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.

















2 comments:

Ginnie said...

I look at these images and immediately think, "Another book!" You have so many books in you, Ted! :)

Emery Roth II said...

It could happen. Thanks for the constant encourtagement.