By Doreen Leggett
Katie Curran remembers the excitement of catching a fish as a child, the wonder of what might be on the hook. Now she loves fishing just as much and appreciates the peace and satisfaction it brings, how careful study yields welcome results.
“I think of fishing as more than catching a fish. I like learning different techniques and there is effort in learning how to be good,” Curran said. “I don’t look at fishing as something I do, more as an extension of myself.”
She has co-founded start-ups and helped companies launch new ventures, nurtured budding entrepreneurs and managed projects. Her new role as Economic Development Manager at Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance where she starts new programs while strengthening existing ones, blends the two sides of fishing – the thrill of the cast and the strategy required to make it count.
“That job description looks like it was written for me,” Curran recalled thinking when she saw the position posted earlier this year. “I am looking forward to growing the economic development programs that are already doing so much good and thinking of new ways to support the fishing community.”
Hired in May, Curran will be responsible for ongoing initiatives, including Fishermen Training, overseeing the organization’s investment in shellfish hatchery A.R.C., marketing and promoting the fleet, and working with research organizations on proposals that invest in fisheries and fishermen.
One of Curran’s biggest responsibilities is administering the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, a program of the Fishermen’s Alliance. The Trust has become a national model for fishing community stability and growth through ownership and management of a diverse portfolio of quota for seafood stocks including scallops, clams, cod, haddock and whiting. Curran will be responsible for leasing quota to the local fleet to stimulate economic development, ensure long-term profitability and environmental sustainability. Fishermen have already stopped by to talk about what fish they need to lease at or below market rates.
“Our community will benefit from the experience and attention Katie will apply to our economic development programs. She has a love of business and fishing that will strengthen our ability to provide even more support to the coastal fishing economy,” said John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Fishermen’s Alliance.
Curran, 36, was born on Long Island and when she was four her family moved to Portland, Maine, then Cape Elizabeth. She is the second of four sisters and has many early memories of fishing at her grandparents’ house in Florida or in Maine.
“My grandfather and dad were really into fishing. We would fish from the beach for stripers,” she said.
In high school she fished as well, a lot of her guy friends had their own boats. “I think my first date with my high school boyfriend we hauled lobster traps,” she said with a smile.
While in college in Italy pursuing a dual degree in business and political science, she didn’t fish as much as she would like; she didn’t have a car to make the journey to the coast from John Cabot University in Rome.
“Taking a fishing rod on a train just isn’t practical,” she said.
After graduating she spent a few years in Rome, doing marketing for the Ministry of Foreign Trade and research for a travel journalist, then came home in 2013 with the idea of going to law school in Boston. That was deferred when a friend approached her with an opportunity to work in England for a clothing company.
Curran said she became director of operations and interfaced with staff in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as other locations. That led to a move back to the States to co-found a startup focused on “demand generation” software.
“The environment of a startup was great,” she said. “If you didn’t know how to do something you had to learn it – quickly.”
Curran was able to do more fishing when she came back home, a good way to decompress from the fast-paced business environment. She continued fishing as she transitioned out of the startup world and took a “program and training developer” position at the Women’s Business Center, part of Coastal Enterprise, Inc. (CEI) in Maine.
“The organization is very invested in the working waterfront,” she said.
Her new office was on the Portland Fish Pier.
“I would run down and see them unloading tuna,” she said.
She researched trends and created programs to meet the needs of women across the state. She was in the same building as the fisheries and aquaculture arm of CEI, and happily worked with them in job creation and fostering sustainable enterprises.
“When I met Kate we were both working in an office environment and I had no idea about her love of fishing,” Nick Branchina, director of fisheries and aquaculture at CEI, said. “I rapidly came to realize that her love of fishing was not a mere hobby, but a true passion – not just for the sport, but also for the fish, our waters, and the people who make a living from commercial and recreational fishing.”
Soon after being at CEI, she joined the board of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, MCFA, run by Ben Martens, the non-profit’s executive director. Martens served as policy analyst for the Fishermen’s Alliance before he moved to Maine and the two groups partner on the national stage.
“As fisheries management has become more complicated, being a fisherman is less and less about just knowing how to catch a fish, a scallop, or a lobster,” said Martens. “Katie had been working with small businesses through her position at CEI so we started a conversation about joining the MCFA board. Her energy, experience, and knowledge have been fantastic assets as we became more focused on the business side.”
Although she had heard of the Fishermen’s Alliance, she learned more about the Cape non-profit at MCFA meetings where Small Boats, Big Taste was talked about as a similar program to Fishermen Feeding Mainers, which boasts a monkfish stew.
But she ended up on Cape because of another fishy organization, On the Water, which has a television show, a monthly fishing and boating magazine and retail stores in Falmouth and Plymouth.
Curran is an avid reader of On the Water and was hired to help with a “brand refresh,” conducting market research and understanding industry trends. She recently left that position for some consulting work and crewed on a few charter boats out of Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich.
Now she is fully immersed in her role at the Fishermen’s Alliance.
“Fishing is the fabric of coastal communities like Cape Cod,” Curran said. “We need to protect the fisheries and the industry, and we need to help grow them. I am excited about the opportunity to work with fishermen, as well as local, regional, and national partners to support the Fishermen’s Alliance to do just that.”