National Geographic : 1946 Apr
The Maine American and the American Lobster BY JOHN D. LUCAS With Illustrationsby Staff PhotographerJohn E. Fletcher W ATER-FRONT watchmen on Com mercial Street, Portland, Maine, looked me over as I waited for the lobster men to arrive. "Hi," I said, as a car pulled up. "I thought you would never get here. I'm the man who is going lobster fishing with you." The high rubber boots of the two men in the car thudded on the pavement. The younger fisherman, buttoning his yellow oil skins about his wiry body, slapped his canvas gloves under his arm and yanked his worn gray hat more securely on his head to resist the brisk wind. The elder man, who was the skipper, scrutinized me searchingly. My voice sounded muffled by the voluminous clothing which made my breathing difficult. Lobster Catchers Wary of Landlubbers The skipper unfastened the lock on the gate leading to his lobster dock. "Kind of choppy out there, Chubby," he said at last. "Chubbv?" I weigh only 130. It must be the extra clothes. "Why the lock precaution? Afraid of sabo tage?" I asked the skipper jokingly. "Yes and no," he replied, stopping at a huge pile of reserve lobster pots that were drying in the sunlight. "Saboteurs could have done a lot of damage here during the war. These lath pots cost a lot of money, too." "Then why not put them in some sheltered place?" I asked. "Worms," he replied. "Like evil, they work best in dark, dank places away from the sun. They die when out of the water." The sunshine helps kill the worms, as well as bacteria and fungus growth. The "worms," I found out later, are the shipworm (Teredo), which is not a worm but a marine clam, or one of the species of small boring crustaceans, troublesome during certain seasons. "Here's a pot over here that has been de stroyed," the skipper said, pointing to a 30-inch-long and 26-inch-wide semicylindrical object resembling a badly riddled beehive. The leather straps that hinge the four laths running the entire length near the top of the pot forming the door had disappeared. For some unknown reason the single wooden button in the center, on the outside, which is used to fasten the door, remained untouched. The two funnel-like openings, one at each end of the pot, through which the lobster enters, showed not a trace of the coarse twine mesh used to prevent the lobster from escap ing. These funnels, about 6 inches in diam eter, extend some 12 inches almost into the center of the pot. Obliquely placed, they form an inclined plane which the lobsters must climb in their search for bait. Once a lobster reaches his objective, the bait, the fisherman's objective, the lobster, is realized (pages 527, 533). "The only part of this trap we can salvage," said the skipper, pointing to the center of the bottom of the trap, "is that 10-inch iron spearhead we fasten our bait on (page 531). We had better take these three bricks with us, too. We fasten them on the bottom of the pot, on the inside, to furnish weight enough to hold the pot at the bottom." Off for the Lobster Grounds "Time to shove off" ended our discussion about lobster pots. We approached the gasoline-powered lob ster smack as it rocked easily in about one fathom of water at low tide. It took only a few minutes for the men to check their four lard tubs filled with bait-redfish (rosefish) carcasses, from which the filets had been re moved. Slatted pots were inspected for loose laths to prevent the lobsters from escaping. The converted automobile motor's damp spark plugs were wiped dry of the penetrating early-morning wet wind, and the crankcase was filled with oil. The gas tank read "full." Bushel baskets for the lobsters formed a semicircle in the center of the boat. On many boats a salt-water well is used. I clambered down an old iron ladder, em bedded in the rotting wood of the sagging wharf, into the boat. The lines were cast off, and we got under way. The noise of the sputtering cold engine was intermingled with the screeches of disgust from the sea gulls as they flew out of our way, letting us head for the open harbor. The clouds shifted, and the sun streamed down. An intoxicating clear breeze engulfed us as we left the pier behind. Open blue waters surrounded us. Sea gulls now floated lazily above us, some stealing a ride on the stern.