It’s All About the Lobster
2018, Middle School, Prose
As I wake up, I can smell the fresh ocean breeze. I step outside onto the wooden porch and see the bright sun glaring down on the blue ocean. I can feel the light breeze on my face. It is June 25th, and for me, that means it’s the beginning of my lobster season. I’m out of school, and it is time for me to help my Uncle Bobby do not only what he and I love to do, but also what he must do in order to keep his boat. Bobby is a full-time lobster fisherman on Little Cranberry Island in Maine. He lives here all year and fishes almost all year. The only time he takes a break is in January, but that is only in a good year. If he hasn’t caught enough lobster, he’ll have to continue to fish through the brutal winters on the waters off of Little Cranberry Island. He’s always glad when I return to the island to lend him an extra hand. His first mate Matt works with him all year and in the fall, winter, and spring, that is all he needs. Lobstermen of the island add another person for the summer when tourist demand heats up and lobster in the Maine waters are most plentiful. See, on the island there is this restaurant called the Islesford Dock Restaurant, and this is an extremely popular place for tourists to come and visit while they are staying on the mainland. One of the most popular items on the menu is the lobster, which obviously we supply. This is the main reason that the demand for the lobster increases around the time I arrive on the island.
The clock on the oven reads 4:35 am, and I’m late! I finish my egg and walk down the front steps and into the garage. I hop on my bike and start working my way up the steep, dirt road. Last summer, while I was racing my cousin down this same road, I fell and broke my wrist. That pretty much put an end to a lot of the fun stuff I wanted to do that summer, but as my parents said, “Now you know not to go too fast down that road!” And for sure, it permanently scarred me, and now I take my time up the hill. I make my way up, pass our fellow lobstermen Gary’s house, and bike down the concrete road that will lead down to the docks. I pass the Ashley Bryan School, which is one of the only one-room schoolhouses left in the country. Finally, I reach the docks. I can see that on this side of the island it has warmed up a lot since I left our house as the sun has begun to come up. As I am getting off my bike, I see my uncle drive down in his old, red jeep. He has some brand-new buoys that I had helped him design the summer before. They are all white with one red stripe going around the center of it. The white pops out in the ocean and the red looks the jeep, so I thought that would be right. My uncle tells me that Matt, his first mate, has a day off. I am actually happy about this; it will give me the chance to be first mate for the day. We untie our little dinghy and Bobby starts rowing out to our mooring where our boat “Rugged” lives. Bobby named it for our house, whose nickname is “Rugged Rocks,” so it is a very fitting name. Once we get on the boat, we start prepping it to get ready to head out: simple things like cleaning, getting traps ready, and making sure everything is in working order. After these tasks are completed, we are ready to head out.
We have some traps in the area between Great Cranberry Island, LCI, and the mainland, but in the last couple of years we have had to move more and more traps farther out. As the ocean has been warming, lobster have been slowly moving farther off the coast and, in some cases, they have been moving north. Nonetheless, we still head into the area between all the islands to check the traps that we do have there. I can see one white and red buoy bobbing up and down in the water. As we go to haul it up, I attach the rope to the spinner that will bring it up. I see three lobsters in the trap, but we’ll see if we can keep them all. As I pull the first one from the trap, I also grab our measuring tool and measure the carapace. The carapace must be a minimum of 3.25 inches to be a keeper. It also can’t be longer than 5 inches. This one is 3.05 inches, so it is too small, and we must throw it back. The second one I pull is a good length, but it is carrying eggs. I put a v-notch on the tail and throw it back. This notch will indicate that it is egg-bearing and must be protected. The third and final one I pull is a good length and is not bearing eggs, so we can band this one and keep it. Though the rules keep us from keeping a good percentage of our lobster, it allows us to keep the lobster population thriving and will help sustain it. That has been an issue recently. In the last 10 years the amount of lobster caught has doubled. In 2007 when my oldest brother worked with Uncle Bobby, the co-op caught 700,000 pounds of lobster. Ten years later, the co-op caught around 1.4 million dollars of lobster. This is because there are more lobstermen and therefore more traps being set. Although this means more money for the co-op and the lobstermen, it will have a lasting impact on the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine. When I arrived at the island yesterday, I went over to the co-op where one of the other lobstermen told me that the amount of lobster caught in the state of Maine went down by nearly 20% from 2016 to 2017. The state of Maine caught about 131 million pounds of lobster in 2016; in 2017, about 111 million pounds. While this could be for many different reasons, I believe it might be the start of the decline of the lobster industry. Nevertheless, Bobby keeps on lobster fishing every year. He loves fishing for lobster, and it doesn’t seem like he is in any rush to change what he is doing.
After we haul all the traps in this area, we head out the western way, which will lead us out to the ocean. This is the main route to get out to the ocean, so there is a lot of boat traffic. As we pass Black Island, I can feel the breeze picking up and the sea getting rougher. We pull up on our first trap, and as we pull it up, I can see a clear piece of plastic in the trap. I realize that it is a thick plastic bag that has been attached to one of the lobster’s claw and has wrapped around her mouth. Not only this, but it is pinning down both of her antennas. This lobster has a v-notch on its tail, which means that it was bearing eggs. The lobster was suffocated by this piece of plastic and, most likely, the eggs were destroyed as well. Under no circumstances are you allowed to dump plastic into the ocean. That rule was made almost completely because of this. The plastic, not the trap, killed this lobster and also the eggs she was carrying.
The warmer temperatures of the ocean are forcing lobster farther out, away from the islands. Lobsters can’t survive in water warmer than about 68 degrees, so they are forced the find deeper waters. As lobstermen chase them out into the deeper waters, they think they can dump whatever they want into the ocean because they are so far out. This, in combination with so many other things, shows why climate change is now playing such a big role in lobster fishing.
I look down at my watch and realize that it is already 11:55, which means that we need to head back in to drop off our lobster. We do this every day at mid-day just to clear out the boat. As we pull up to the co-op, we see our friend Tommy pulling up in his boat, with four big buckets of lobster. You always wonder if someone might’ve taken lobster that are too big or too small, especially when you have that much in one morning. There really isn’t any way to catch someone doing this, unless you want to check every single lobster. And if you do find one that is too small, chances are that it is already dead.
We head back out and have a very uneventful afternoon. At 5:00 we head back home and take the boat out to the mooring. We row back to the dock, and I get off the boat. I now get on my bike and ride home down the long, dirt road and back into my house. I step out onto the porch and end my day the way I began it, sitting on the porch with the cool, ocean breeze on my face, as the sun goes down.
Rheuban, Jennie. “Rising Water Temperatures Change the Habitats of Lobsters • Dive SSI.” Dive SSI, 22 Feb. 2018, blog.divessi.com/rising-water-temperatures-change-the-habitats-of-lobsters-3383.html.
“As Gulf of Maine Warms, Will Black Sea Bass Make up for Declines in Lobster?” Mainebiz, 14 May 2018, www.mainebiz.biz/article/20180514/NEWS0101/180519973/as-gulf-of-maine-warms-will-black-sea-bass-make-up-for-declines-in-lobster.
Little Cranberry Island Lobsterman David Thomas.
Every summer I spend a couple weeks in Little Cranberry Island, Maine. It is one of my favorite places to go, and it is also a very interesting island. The year-round population is about 61 people and almost all of those people are lobstermen. Whenever you go down to the docks on the island, you can tell from just looking at it that there is a big lobstering community. When we started talking about climate change and trash in oceans in school, my mind went straight to LCI, and I started wondering how the lobstering co-op is affecting the issue. When we started doing this project, I decided right away that the best way to show this was in a story. I contacted my grandfather, and he put me in touch with a lobsterman who was able to provide me with information about this topic. From this, I was able to use all of my experiences on the island to help create this story. Also, I love being on boats and I have learned a lot of things about being on the water, so a combination of past experience and the information from the lobsterman really propelled me to be able to complete this. I definitely enjoyed working on this; I think that it was a very interesting and informative project.