Catching Lobster With an Old-Fashioned Lobster Trap

Learn how to pull lobster from the sea with a wooden lobster trap.


| July/August 1972



016-049-01a

Lobstering is a noble tradition of the Northeast United States.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

The lobster is the regent of seafood. Before his ferocious, spiked and clawed visage, his sweet, white flesh, all other creatures are gastronomically subservient. The lobster was once so cheap and plentiful along the New England coast that windrows of wave-stranded lobsters were pitchforked into draycarts and ploughed under cornfields as fertilizer. Times, as your grandpa will doubtless tell you, have changed.

Today, the lobster is worth its weight in negotiable securities, and is the object of a jealous, regulated, difficult search. Its price fluctuate through the year, and the unadorned crustacean can command over $2.50 a pound. Automated lobster boats at the edge of the continental shelf haul great catches, but inshore the single lobsterman still plies his strenuous, chancy trade with long hours, simple tools, and old skills.

Our native lobster, Homarus Americanus , is seldom seen below Long Island (a clawless variety inhabits warmer waters). It thrives in cold, oxygenated water, making a home of rocky bottoms where it can back into crevices to defend itself. In its adolescence it is a white fingerling, soft and vulnerable. It must grow five years to attain market size, forming a hard exoskeleton and shedding as it is outgrown. Lapses in lobster catch are periodically due to the shedding cycle, since the pale, soft "shedders" hide beneath rocks or in crevices until their shells are prepared to defend them. Young lobsters shed several time a year, older lobsters about once a year.

There are three lobster licenses: the home license allows up to 10 pots (lobstertraps) for family use only, the cost about $20.00; the commercial license allows an unlimited number of pots, permits commercial sale, and costs considerable more; some states issue a permit which allows divers to catch lobsters by hand. The licenses are issued by the state department of fisheries or wildlife, and most states have a length-of-residency requirement. A special note of warning: you would do better to mess with a lobster man's woman than to mess with his gear. This is an unquestioned wisdom afloat.

Lobstermen wish to set their pots or string of pots on a cold, big-rocked bottom, out of navigation channels, heavily oxygenated and little disturbed. To find good grounds, he can consult the charts, looking for the asterisks of rocks, and for the bottom notations "rocky" and "boulders." He can locate ledges and outcroppings, wrecks, and the riprap surrounding navigation lights. Sounding by leadline or by fathometer (which can distinguish between sandy, rocky and bouldered bottoms) can be useful. In clear water a water glass or scouting by a diver might be helpful. Intimate knowledge of the bottom and its currents is the lobsterman's most useful tool. Local knowledge is essential. As in most fishing—indeed, in any seawork—the newcomer needs the help of the old guys, the old men and the experience fishermen.

Pulling pots from a small sailboat has been successful for a century. This lobsterman coasts toward a pot, luffing his sails. He releases mainsheet and jibsheet and picks up by the buoy by the line under it with a boathook. For this wet, abrasive work he wears neoprene gloves, boots and a bib-front rubber overall. He will pull the pot onto the brass cap on the rail (which, with the lath strips, protects boat and gear) - rowing and powerboats can use a snatchblock on a davit. He will heave the pot onto a sorting board secured athwarthships, open the pot and discard the obvious shorts conches, spider crabs and other intruders. He will check every "keeper" for eggs and size it to the gauge. He will then rebait the pot from the bait barrel behind him and drop the pot again. He will band or peg legal lobsters and put them in his keeping cooler. He will tighten his sheets, fill his sails and make way to the next pots.





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