"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in
its net of wonder forever."—Jacques Cousteau

September 8, 2016

Lobstering 101...History, Pots and Buoys

Long ago, lobsters were so plentiful that Native Americans used them to fertilize their fields and to bait their hooks for fishing. In colonial times, lobsters were considered "poverty food." They were harvested from tidal pools and served to children, prisoners, and indentured servants. Until the early 1800s, lobsters were gathering by hand along the shoreline. Lobstering as a trap fishery came into existence in Maine around 1850. Today Maine is the largest lobster-producing state in the nation.

Similar to lobsters themselves, lobstermen are known to be solitary and territorial. The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery occurs year-round, but most occurs over five months from July through November, when lobsters are active and molting in inshore waters. Coastal waters are subject to large fluctuations in temperature as the seasons change. Lobsters therefore migrate from shallow coastal waters to deeper, more consistently warm waters during the fall. Lobstermen set their traps in order to follow the lobsters; they will concentrate their traps in coastal waters during the summer, shift to deeper offshore waters in the fall, and then return to shallower waters during late spring.
   
The Maine coast is divided into seven lobster management zones, running from east to west. Each zone has a little different configuration of running traps. Inshore fisheries primarily use trap deployments that range from a single trap to as many as three traps attached to one buoy line. Smaller trap deployments are preferred in inshore areas because it provides lobstermen more flexibility to strategically target holes and crevices in areas with rocky bottoms and reduce the risk of traps being caught and lost due to rope snags on rocks. Lobstermen generally use only one buoy line when fishing single traps or strings of up to five traps; they will incorporate a second buoy line for trawls with more than five traps. The number of traps on a trawl generally increases as lobstermen fish farther from shore.

 Here are a few of the trap configurations 
Lobster gear consists of traps and associated components deployed on the sea floor where the lobsters are caught and a surface system used to identify it. Surface systems include a flotation device marked with unique colors and the lobsterman’s fishing license number. Lobstermen are required to display their buoy colors onboard their vessel. Inshore lobstermen typically fish Styrofoam buoys, while offshore lobstermen are known to fish double Styrofoam buoys or deploy larger inflated plastic buoys known as polyform buoys or polyballs. All lobstermen are required to configure the buoy line so that no rope lays at the ocean surface. 
Most lobster boats average about 32' and operate with sophisticated equipment such as hydraulic haulers, bottom depth sounders and GPS. Many keep live tanks on board in which to store their catch. Lobster boats run six days a week. On a typical day when the lobsterman spots his buoy dancing across choppy waves, he catches the line with his gaff—a long, hooked stick—clasping the rope submerged beneath it. With both hands, he grips the line tightly, pulls, leans backwards, and hoists what appears to be an endless line of rope through the axle of a hydraulic trap hauler. Within seconds, a forty-pound metal trap emerges from the ocean, and he pulls it over the starboard railing. If he has a crew one man will sort and band the lobsters, while the other, usually the less experienced fisherman baits and resets the trap. This is done hundreds of time each day…on each boat. We’ve seen many boats where one man does all the work.
Maine has a closely-knit fishing community, which protects their share of the resource through lobstering territories. In any port, they have an informal, often unspoken agreement about where each member of the fishing community may lay his traps. All the members of one community even lay their strings of traps in one direction, such as north to south, so they don't tangle their lines in someone else's gear. Youngsters who want to enter the fishery may start with a few traps or work as a "sternman," baiting traps and carting gear, for one of the established fishermen. Eventually they will be allowed to take over they own territory after a suitable apprenticeship. 
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