Reprinted and edited from Tradewinds Magazine, 2017, B. Garrity-Blake
“Lauren, your mouth is going to get you killed. That’s what my mother tells me!” Indeed, 35-year old single mother Lauren Rimmer does not hold back when defending her livelihood as a commercial fisherman. Hailing from Beaufort, NC, Lauren recently went to Raleigh with fellow fishermen to fight for the industry’s survival.
“They asked, you do this for a living? I said, yes, that’s why I’m here!” She believes that fishermen have a responsibility to educate others about their work and counteract negative stereotypes.
“I told a Senator, you’re actually uneducated about what I do. And I’m uneducated about what you do. So it’s the same concept, sir.”
Lauren is the granddaughter of the late Carl Cannon, who ran Cannon Seafood in Beaufort for many years. She grew up fishing with him and with her father, Danny Rimmer. Although she got her degree in therapeutic recreation, and has worked other jobs, her love for the solitude and independence of commercial fishing won out…much to the consternation of her parents.
“My father didn’t give me advice because he didn’t want me to fish,” she explained. “But I was bound and determined to figure it out, which moon will be the best, which tide, where can I go?” She playfully added that she’s gained her father’s respect since she “beat him at flounder gigging last year!” As for her mother, “She says, if you’re happy I’m happy. Okay, I’m happy!”
Lauren has seen lots of changes in Beaufort and surrounding areas, and worries about the impact of development and loss of habitat on wildlife. “Seven hundred houses are getting built and they’re trying to figure out where the bears are coming from that are walking through Beaufort?” She shook her head at the thought of people building their houses along the marshes.
“How many fish did you kill? What about when you Clorox your porch?”
A small-scale fisherman, Lauren targets shrimp, crabs, flounder, and speckled trout. She has a skiff that she trailers from area to area that she calls “the money maker.” Her nine-year daughter Olivia often accompanies her, falling asleep in a bean bag chair during late hours of flounder gigging.
“She’s tough,” Lauren emphasized. “I want her to be independent. She loves the water, loves to flounder, has her own little gig. She’s not scared of a thing. Tough little cookie.”
Although Lauren recently got a job working on a dredge boat, she still earns income commercial fishing when she can, during her days off. “I bought my house on commercial fishing,” Lauren emphasized. “I put in my effort, and my money goes where it’s supposed to go. I’m able to take my daughter and do things. There’s plenty to be made in commercial fishing if you know how to manage your money.”
Last spring, Lauren Rimmer did not wet a crab pot. She was in Fiji for almost 50 days as a contestant on the top-rated reality show Survivor. Her sister, “who loves to get me in trouble,” talked Lauren into going to a casting call in Greenville. Several interviews later, along with a background check, a visit to a doctor, a psychiatrist, an investigation by a private detective, and a trip to California for additional screening, Lauren got word that she made the cut.
“They don’t tell you you’re going until two weeks prior to leaving. You have to Fed Ex all your clothes so they can approve them. Then you get on the plan and you’re gone.”
Lauren described Survivor as a game of strategy and hardship, designed to “break you down mentally.” Several people are stranded in the wilderness, divided into teams, and must “outwit, outplay, and outlast,” each other for the one-million-dollar grand prize.
“We had nothing – I slept on the beach in a sand hole, just to get rid of the bugs and mice. I lost nineteen pounds.”
Lauren’s coastal upbringing seems to have benefitted her on the Fiji island.
“I ran around that jungle like Mogley. Barefooted. Everybody had shoes on, and they were cut and bleeding every day. Growing up in the middle of a marsh really did help, because I walk looking at the ground, and they walk looking up! One guy stepped on a stake and it shoved through the bottom of his heel. And they sunburned – I never got sunburned.”
Did her skills as a commercial fisherman help her endure the physical, emotional, and mental stress of the Survivor game?
“I think having common sense helped. Our teams were the heroes versus the healers versus the hustlers. The heroes were military, gymnasts, swimmer gold medalists. Healers were doctors, nurses, stuff like that. Hustlers were myself, a bell hop, a personal assistant. One of the producers told me, ‘You probably were the only true hustler.’ I think having to grow up hustling, trying to figure things out, being on my own, being a commercial fisherman – simple things like knot tying, oaring a boat - helped me to survive.”
Although she wasn’t the winner on the game Survivor, Lauren puts her skills to work in everyday life as a single mom, dredge boat crew, and commercial fisherman.