front of the fishermen’s memorial that says, “In memory of those lost at sea.”

The 82-foot Emmy Rose, which was based in Portland, sank early Monday roughly 22 miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where 30-knot winds were whipping up 6- to 8-foot waves.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for the boat Tuesday evening.

“I know I’ve got to keep going for him,” said Reyann Matthews, the daughter of one of the lost crewmen, Jeff Matthews of Portland. She organized the vigil at the Maine State Pier. “They were all great people. They didn’t deserve to go out like this.”


Matthews said her father was 55 and had been fishing for about 40 years. She wants him to be remembered as a kind and loving dad. “He has been fishing since I was a baby. He loved it so much. You couldn’t get him off the water.”

Also lost at sea were the ship’s captain, Bobby Blethen, and crew members Michael Porper and Ethan Ward.

As news of the tragedy spread, the New England fishing community reacted to the pain the families are feeling during the holiday season.

Rosalee Varian, the daughter of the Emmy Rose’s owner, Rink Varian, attended the Maine State Pier vigil and said she created a fundraiser on GoFundMe. She said the proceeds will be split four ways to cover the financial needs of each crew member. As of Thursday night, the campaign had raised $57,393.

A makeshift memorial is set up for the candlelight vigil Wednesday on the Maine State Pier for four missing fisherman from the Portland-based Emmy Rose. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The GoFundMe page also contains a slideshow of the crew members spending time with their family members and children.

Another group, the Sustainable Harvest Sector, which represents 100 ground-fishing vessel owners and operators from ports throughout New England, lamented the loss of the fishermen and praised the Coast Guard for its efforts to find them.


“In the early hours of Nov. 23, the fishing vessel Emmy Rose foundered 20 miles northeast of Provincetown on Cape Cod. The cause is unknown. Four brave men of the sea were lost,” the Sustainable Harvest Sector said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The Coast Guard searched for 38 straight hours covering an area of approximately 2,066 square miles. We thank the Coast Guard for its rapid response to this casualty, and tireless efforts to rescue our fishermen. You are heroic.”

The group said it plans to post news of memorial services for the fishermen as soon as those plans become available.

The Emmy Rose, outbound from Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts on Sept. 29. Photo by Robert Serbagi

The Coast Guard found only debris and an empty life raft Monday after responding to the vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon. Officials suspended the search for the crew Tuesday evening. The Emmy Rose was bound for Gloucester, Massachusetts, when it sank.

In the hours after the Coast Guard’s announcement, industry colleagues and friends launched fundraisers to support the families that are now grieving their loved ones. Those people all described the crew as honorable fishermen, fathers and sons and boyfriends who cared deeply for their families.

“All were extremely passionate about the fishing industry, but most importantly, they loved and cared for their families more than anything in the world,” one GoFundMe page said. “Robert, Jeff, Ethan, and Mike would rest in peace knowing that their loved ones are going to receive the support they deserve. These four families lost a husband, a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, and a nephew right before the holidays. These families need all the love and support that our community can give.”


Alan Tracy, president of Vessel Services, a fishing industry supplier in Portland, said the crew was experienced, and the Emmy Rose was a well-known boat on the Portland Fish Pier. Blethen, the captain, had a reputation as “very capable,” he said, and a long history in the local fishing industry.

The crew loaded ice from Vessel Services on Wednesday and left Portland on Thursday for a multiday trip to catch groundfish such as haddock, pollock and redfish. Tracy said fishermen who spend days at a time at sea have a particular commitment and culture.

Friends and family members gather Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil on the Maine State Pier for the four missing fisherman from the Portland-based Emmy Rose. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Some of these guys come and go,” he said. “These were all fishermen that were all very much a part of the Portland fishing scene.”

Vessel Services is among those raising money for the men’s partners and children. Tracy plans to divide the donations between the four families before Christmas.

“These were relatively young men in their early 40s and 30s and 20s,” he said. “Many of them have young kids and girlfriends and wives who really rely on them for their trips. Literally this is very much a trip-by-trip economy.”

Family members and friends did not respond to messages through social media and GoFundMe. But messages on the individual fundraising pages spoke of their heartbreak and provided a glimpse into the lives of the four men.


One page showed a black-and-white photo of Porper smiling with a young woman, and another shot of the two of them with their daughter. Another described Ward as “a hard worker, a loving father, dedicated boyfriend, an honest friend, and man any family member could be proud of.”

“He pushed himself to be better and do better for his family, though he didn’t realize just how much we all loved and cherished him just the way he was,” Ward’s page said. “He was the type of friend that you could go months without seeing or talking to, but the moment you did see him, you picked up right where you left off.”

One person who contributed to Ward’s campaign wrote: “The ocean is an unforgiving place and it takes a strong person to be a fisherman. I thank all the men, who gave their life so people had food on their plate and their belly was never empty. Thank you for all you’ve done for our community.”

A third page said Matthews died doing what he loved. His daughter, Reyann, shared a statement written by a friend: “This world not only lost a loved father, but a family man, and a legendary fisherman. He left an imprint on these waters, and a memory on these docks that’ll never fade. He will be missed by so many.”

The tragedy has been constantly on the minds and in the conversations of many on the Portland Fish Pier this week.

“You could see some of the other crews and boats, and you could see that it weighs on them, not just because they have personal relationships with these guys and they are a close-knit community, but the acknowledgement that this could happen at any time to anybody,” Tracy said.


Longtime fisherman Marshall Alexander said it has been a difficult year for fisherman in southern Maine. He recalled when the Hayley Ann sank 50 miles southeast of Portland on Jan. 24, claiming Arnold “Joe” Nickerson IV, the 60-year-old captain from Arundel, and 44-year-old crew member Christopher Pinkham of Boothbay Harbor.

“It’s very hard when these things do happen, OK,” Alexander, 74, said. “You know, we care about all of us fisherman.”

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said many have shifted their focus to supporting the families in the coming days and weeks. Their loss comes as the groundfishing market is hurting from the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“I think everybody has been trying to piece it together trip by trip, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room in the industry when it comes to finances,” Martens said. “Anybody that has the capacity to support these families, I would encourage them to do so.”

The association also has partnered with the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness since the sinking of the Hayley Ann, publishing blog entries about wellness and mental health. Greg Marley, the clinical director at NAMI Maine, wrote Wednesday about the complicated emotions that come with these losses, urging family members and friends to take the time they need to process their grief. He also encouraged members of the fishing community to seek support if needed.

“Although not everyone in the fishing community may know the four crew members on the Emmy Rose, all can imagine the loss,” he wrote. “There are periods in high-risk jobs where the risk may be pushed to the back of the mind. However, when there is a loss such as this, we are reminded that there is always an inherent risk involved in everyday work.”

The federal fishing permits for the Emmy Rose are held by Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc., which is based in Westbrook. Filings with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office list Bartley McNeel of Westbrook as the president of the company.

Boat Aaron & Melissa also owned the Aaron & Melissa II, which sank 70 miles south-southeast of Portland in November 2018 during a storm with gale-force winds. All four crew members abandoned ship, entered an inflatable life raft and were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

McNeel has not responded to emails from reporters.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.