By Ryan Post
Our family has designated April 15 every year as the day we all go to the island and set our traps, 100 at a time. And this isn’t any random, “toss ‘em wherever” method—if anything it’s like the way my aunt orchestrates Christmas—everything is hyper-organized, from how good a shape the traps themselves are in (none can be what we call“stove up”) to the exact length of rope tied to each trap. And the area where each trap will be dropped is already pre-arranged before we even get on the boats. Yep, it’s a little OCD. But it has to be, because if you drop a brand new $65 trap into shallow water in the spring, what’s going to happen is, it is going to continuously get rolled over by the tide. And in a matter of weeks that $65 trap turns into a $5 trap.
Every year, I put out 800 traps, which is the Maine state limit and I’ll steam out 35-45 minutes a day to my designated fishing area and haul about 300 traps per day. Spring is a notoriously tough time to catch anything. It’s a little bit like planting a row of seeds. You don’t go out the next day and expect waist-high flowers. We’re the farmers of the sea and when you work with lobsters you’ve got to know their quirks. They’re real picky and you can’t blame them. They know how to work those traps better then we do. First of all, they burrow down into deep waters in the spring. They don’t like the cold; they don’t like any fresh water runoff coming from the shoreline and they don’t like old salted bait that time of year. You’ve got to coax them with fresh herring or alewives. Beyond that, they won’t start migrating inland to shallower waters until the temperature of the ocean gets up to about 43 degrees or higher.
Still, it’s the chase that makes me go to work even if I’m not making a dime. Last spring I put a couple of 13-hour days in, and went $300 in the hole. Got up the next morning at 3 am—and did it all again. But that’s okay. It’s a great thing we don’t catch all the lobsters that go in our traps—or else there would be none left. That’s the way we do it in Maine. We are the original conservationists when it comes to lobster and we treat it as it should be--a sustainable resource.
And if you want to call me an environmentalist….go ahead!
Columns about the sub-culture of lobstering that K. Stephens has collaborated on with Maine lobstermen and guest bloggers.