By Jana F. Brown
Amy Shafmaster ‘90 combines a successful amateur riding career with managing her family lobster business.
It’s hard to believe, and Amy Shafmaster ’90 can hardly believe it herself, when she admits that she has never tried lobster. Not even a succulent claw or a flavorful tail.
What makes the current parent and former Berwick student’s confession most extraordinary is that Shafmaster has spent the better part of the last three decades working for her family business, Little Bay Lobster Company.
“My father would kill me for sharing that,” Shafmaster laughs, referring to her dad, Jonathan, who founded Little Bay in the 1980s.
Shafmaster’s lack of taste for lobster makes her an anomaly in her crustacean-focused family. But she is a self-described “character,” who laughs easily about her tastebuds’ aversion to seafood. Shafmaster splits her time between managing Newington, New Hampshire-based Little Bay in her role as president, and competing on the amateur riding circuit from her second home base in Ocala, Florida. Shafmaster competes for 25 weeks of the year, mostly up and down the East Coast, but she also has traveled to Europe for shows. In 2020 and 2021, her horse, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood named Carlos, ranked No. 1 in the country on the amateur circuit (a broken leg for his rider sidelined Carlos for part of 2022). Last year, horse and rider won the Amateur Classic and the Hampton Classic Horse Show, among other honors. The pair started 2023 with a January victory at the High Amateur Classic at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala.
To remain competitive, Shafmaster, who fell in love with riding at age three, frequently jets between Florida and New Hampshire, where she turns her focus to the lobster business. With 14 offshore boats in its fleet, Little Bay Lobster Company is the largest harvester of North Atlantic lobster in the world. Its lobstermen catch millions of pounds of shellfish each year.
“We fish year-round, so we constantly have a fresh supply of lobster, which is rare,” Shafmaster explains. “Even in Canada, they have seasons where they only let the boats fish at certain times of year. We have four-man crews that go out for 10 days at a time, 300 miles offshore.”
After attending Berwick from fourth through eighth grade and graduating high school from Governor’s Academy in 1990, Shafmaster studied economics at Tufts University. She recalls with great fondness the community she found at Berwick as a student, and that positive memory is one of the reasons her son, Eli, is now enrolled as a fifth grader.
Once out of college, Shafmaster decided she wanted to return to the Seacoast and join Little Bay. She started in accounts before slowly moving up the chain to sales and operations. An astute and respected manager, she thrives within a male-dominated field, which she attributes to her toughness and knowledge of the industry. Shafmaster oversees every aspect of the business, including sales directly to customers (a distinct model that cuts out the middlemen central to most fishing businesses) and making sure domestic and international shipment of live lobsters goes smoothly, especially since Little Bay’s largest export is to China. Her job also involves paying attention to weather patterns (or global pandemics) that change fishing habits and subsequently impact supply and demand.
“Our biggest issue is getting space on the airlines and the fact that lobster is perishable,” she explains, noting that her economics degree has come in handy. “So, if you have delays, that is a problem. It’s the logistics of it all that I manage. I’m mostly busy trying to make sure I get everything done at our company and then also trying to train and ride and compete with my horse and care for my son. It’s a lot, but I’m balancing it so far.”
Aside from the logistics, Shafmaster shares that she’s often fascinated by the rainbow of crustaceans that come in on the haul. Little Bay boats have caught rare lobsters that range from yellow to bright blue to albino. A few now live at the New England Aquarium in Boston, while one — a 25-pounder that is half red and half yellow — is on display in the lobby of Little Bay headquarters in Newington. Shafmaster still doesn’t plan on eating any of them.
“At this point, I can’t,” she laughs, “because I’ve gone so long.”