Fun fact about me, I am a little bit of a hoarder. Since I turned 18, I have saved every file that I create on a computer from everything that I have ever done in college, and in life on an external drive.
I was looking through this hard drive the other day for the first time ever. And I found a document called “Lobstering schedule”
The summer after my first year of college was completed, I got a fulltime job on a lobster boat. We call this job “hauling”, and my job title was Sternman. I am 31 now, so this was about 12 years ago, and boy do I remember it like it was yesterday!
Now when you work on a lobster boat, you don’t really have a schedule. Its not like a job at the grocery store where they print your schedule out every week and you know the hours that you work.
The way my schedule worked, I wass told when to arrive to work, the day before. And sometimes if there was a storm or wicked wind, we would stay home.
But at the beginning, I wanted to see how many hours a week I worked, and divide it up by my pay to figure out my hourly wage.
I kept track of my schedule on my computer. Here is My schedule, and it went like this:
Monday- On the boat at 4:30 am on shore at 4 pm
Tuesday- on the boat at 5 am on shore at 615 pm
Wednesday- On the boat at 4:30 am on shore at 3pm
And then there were no more entries. Can you guess why?
I was so stinkin tired at the end of the day Thursday, that I did not have the energy to log my hours. The other thing? My hands and arms were cramping up every day when I got home from throwing traps and tying knots all day long that I couldn't type my hours into my computer.
Plus, it didn’t matter how much I worked, because fisherman ,they are not paid by the hour. I was paid 15% of the profit that the boat made.
What was a day like as a lobster fisherman? As you already know from my first 3 days on the boat, they were long!
You wake up early in the morning, way before the sun. You go to the wharf that the fishing boat is at usually around 430 am or 5. A wharf is essentially a building that is right on the water where the lobsterman get their bait, they get their fuel, and then when they get back, the wharf buys their lobsters.
After getting to the wharf I would throw my skins on. I wish I had pics of me in my skins, to show you what they are, but this was back before smart phones. I had a Nokia “dumb phone” back then.
Then I would go into the fish freezer, and there were these massive 500 gallon drums full of frozen dead fish. This is what we used to catch the lobsters. I would scoop them out with a pitch fork and throw put them into 10-15 smaller trays so that they were easier to access while we were out on the water.
The captain of the boat would take row boat that we had on shore, and he’d row out to the lobster boat that was hooked up to the mouring. He’d fire it up, pull the boat up to the wharf, and I would hand him all of the fish trays. Wed fill the boat up with fuel and then head out to our traps. By 530 am we are on our way to “haul traps”.
The boat ride out to our traps was usually 30-60 minutes, and I would use this time to prepare and get ahead of my work for the day by filling up bait bags full of bait while watching the sun come up on over the ocean.
Around 630 we would pull up to the first trap. I had this long pole with a hook on it, and I would use It to grab the buoy. I would pull the buoy up a little bit so that there was some slack in the rope, and hand it off to the Captain of the boat. He would put the rope into a wheel and the wheel would turn for a few minutes, pulling up 100's of feet of rope and haul the traps up.
By the way, a trap is what we call them in Maine. A lot of people that are not fisherman will call lobster traps “lobster pots” but I believe they call them this because that’s what they call the traps in Alaska on the tv show the Deadliest Catch. In Maine, it isn’t a pot. It’s a trap.
So the first trap would come up, and I would open it up and see what is inside!
We would have lobsters of all sizes in there. Small, big, medium. Sometimes we would catch crabs, they would get in there. Sometimes fish were in there.
Now when we are picking out the lobsters, we can only keep certain lobsters. If they were too small we would have to throw them back. If they were too big we would have to throw them back. We had a measuring device to measure the lobsters and make sure that the lobsters were legal sizes.
If you did get caught with a lobster that is too big or too small, you get a massive fine and they throw all your lobsters back. So you don’t want to do this!
We also had to make sure that none of the lobsters had eggs. If they had eggs we would throw them back, and some lobsters would have what's called a V-notch. The V-notch is literally just a notch on the flipper of the tail, if it has a V-notch that means that it was marked by conservation and we could not keep it.
So for every lobster, we would have to measure the size, if it was a legal size we would then make sure it has no eggs, and then make sure it did not have a V-notch. I would say only 10% of all the lobsters in the trap we were able to keep.
Why is lobster fishing set up this way? It is to keep the lobster populations healthy, and to prevent overfishing. And the lobster fisherman are fine with it, because they want lobsters to be around so that they can make money next year, their kids that become lobstermen can make money, and their grand kids will have lobster to catch. As you can tell, Maine lobster fishing is extremely sustainable.
While sorting through our catch, moving our arms as fast as we can we would usually be listening to whatever is on the radio. Usually rock music or country music enjoying the fresh ocean air, and soaking in the suns rays, getting wicked sun burns. The sun reflects off the ocean, so you are getting sun from the reflection of the ocean, and the sun itself, and man my skin would burn.
After we identify the keepers and empty the trap, I would untie the old bait bag, empty what ever is left into the ocean, usually the seagulls are trying to catch whats left in the bait bag and they are diving into the ocean eating it, then tie a new bait bag on with fresh bait, close the trap, and throw it over to the side of the boat to get ready to reset it.
Each buoy would have a line of 5-10 traps on it. And we would just repeat this process of going through the traps until we are done with that line of traps.
All of the traps would be over on the other side of the boat, and in the middle of the boat is all of the rope that separates the traps. This is the part where hauling or lobster fishing is very dangerous. Growing up, there were several people that my parents were friends with that had passed away while working on a lobster boat. And they passed away from the next step.
The next step is too reset the traps, and can be very dangerous. All 5-10 traps are connected to each other with about 100 feet of rope in between each one. So what you do is you throw the first trap over, and then the 1,000’s of feet of rope in the middle of the boat will get pulled over board.
You have to throw the traps overboard in a sequence. While the rope is going out, you have to rush to the other side of the boat, grab the trap, line it up on the other side of the boat, and when the rope tightens you throw that trap over. Then you run over, grab another trap, and keep repeating this.
Now there is 1,000’s of feet of rope in the middle of the boat. Sometimes what happens your feet get caught in that rope. So you have to be super cautious. If your foot gets caught, the Captain needs to stop the boat throw it in reverse, so that you can get your foot out. If he doesn’t notice it, the rope is caught around your ankle, and it tightens up because it has all of the weight from the lobster traps in the water. It pulls you down. So we all carry a knife on us incase we get pulled under.
Now if we do get pulled over board, and we are fast enough to get a knife out, cut our self free, the other issue is, is we have these oil skins on that cover our bodies, with fishing boots on. The fishing boots fill up with water, and for some reason when they fill up with water it creates a suction to your leg and makes it hard to take them off. So usually these boots will fill up with water, and it weighs you down like you have concrete bricks on your feet, it makes it difficult to swim to the surface of the ocean.
If you get caught in the rope, and you get pulled over, there is a good chance you wont make it back on the boat.
And I got caught 2x in the rope. The first time, I jumped out of it real quickly somehow and freed myself. The second time I had one leg on the deck, one leg pushed against the stern, and use my leg power to keep me on the boat until the Captain put the boat in reverse, to let up the tension so I could free myself. Luckily I never went overboard!
But the first time I ever went hauling, I was about 7 years old. I went with my father, and the Captain of the boat that he worked for. The boat was too small, and I got in the way, and he went overboard.
I am going to save that story for another day though.
After the traps go overboard, you hurry up and try to fill up the empty bait bags with bait, as well as band up the lobsters that were keepers, while you head over to the next line of traps.
Usually we would haul 400 traps a day, so we would repeat the process above 80-100 times. And when I got home from work, I had no energy to do anything else but shower and get my butt in bed.
Now as you can see lobster fishing is hard work. But its worth it because lobster sure is delicious. If you would like to get some lobster for you and your family, you will be supporting Maine lobstermen. We overnight deliver our lobster to you, so that it is as fresh as possible. We also guarantee that its going to be alive, and fresh, with our “Fresh as the Maine Ocean Air” guarantee.
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