Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bass Harbor




Bass Harbor

Bedrock America 
Of soil and sea
Toil and commerce
Right of passage
Father to son
Island of tradition
Water suffering the shore.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Maine Lobsterman at Dawn



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The typical lobsterman sets his pots and visits a portion of them each day. The routine, done at a sprint, is grueling. The lobsterman knows his traps by the markings on the buoys that float above them, and "lobster wars" have been started by men who disrespected other men’s pots or set pots in the wrong waters. Rules and forums for settling disputes have evolved a culture to make lobster fishing profitable for all. Typically, the captain steers to where he can grab a buoy and wraps the rope around a winch on the side of the boat beside the helm. With the flip of a switch a pot is pulled from the bottom. 

Dan's pots are set in pairs. Hauling them onto the gunwale is hard work for strong men who hope the pots will be heavier with lobsters. As soon as Dan and Nate have hauled the first pot onto the gunwale, Dan is retrieving a second one and Nate is emptying the first. Nate works like a film on fast-forward as I struggle to snap meaningful frames. Each lobster must be checked. It must be above a certain length, below a certain weight, not have eggs or a notched tail. If the lobster has eggs, Nate must notch the tail and toss it back. That lobster has been granted a long and productive life unthreatened by the men who will catch her children. A female with eggs or a notch that makes it into the tank can result in a $500 fine to the lobstermen. After Nate has selected the keepers, he bands two claws faster than a toupee in a hurricane and drops them through a hole to a tank filled with water. Hard-shell lobsters get double-banded and set aside; they are double the value.

Lobster fishing is a classic American Industry. It’s still carried on by hundreds of independent businesspeople who own their own boats, hire workers and maintain a capital investment. About twice as many lobsters are caught on the North Atlantic Coast in Maine and Canada as in second-ranked Norway. Lobster became fine dining in Boston and New York in the mid-nineteenth century; before that lobsters were sea bugs. To meet the new demand, Maine lobstermen developed the ubiquitous "lobster smack," a boat customized with an open cabin and a place to store the lobsters to keep them alive. The large American Lobster found in Maine and Canada is considered by many to be the best dining-lobster in the world.

Of course, the smallest markup goes to the men who make the catch; none live lavishly. In the middle of Bass Harbor are floating docks where senior lobstermen have been granted space where they may pen a small portion of the lobsters they have caught. This allows them to catch when lobsters are plentiful and sell when they are scarce and the price has risen. While visiting Stonington, later in the trip, I passed a wooden impoundment in one of the coves. I learned that is where the big lobster companies can store tens of thousands of lobsters employing the same strategy to maximize profits while fit supply to demand. Tanking the catch is not an option for most lobstermen, however. They live at the bottom of the food chain and must take what they are given. Their houses are small, but the ocean’s horizon is large. All I met cherish their way of living.

















Thursday, August 10, 2017

Maine Lobsterman Before Dawn



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I met Dan in 2011 as he docked and tied off the smallest lobster boat I’d ever seen. He called it his “skiff.” At the time, he was a young man still in school. He had recently been given privileges to set a small number of traps in the region serviced by Bass Harbor. I’d just been out photographing on a full size boat, and I had some idea how much hard work there was for a team of two to pull, bait and set traps. I was struck by Dan’s self-confidence and drive. I’d never seen a lobster boat like his before; the cabin on his skiff was almost narrower than his shoulders. I’ve been told that’s the way many young lobstermen begin.

It happened that the next day I was on the opposite shore of Bass Harbor, and I caught a picture of him in his skiff as he returned to port in the cove below me. When I saw him on the dock one more time, we exchanged emails so I could send him the picture, and we have remained in contact from time to time since. In six years he has traded his skiff for a full boat, married and begun a family and increased the number of traps he pulls, baits and sets, and he has a mate who works for him now. When he contacted me recently and asked to buy a print of the picture I’d taken of him in his skiff, I asked if he would trade it for a chance to photograph him at work. We met on the dock at 4 AM, and I gave him a large, framed photograph. This shot was taken as soon as there was enough light to make an image and 20 minutes before the sun rose. 

My thanks to Dan and Nate for letting me photograph them at their work.