August 13th, 2016

When in Maine…do as the Mainers do.

Lobster.

Meet Neil, he is a math teaching, lobsterman from a small town near Rockland, Maine. Neil has been lobstering since he was 12 years old. He teaches high school and college level Math and lobsters after math class. Coincidentally or maybe not so coincidentally, the name of his boat is “Aftermath”. Neil often takes visitors to the area out on his boat to enjoy the full lobstering experience including doing some of the work and I was fortunate enough to be able to ride along (and I didn’t have to do any work!).

Neil’s dad, Harold “Dynamite” Payson, was a boat builder in South Thomaston, Maine. Neil, his dad and brother, designed and built the boat that Neil uses to Lobster in 2008. 

For those of you who are familiar with crabbing here in the Carolina’s, the lobstering process is very similar. Actually, the biggest difference is that the lobsters move very slowly out of water in comparison to crabs, so there is very little concern for getting pinched fingers. Neil told me he can always tell when visitors on the boat are familiar with handling crabs because they are so cautious around the lobster claws.

If you are unfamiliar with the crabbing or lobstering process it goes like this: each trap/pot sits on the bottom of the ocean with a line attached to the trap on one end and a buoy on the other. The buoy sits on the surface of the water marking where the trap is. Each lobsterman has his own buoy color to mark which pots are his. Neil’s buoys are fluorescent green and yellow. The traps are pulled up one at a time, and the lobsters taken out, one by one. Each one is measured to make sure it is large enough to keep (the small ones get thrown back in). If the lobster is female and is carrying eggs or if it has a notch in it’s tail it must be thrown back. If the lobster is carrying eggs, the lobsterman puts a notch in it’s tail to notate that it is a reproducing female. If the notched lobster is caught in the future, it must always be thrown back even if it isn’t currently carrying eggs. Once all of the lobsters are out of the trap, a bait bag (stuffed with dead fish, usually herring) is suspended from the trap, the door on the trap is secured shut and the trap is pushed back in the water. The lobsters that are kept have rubber bands put over their claws and are placed in a bin. Then the process starts over. 

Most of the time, Neil’s friend, Mike (on the right), is on the boat helping with this process. Neil drives the boat, pulls the traps, measures the lobster and puts the bait bag in the trap. Mike puts the bait in the bags (the most fun part of the entire process!! HA!) and bands the lobsters claws. 

If a pot is pulled up that still has bait in the bag, that old bait is thrown into the water and it becomes a seagull feeding frenzy. Every once in a while, a pot will get pulled up with the entire bait bag completely missing. Neil explains that the seals are smart enough to squeeze their heads into the traps, untie the bag and steal it. He calls it “Meals on Neil”. Although I wasn’t able to witness it, when the seals are around, they know exactly what Neil’s boat looks like and follow him around as he is pulling and baiting the traps. 

Neil has an average of 300 pots in the water from spring through fall. Once he is done pulling pots for the day, he takes the lobsters to the market. There are several companies located in Spruce Head that purchase the lobster from Neil. The day I was with Neil and Mike, they took 95 pounds of lobster to the market. We had placed bets on how many pounds were in the bin, and go figure, Neil was exactly right.

The pots are pulled out of the water in the winter. During the winter months, any repairs are made to the pots and buoys are painted in preparation for the spring.

You can see more images from Michele’s summer 2016 trip to Maine here.

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